The Simplicity of The Twelve Steps- Step Eleven (Spirituality)
The eleventh step, as written, explains that we are on a search. Though, they do not simply ask us to randomly search. They tell us to us that the searching will be most effectively accomplished using two very specific tools; that of prayer and meditation. They then tell us exactly what it is we are using these tools to search for; improving our conscious contact with our higher power. They even narrow down this search for us, denoting that we need only pray for two things: knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.
This tells us that the simpler the prayer, the purer the prayer. This is certainly not to suggest that praying for something specifically is wrong as I am quite sure there is no such thing as “bad prayer.” With that said, history, and the experience of millions and millions of people, show us that spiritual progress tends to flow less freely when our prayers take the shape of something like:
“God, please grant me your will along with the wherewithal to carry it out. And since we’re on the subject, here are a few suggestions on how to best take care of me.”
Ultimately, we want to adhere to the idea that, as addicts, we have a fair amount of empirical evidence supporting the platform that our visions of what is good for us and our ideas regarding what we want are often quite erroneous in the search for happiness, joy and freedom.
Consequently, the book affords us some very specific suggestions on how to maintain and grow our relationship with our higher power on a day-to day basis. These breakdowns on how we are to commune with God in the evening, in the morning, and throughout the day will serve as our second, third and fourth directives for remaining spiritually fit.
In terms of our spiritual work in the evening, we are told on page 86:
“When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life?”
Ten questions to be posed every night previous to turning ourselves over to the dream world. Three of the ten questions are, in fact, yes or no answers, and in a recovered life one would assume that the other seven would not be reaping a ton of data. It’s a very simple task and not one that I have ever found to take more than ten to fifteen minutes at the most. This spiritual review can be done internally or in written form. In my experience, especially in the early goings, doing a nightly written eleventh step can be quite powerful and informative, specifically because it can give the newcomer an opportunity to review their pages on a weekly basis and get a firm grasp on which liabilities are showing up most prominently and, therefore, demand the most attention. Furthermore, often is the case where we manifest some old behavior early in the day and manage to completely lose sight of the shortcoming by nightfall. As we have probably come to see that any misdeed which we fail to become accountable for is destined to repeat itself, this quiet opportunity to review the day is critical to the soundness of our spiritual foundation.
Our third spiritual directive is detailed in the directions for our morning spiritual practice in the following paragraph on page 86:
“On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. Under these conditions we can employ our mental faculties with assurance, for after all God gave us brains to use. Our thought-life will be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong motives.”
Put simply, we are told that we must begin each day with prayer and meditation. Notice, it does not say prayer or meditation. These two tools compliment and inform each other in a way which leaves either of them alone insufficient for our purposes. Prayer is the process of asking for God’s will, meditation is the process of listening for the answer. This is often referred to as “two-way prayer.” Seen in this way, if we pray but fail to meditate, the will of God will be readily available to us, but our capacity to feel it will be severely impeded.
As to the question of how to meditate, which many an A.A. member claim to struggle with, the idea to begin with is the understanding that there is no such thing as good or bad meditation. The exact level to which you judge your meditation is the exact level to which you will struggle. What occurs during a meditation is far less critical than the act of taking the time to meditate. And the process of meditation is far less complicated than most people suspect.
In terms of implementing a morning ritual which is simple enough to not overwhelm but complete enough to fulfill the directive, I tend to offer newcomers the following suggestion:
- First, ask yourself if you can commit five minutes a morning to your relationship with God.
- If so, take the following actions “upon awakening.” (This means before you brew the coffee, walk the dog, read the paper. We are attempting to invite spirit into our lives previous to leaping into our inherently imperfect humanity.)
- First thing, start by reading the third (Big Book pg. 63), seventh (Big Book pg. 76) and eleventh (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 99/St. Francis Prayer) step prayers. This should take no more than two minutes.
- Upon completion of prayer, meditate for three minutes. I would recommend timing it. Set an alarm clock, or any other timer, for three minutes. Once starting the timer, simply make sure that your body is comfortable, close your eyes, breathe normally, and listen to your thoughts for the duration of the three minutes. That’s it. At the conclusion of the three minutes, if you have not opened your eyes or gotten up and walked away, you’ve meditated. I assure you. Whatever occurs in those three minutes within your mind is fine. If you hear nothing but birds tweeting, fine. If it sounds like an Anthrax concert, fine. No matter what, you are getting a window into what is happening inside of you and making some room for spirit. And that is the point.
