Some 4th Step Ideas to Work

In our Monday group, Mindful Meditation for Recovery, we’ve recently been looking at the 4th Step – “Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” The process of self inventory in Buddhist and 12 Step teachings can be done using a number of lists of unskillful and skillful attitudes, emotions, and behaviors.
Unskillful qualities include: The Five Hindrances; and the Three Poisons.And each of these, by implication, point to skillful attitudes and traits.
Skillful qualities and behaviors to develop include: The Five Precepts; The Four Brahma Viharas; the 7 Factors of Awakening, and of course the Noble Eightfold Path.

In the 12 Step tradition, I find it useful to look at the 4th Step worksheets included in Joe and Charlie’s Big Book Workshop materials to look at the “Basic Instincts of Life that Create Self” – Social, Security, and Sex. These help us to reflect on the survival-oriented instincts that color our perceptions of the world and motivate our fears, resentments and harmful actions.

Another way of working on our character defects more directly is to look for the patterns that push our buttons and lead us to harm self and others. We can pay close attention to those times that we get emotionally triggered, and to the behaviors of thoughts, words, and actions that follow. Questions to explore would be:

  • Event. What external events (people, places, things) or internal events (thoughts, memories, mental images…) “triggered me”
  • Thoughts. What did I think about it? Look closely for the statements you made to yourself about it, the judgments, interpretation, the story you put on it. These are the reasons you reacted. The event didn’t make you react the way you did. You had a part in it.
  • Emotions. What specifically did you feel emotionally? Use one word to label it (or a series of one words). “Frustrated”, “hurt”, “angry”, “sad”, “afraid” …
  • Actions. What did those thoughts and emotions motivate you do? How did you behave, either outwardly (in speech or other actions) or internally (more thoughts, emotions)?
  • Causes/ conditioning. Is there something in your past that relates to this pattern of reactivity? Abandonment, abuse, angry parent or other person, cheating partner, manipulative caregiver, frightening life experiences, trauma…?
As with doing any 4th Step, it would be important to jot down what you observe to help you learn and remember what your reactive patterns are so you can continue to work on them!
Hope this helps!
Yours in the Dharma of Recovery,
About Fran D.