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About the Project

The Journey

The original idea for this web site was born ten years ago when I worked as a Men’s Addiction Counselor and Clinical Supervisor at Hazelden Springbrook, a nationally recognized treatment center for chemical dependence. The treatment model used since their inception is based on the Minnesota Model, which integrates the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic treatment methods.

The first thing I learned about this model is its efficacy when the individual is “honest, open and willing,” and in the words of William James, a pioneering America psychologist, philosopher and physician, the result is a spiritual experience or conversion. Bill Wilson (Bill W.) , who founded A.A., further described it in the following words:

“...when they talk about a spiritual experience...they mean a certain quality of personality change which, in their belief, could not have occurred without the help and presence of the creative spirit of the universe...I know scarcely an A.A. member of more than a year's standing who still thinks his transformation wholly a psychological phenomenon based entirely upon his own normal resources. Almost every A.A.one of our members will tell you that, while he may not go along with a clergyman's concept of God, he has developed one of his own on which he can positively depend, one which works for him. We A.A.’s are quite indifferent to what people may call this spiritual experience of ours. But to us it looks very much like conversion...”(Wilson 1944).
As I continued to work with this model and met more “recovering” alcoholics and addicts I was convinced the results were not just attributable to psychotropic medicines, psychodynamic therapy or regular attendance at 12-Step meetings - something else was at play, which caused a substantive ego shift. Hence, my eagerness grew into an avid curiosity to learn what caused the shift and how it could be replicated with some degree of reliability. According to Bill Wilson, “about half of the A.A. members were agnostics or atheists which dispels the notion that we are only effective with the religiously susceptible” (
Wilson 1944).

At this time it became apparent to me in working with groups of eight to ten residential patients who participated in daily groups from one to three months, that most patients had difficulty integrating the spiritual components of the program. Because the treatment model is based on the 12 Step principles, patients were grappling with the spiritual concepts of honesty, willingness, faith, surrender, hope, and humility on a fairly consistent basis. Their difficulties ranged anywhere from having no religious upbringing, rejection of their childhood religion, skepticism, or an inability to understand these principles in their own faith traditions. Because of its reputation, Hazelden draws clients from many diverse backgrounds. At one time my home group included: a Southern Baptist, an African American atheist, a Sikh, an Orthodox Jew, a scientist, and an agnostic. A blend of religious viewpoints was frequently the norm.

As a graduate of rhetorical communication, I found my personal and professional challenge was one of keen listening and attempting to translate the fundamental principles of the 12 Steps into concepts and language which each patient could understand within their own experiential context. My ultimate goal went a step further, to create a thirst for spirituality (or God as they understood Him/Her/It).

This goal resulted in stretching my borders of understanding far beyond what I could have imagined. I was convinced the fundamental principles of the 12 Steps were woven through the major faith traditions. In studying and working in the field of human behavior, we learn rather than being “terminally unique, “ we are all much the same; sharing similar needs, wants, desires, and longing for answers to the same existential questions. This desire to discover a universally-shared Truth led me to One Spirit interfaith seminary in New York, where I spent two years studying the eight wisdom traditions. This experience not only confirmed my conviction of the existence of shared unifying principles across religious traditions, it enriched my understanding of the traditions with metaphorical texts, melodious chants and prayers, and culturally vibrant rituals. And, as I had hoped, my ability to translate the language of the 12 Steps through other religious lens was enhanced and ultimately became a very rewarding experience.

My next goal was grounded in a desire to systemize these unifying principles, allowing anyone to easily view them through the lens of any one of the wisdom traditions. I began by documenting the principles, texts, and spiritual practices from each wisdom tradition into matrices organized in Excel spreadsheets.

In time, a vision emerged of a mandala (the universal symbol of unity) as a visual illustration that would be the portal to accessing the interconnections of the principles and wisdom traditions – either through the steps or through each of the traditions. The photo below is my first rough draft on poster board which hung on the back of the closet door in the guest room. As I began to envision the organizational structure of the mandala, this became the prototype - visual, literal and textual.

The next stage was to identify an existing mandala structure, which could provide the integration and interconnectivity of the 12 steps and wisdom traditions. I found the Rose mandala design from the Cathedral of Leon in Northern Spain which has two essential structural components: a series of circular rings and a group of inner petals. At first I envisioned the rings representing each of the 12 steps and the petals intersecting them to provide 72 portals (12 steps by 8 traditions). This image was later adapted with the circles moving to the outside to identify the steps and the enlarged petals containing the images and links to the wisdom traditions.

The next step was to find a web architect who could share my vision and develop the intricate, interconnected, linking architecture, which would allow the user to traverse across the steps and through the traditions with ease. I am grateful to have found Andrea Drury at Rareheron Web Design who had both the vision and expertise to build the site and guide me through its technological development. She complemented our efforts with Kayo Parsons-Korn , whose artistry gifted the site with colors and images, which depict the richness of the ages.

Once the website was completed in July, 2009 (which was one-and-one-half year after the research was started and seven months after the web design was initiated) the site was beta-tested in order to obtain feedback about the content, and ease of use and access.

© 2009 Sacred Connections
revandrea@12wisdomsteps.com · 503-318-5438

Web Design by
Rareheron Web Design, Portland, OR