For those who might be wondering why I have offered up the notion of listening to your mind when your understanding of meditation is that it is all about clearing your mind, know that what you have been taught is what is generally referred to as “Eastern Meditation.” While this form of meditation is wonderful and can be very useful to you, it is not the kind of meditation The Big Book speaks of. The main reason for this is that Eastern Meditation did not really reach America until the 1960’s. What our pioneers were practicing back in the 30’s is what we understand to be “Western Meditation.” Western Mediation essentially espouses the opposite concept of Eastern Meditation, in that it centers on paying attention to your mind. While either form is perfectly adequate, there are two key reasons that I suggest the Western form to the newcomer:
- It is easier.
- It adheres closer to the entire 12-Step schematic. If you think about Steps 4-7, they are all about looking inside yourself to find truth. In this regard listening to your mind is far more in keeping with the work we have been doing thus far.
Additionally, the earliest A.A. meetings were almost exclusively what were referred to as “Guidance Meetings.” In these meetings, the recovered members would gather a round a table with paper and pencil and employ Western Meditation in the written form, allowing their hand to be guided by their higher power and writing down all the thoughts which would enter their mind. They would then share their guidance with the other members and assist each other in deciphering which were “God” thoughts and which were “self-will” thoughts. This practice was based on a pamphlet originally utilized in The Oxford Group entitled “How to Listen to God.” Here is a link with an exact recreation of that very pamphlet:
By engaging in these two practices, we are now “framing our day” with spirit. The utility of this encapsulation of our humanness is in creating a situation where we are never left alone, where our character liabilities can flourish, for more than 12-15 hours at a time. By opening and closing each day with a spiritual check-in, we radically lower the chances of our self-will to once again “run riot.”
The only issue we are left to tackle is the inherent problem of having all the hours between these two spiritual actions being the hours where we find ourselves out roaming the world and interacting with the humans. Clearly, it will serve as less than prudent for me to be cut off while driving on the highway, find myself loaded up with rage and tell myself, “Oh, I should be fine. I’ll be checking in with God in about four and a half hours.” At the bottom of page 87 carrying over onto 88, the book addresses this issue with:
“As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done.” We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves.
It works – it really does.”
Here we receive our shorthand grounding prayer in, “Thy will be done.” It is a gentle reminder as we traverse this imperfect, and often frustrating, world that we are never alone. Which is why if you were to pass me on the highway having just been cut off, you might very well find me gripping the steering wheel repeating, “Thy will be done, Thy will be done, Thy will be done…” The reason for this is that I very much wish to avoid being the guy on the highway speeding past his exit because he cannot rest until the perpetrator has gotten what is surely coming to him. Without God’s help, I am that guy. And I don’t much care for that guy. With the grace of my higher power, these behaviors are cast off and are replaced by sane choices leading to a saner life.
You’ll notice that the above passage also speaks to efficiency, which I believe to be a key word for us. We know that every human being has a given amount of energy in a given day. I imagine all of us have had the experience of coming home after a long day with many tasks still to accomplish, sat on the couch to watch TV for a few minutes, and the next thing you know, it is morning and you are lying there in your clothes. This is the act of your body proclaiming, “For today, we are done. I don’t care if you still have stuff to do, the engine has run dry.” Consequently, the efficient distribution of that given amount of energy is important in serving the world in the manner we are charged to. In this passage, we find the true spirit of the serenity prayer. I am asking God to help me locate the areas in which I have no power to effect change so that I don’t dump any of my value energy in that direction. I am also asking God to show me the situations where I do have the power to be of service so that I may attempt to put all of my energies in that direction. Finally, the most important part of the prayer is in asking God for the power to be able to tell the difference between the two because left to my own devices I will use all of my energy up fretting about the things I can’t change, have no energy left for the things I can change and I once again find my life unmanageable.
We now find ourselves in possession of four of the five ways in which we stay spiritually fit and guarantee that we remain recovered and living in the sunlight of the spirit. But we have one more spiritual directive left to uncover and it is, by far, the most important one of all. The last words in the chapter Into Action read, “The next chapter is entirely devoted to Step Twelve.”