On Awakening AA…11th step in the Big Book
The following three meditations are taken directly from pages 86-87 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
They are simple, yet rich with spiritual brilliance.
Spiritual work is always saturated with simplicity. It’s our intellectual minds that interrupt this very uncomplicated process.
The main idea behind these meditations is to produce a meditative state (duh).
One can reach a meditative state without sitting full lotus for hours, or years. It doesn’t take a monastic vocation to produce enlightenment. The world needn’t be renounced to reach nirvana.
Rather, underneath all that chaotic thinking lies innate wisdom, creativity, and health. Trusting that innate wisdom is the core component of these meditations.
In terms of traditional therapy, ACT Defusion is a mindfulness practice whose sole aim is to produce a meditative state minus the grunt work of meditation. Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t necessarily disapprove of these strategies but instead trusts a process that includes daily practice and trust in a Higher Power.
How Does It Work? An 11th Step Meditation Breakdown
The 11th Step is primarily a meditative practice that enables us to recognize our thoughts and become aware that we are not them!
As our relationship to thought changes, the way we observe and interact with the world does.
It’s a whole new world.
The Big Book lays out a practice for the morning, a guide to tap into this inner resource during the day, and an exercise to close the chapter on the last 24 hours.
In the rooms they are respectively known as: on awakening, throughout the day, and when we retire at night.
I pray they impact you in the same manner they did me.
On Awakening: Morning Meditation
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.
This morning meditation targets motives.
Because what drives us, motivates us, and moves us is largely unconscious.
Desire isn’t necessarily something that we consciously choose nor is it something we can automatically change.
It’s like any emotion or feeling, it’s primarily involuntary.
For example, if you’re attracted to a specific person this isn’t something you choose. Rather, it’s something that just is. If you get angry at an event, it’s not like you assessed the situation and decided with anger as the best emotional response. It’s involuntary and even intrusive.
This particular function is the aim of the morning meditation.
First we identify thoughts that do not serve us because thoughts are the conditions of our experience.
If you toss seeds on a rocky surface it is unlikely to grow. The conditions aren’t good. However, if the conditions are good, namely fertile soil, adequate sunlight, and water, the seed grows and reaches its potential.
The Big Book identifies negative self-centered thoughts as conditions that suppress our personal growth.
In other schools of thought it’s called the ego. Henry Tiebout says it best when he refers to the ego’s function as “an overconcentration of self.”
Shifting from the chaotic thinking mind to innate wisdom is called a spiritual experience or awakening in the Big Book.
To illustrate, on page 27, Carl Jung explains this shift:
“Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.”
The morning meditation is consciously and deliberately fostering this shift.
Throughout The Day: An Hour-By-Hour Meditation
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.
==>Daily Devotionals are a super useful tool to forge a meditative state of mind.
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.
We alcoholics are undisciplined. So we let God discipline us in the simple way we have just outlined.
If the shift is to take root, it needs to be meticulously applied and reapplied – on a daily basis.
For some, the shift can occur instantaneously, but for most it’s gradual.
The “throughout the day” meditation reminds us that these thoughts must go with us constantly.
What we find is that under all that chaotic thinking and dramatic mumbo jumbo, is a seemingly eternal pool of wisdom.
We are usually tied up in wrestling with our thoughts.
Trying to fix, manage, and control everything.
We analytically break down our genetic constitution, our cultural conditioning, and immediate stressful conditions (what I refer to as the 3 C’s), to find whatever the problem might precisely be so we can somehow mold a solution to it.
Most of us find that when we stop trying, the answers have been there all along.
That’s the trick, the solution isn’t out there somewhere. It’s inside of us, under all the cognitive malarkey that has us spiritually congested.
“…deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself.
We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It was so with us.” (P 55)
When We Retire At Night: An Evening Meditation
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.
The finale of the mediation is what I call “closing the shift.”
It’s a spot-check variety inventory, to examine how much your behavior was informed by your thinking mind vs your innate wisdom.
It’s best to do this with someone else for two primary reasons:
This isn’t a solo activity.
If self-centeredness is the core issue, developing healthy relationships based on mutual interests is a lynchpin to success.
Healthy relationships provide a wide-angle lens through which to view the world, they increase understanding and fuel insight.
It doesn’t take much to see how critical other people are to recovery and the lack thereof to addiction.
Additionally, unconscious desire is largely crafted by rewards.
Healthy relationships, completing goals, following through on commitments, peace of mind, and other healthy activities create rewards.
Over time, these new rewards shift unconscious desire and internal motivations.
So follow through, enjoy the ride, and experience the miracle of the shift.