I struggled to find whose words best conveyed the punch-you-right-in-the-kisser confrontation of the eleventh step. I decided to go with Bill W, I put together six paragraphs he crafted that aptly define prayer and meditation. Since his writings convey spirituality in a practical application they’re worth examining here.
“We liked A.A. all right, and were quick to say that it had done miracles. But we recoiled from meditation and prayer as obstinately as the scientist who refused to perform a certain experiment lest it prove his pet theory wrong. Of course we finally did experiment, and when unexpected results followed, we felt different; in fact we knew different; and so we were sold on meditation and prayer. And that, we have found, can happen to anybody who tries. It has been well said that “almost the only scoffers at prayer are those who never tried it enough.”
It’s interesting the current emphasis placed on meetings; meeting makers make it, right? The underlying justification for relapse is seemingly always, “I stopped going to meetings.”
I’m not here to debate that, it is now and will continue to be a moot point.
However, I will argue that a Higher Power is the necessary precondition for authenticity and genuine relationships. At least, this is the 12-Step stance.
This just means you cannot have one without the other.
Why did you stop going to meetings?
Because you stopped praying and meditating.
Why did you stop praying and meditating?
You stopped going to meetings.
If you picture a triangle with God on the top and you and “others” on the two bottom points, you’ll understand what I’m getting at.
Sobriety is the sum of its parts.
What are its parts?
What then the disease of addiction?
Perhaps, to quote Chuck C, “its the conscious feeling of separation from.”
Additionally, spirituality is a bonafide human need. You can’t reject it any more than you can reject other people, that is relationships being a genuine human need.
What’s argued as the most inhumane form of punishment? Solitary confinement. Who would have thought?
In each of these points of the triangle exists other triangles. Stick with me, don’t let my geometry steer you away.
The self is composed of mind, body, and spirit.
What about others?
Well, the community of others is composed of influence, reinforcement and integration of fulfillment needs, and shared emotional connection.
And spirituality? In my opinion, it’s self-examination, meditation, and prayer.
The healthy individual, that is the sober individual, is always engaged in these areas.
“There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life.”
By default, humans are dead set on what I call “de-evolution.”
The standard evolutionary process is when a species adapts and adjusts to its environment (yes, this is overly simplistic, but stick with me).
In like manner, emotional evolution, also known as emotional maturity, is the ability to adapt and adjust to one’s environment and/or circumstances.
Sequential, this is the order of things, namely, one must evolve to conditions around them or perish, and pertaining to emotional health – burnout.
Oddly enough, humankind has attempted to subvert this order.
This is the “fall” in which many religions speak; it creates the same great disturbance which precipitates mental disorder (see my SMART recovery review).
The plunge is as follows: sequentially, no longer does one adapt and adjust to conditions, now the sequence is one of control; that is, the unconscious belief is that environments can be controlled and must adapt and adjust to the individual.
How irrational is that belief?
Moreover, how tragic?
If your happiness is contingent upon your environment bending to your will, you’ve set yourself up for serious frustration, irritability, and chronic malcontent.
This simply cannot work in an emotional sense.
Emotional balance, or serenity if you will, is not the absence of disturbances but the welcoming of one’s problems.
“It’s a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.”
This isn’t to minimize injustice but to amplify acceptance. Nothing can be changed until it’s accepted for what it is.
The disturbance is usually our disapproval, but my approval or lack thereof doesn’t usually change things; acceptance and subsequent action does.
What changes here is not the condition but the conditions within myself – from one state of mind to another, as Dr. Paul once brilliantly remarked:
Consider this statement from Bill Wilson in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:
Accepting our conditions is often the most disturbing challenge of all.
Because, as your ancestors duly noted, to get to the promised land we must first make our way through barren desserts.
“If at these points our emotional disturbance happens to be great, we will more surely keep our balance, provided we remember, and repeat to ourselves, a particular prayer or phrase that has appealed to us in our reading or meditation. Just saying it over and over will often enable us to clear a channel choked up with anger, fear, frustration, or misunderstanding, and permit us to return to the surest help of all—our search for God’s will, not our own, in the moment of stress. At these critical moments, if we remind ourselves that “it is better to comfort than to be comforted, to understand than to be understood, to love than to be loved,” we will be following the intent of Step Eleven.”
This is a crucial aspect of meditation. It creates a shift or a reframe of the conditions in our lives, this results in a more proficient ability to deal with less than favorable conditions when they arise.
The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions captures this interplay between Higher Power, Self, and others, particularly regarding the ensuing mental shift that takes place:
“Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of meditation and prayer is the sense of belonging that comes to us. We no longer live in a completely hostile world. We are no longer lost and frightened and purposeless. The moment we catch even a glimpse of God’s will, the moment we begin to see truth, justice, and love as the real and eternal things in life, we are no longer deeply disturbed by all the seeming evidence to the contrary that surrounds us in purely human affairs.”
You can read about prayer here, meditation here, and spirituality here.
As you read the following keep in mind what I’ve said above, this is all the Big Book provides regarding prayer and meditation. It’s designed to act like seeds, you are expected to toil the land and yield the harvest. This will not be easy, but if you want to physically eat you’ll till the land; the same applies to your emotional and spiritual life.
Step Eleven suggests prayer and meditation. We shouldn’t be shy on this matter of prayer. Better men than we are using it constantly. It works, if we have the proper attitude and work at it. It would be easy to be vague about this matter. Yet, we believe we can make some definite and valuable suggestions.
It works with the proper attitude and effort.
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? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.
This is similar to Step 10. It’s helpful to think of meditation as a military general in retreat already strategizing and preparing for the next battle or a coach reviewing the tapes of previous games to ensure future victory.
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.
Prayer is used here as a proactive measure against future struggles. In other words, we are proceeding with the end in mind. Makes sense, no? It’s somewhat like Murphy’s Law, “things will go wrong in any given situation if you give them a chance.” So, we don’t have to be our addiction the power. We immediately do an about-face to principles, clearly examining our goals for the day and checking our thinking patterns and motives. Not too shabby, right? This then continues throughout the day…
In thinking about our day we may face indecision. We may not be able to determine which course to take. Here we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision. We relax and take it easy. We don’t struggle. We are often surprised how the right answers come after we have tried this for a while.
What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind. Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas. Nevertheless, we find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We come to rely upon it.
We usually conclude the period of meditation with a prayer that we be shown all through the day what our next step is to be, that we be given whatever we need to take care of such problems. We ask especially for freedom from self-will, and are careful to make no request for ourselves only. We may ask for ourselves, however, if others will be helped. We are careful never to pray for our own selfish ends. Many of us have wasted a lot of time doing that and it doesn’t work. You can easily see why.
If circumstances warrant, we ask our wives or friends to join us in morning meditation. If we belong to a religious denomination which requires a definite morning devotion, we attend to that also. If not members of religious bodies, we sometimes select and memorize a few set prayers which emphasize the principles we have been discussing. There are many helpful books also. Suggestions about these may be obtained from one’s priest, minister, or rabbi. Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they offer.
As the saying goes, “repetition makes the master.” As Gahndi so succinctly noted “action expresses priority.” Or better yet, our boy Aristotle said, “you are what you repeatedly do.”
The 11th becomes a way of life. An organizing Principle that rules the day.
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.
It works – it really does!!
Particularly if when we are agitated or doubtful we pause! We don’t impulsively fly off the handle and clean the mess up afterward. This in and of itself is radical for us! Fortunately, we don’t go at it alone…
We alcoholics are undisciplined. So we let God discipline us in the simple way we have just outlined.
You are now ready for Step 12.