Contemplative psychotherapy for individuals, couples, and groups in New York City.
Step Six of the Green Bodhisattva Path
Were entirely ready to have Earth remove all these defects of character.
In Step Four we made a searching and fearless ecological inventory of ourselves. In Five we admitted to Earth, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. In Step Six we asked whether we were ready to have Earth remove these defects of character. If the answer was yes, we were ready for Step Seven. If no, then we needed to determine where the resistance lay.
It was important to understand that Step Six was asking us to be ready, nothing more. Nothing was set into motion by this step. Rather, it indicated a period of honest self-inquiry. Were we ready to be healed by Earth? Were we entirely ready? If not, what part of us wasn’t ready to get well?
This was like asking ourselves if we were ready to submit to a life-saving operation. Step Six wasn’t asking us to give ourselves that operation. We couldn’t do that. It was asking if we were willing to go through with it.
This was the transition point toward which the 12 steps had been headed all along. In that sense, it was the moment of truth—the moment when we were asked to admit honestly whether we wanted to recover or not.
A problem presented itself here for most of us. We wanted to let go of a life of self-will and become ready for a life lived on an ecological basis. We hadn’t been able to eliminate our defects of character on our own, and so we were ready—in principle, at least—to have Earth remove them for us. But would Earth really do that? Could Earth do that? And if Earth could, would the process be too much for us to bear?
For many of us a peculiar inconsistency began to surface in Step Six. Most of us hadn’t come to Ecological Recovery with a traditional idea of God, but somehow we still understood what that traditional idea was. Earth was about as far from that as you could get. “The whole Earth is filled with the glory of God,” said a well-known Psalm from the Bible. But that was different from saying “The whole Earth was the glory of God”—or, better yet, “The whole Earth was God.” Could we make that leap? Could we bridge so seemingly vast a theological divide? And what about those of us who were Buddhist? Could the whole Earth be Buddha, too?
Many of us believed Step Six would be easy. After all, hadn’t most of us come to E.R. with the idea that Earth was somehow holy? How shocking it was to discover that, locked deep within us—no matter whether it had been placed there by society, by our parents, or by ourselves—was this idea that Earth was hostile, unforgiving, or simply indifferent to our fate…that we’d better cast our lot with God in heaven, or with Buddha in nirvana or the Pure Land, or with ourselves, or with others of our kind, because Earth would stand by calmly, majestically unperturbed by the collapse of our species. Earth didn’t care—or couldn’t. It was just a colossal lump of dirt.
In the male-oriented language characteristic of early A.A. literature, the book Twelve Step and Twelve Traditions states, “This is the Step that separates the men from the boys.” What it means to say is that Step Six requires a leap of faith—a rather great leap, in fact, since it requires us to let go of our old way of living before we have fully latched hold of the new one. Between the two there is, necessarily, a moment when we hang suspended in mid-air, with nothing but a hopeful trust, and the certainty that the old way was surely lost, to carry us through.
When people first came into Ecological Recovery, they thought the main difference between E.R. and other 12 Step recovery groups was its focus on excess. They soon learned that this was not so. All 12 Step recovery groups tackled excess—each in its own way. E.R. simply targeted the common addiction that underlay them all. No. The real difference was here, in the willingness to let Earth remove our defects of character. This was the essence of our program. The steps on either side of it were all about this. And this step was about becoming available to Earth once more. It was a turning point that was actually a re-turn—a coming back to the knowledge of a loving Earth and all that such knowledge implied.