Definitions of Awakening in AA

Excerpts from the Big Book - Spiritual Experience, 2nd Edition, pg 569-570

[Sudden Awakening]

"...immediate and overwhelming “God-consciousness” fol-
lowed at once by a vast change in feeling and outlook." pg 569

[Gradual Awakening] 

Among our rapidly growing membership of thou-
sands of alcoholics such transformations, though fre-
quent, are by no means the rule. Most of our experi-
ences are what the psychologist William James calls
the “educational variety” because they develop
slowly over a period of time. Quite often friends of
the newcomer are aware of the difference long before
he is himself. He finally realizes that he has under-
gone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that
such a change could hardly have been brought about
by himself alone. What often takes place in a few
 could seldom have been accomplished by
years of self discipline. With few exceptions our
members find that they have tapped an unsuspected
inner resource which they presently identify with their
own conception of a Power greater than themselves.
Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than
ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience
. Our more
religious members call it “God-consciousness.” pg. 569-570

Dr. Bob took Clarence S through the steps in 3-4 hours. Clarence S. was a pivotal sculptor of early AA Sponsorship.

“A spiritual awakening is THE RESULT of working, DOING, and LIVING, ALL of the 12 Steps! Then you have this message to carry to others. There is no message unless you have done the first 9 Steps and are living the last three. You can't give what you don't have. You must practice these principles in ALL your affairs.
Now it is your responsibility to give this message to others as you have received it. Not changed, watered down, or how others may want it in their lives. If they want what you have, they must do what you did. It is now your legacy to hand down, AS IT WAS GIVEN TO YOU -- NO OTHER WAY!!!! It is recommended that two people work with the newcomer through the steps whenever possible, so that both may learn as well as give.” – Clarence S.


What is a Spiritual Experience? That is the changed life we have been referring to. That is the change that comes to a person who has turned their will over to the care of God and continues to try and improve themselves, mentally, morally and spiritually. It states that we try to carry this message (not the alcoholic) to alcoholics. We practice these principles of love and service in all our affairs. Not just in A.A. meetings and associations, at home, at business, everywhere! What a blessing this fellowship is. What a great opportunity to love and be loved. Why cheat yourself? We have the prescription, the means of getting well, staying well, growing and best of all, SERVING. Come on in, the water's fine!! Friends are wonderful, the fellowship is distinct and GOD IS GREAT!! - Clarence S., 1972

Bill Wilson wrote in the 12 & 12 a fine definition of a Spiritual Awakening:

When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone. Pg 106

William James' was considered a "Founder" of AA by Bill Wilson. His book Varieties of Religious Experience is the most recommended book in our basic text. It was critical to AA's development. Below we have William James' view of a "Religious" or Spiritual Experience.

Psychologist and Philosopher William James described four characteristics of religious / mystical experience in The Varieties of Religious Experience. According to James, such an experience is:
Transient — the experience is temporary; the individual soon returns to a "normal" frame of mind. It is outside our normal perception of space and time.
Ineffable — the experience cannot be adequately put into words.
Noetic — the individual feels that he or she has learned something valuable from the experience. Gives us knowledge that is normally hidden from human understanding.
Passive — the experience happens to the individual, largely without conscious control. Although there are activities, such as meditation (see below), that can make religious experience more likely, it is not something that can be turned on and off at will. wikipidia