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“The process of enlightenment is usually slow. But in the end, our seeking always brings a finding. These great mysteries are, after all, enshrined in complete simplicity.”
– Bill W
Exploring spirituality in the 11th Step of AA Alcoholics anonymous can be a wonderful and illuminating experience. We now have a solid frame of reference built by the previous Ten Steps of AA. Our recovery has helped us to stay sober one day at a time, and has allowed us to expand our capacity for new information about ourselves, and the world around us. This open mindedness is one of the greatest things about AA. In AA the concept of a “higher power” and “God as we understand him” really affords every single person, from every walk of life, an unlimited choice of spiritual beliefs and actions.
In recovery we find that spirituality really is constantly developing and changing just like us. New situations and new people all have an effect on us and our spirituality needs to grow along those lines. The Step 11 task at hand is therefore finding ways to improve conscious contact and connection with the “God” of our own understanding. We already have a conscious awareness of a “higher power” working in our lives, which we began to develop in Step Two. Working on Step Three we learned to trust that higher power for guidance. In the process of working through all of the steps so far, we were improving our relationship with the higher power.
While working on the 11th step we come to realize that reaching out to a God of our understanding is also simply known as prayer and meditation, which can be one of the most effective means for building a relationship with our higher power.
When we first came to Alcoholics Anonymous most of us realized pretty darn quickly that we needed to change our relationship with the word and concept of “God”. Its more than likely that while using our drug of choice we didn’t understand- or care to understand- anything about a higher power and likely had some very unhealthy ideas about it…unless it was to make a brazen demand along the lines of “Do this for me now and I won’t use again.”
Working on the previous 10 Steps you were forming new ideas that allowed for a loving, caring higher power to be a part of your life, and coming to believe in a power greater than yourself. When I sat down to work on my Fifth Step with my first sponsor, I was filled with a quiet certainty that not only could I trust my sponsor and trust this process, but also going forward I felt the presence of a higher power.
This part of the AA journey is going to be so different for everyone, and there’s no right or wrong God, just as there’s no right or wrong way to improve conscious contact. For some, being in recovery may mean healing resentments that we may have held against religious institutions. For some the religion of their childhood was little more than a community or sentimental connection but can now work really well for them as part of their personal spiritual path.
Exploring our spiritual path in Step 11 means picking up, leaning into and/or discarding various spiritual practices. AA it’s self does not have any official or specifically approved spiritual path. The AA program of recovery offers a set of spiritual principles, and uses a concept referred to as “God” or “higher power” or “power greater than ourselves” for members to use as a path out of active addiction.
Whether you are solid as a rock in your concept of a higher power and your spiritual path, or if your current state of mind holds no answers for you yet, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because, at this point on our journey we can embark on a search for a better way to understand our higher power.
This process allows us room for adventure, humility and faith. We have the option to visit every place that has anything to do with spirituality that’s available in our community. Some people I know love churches, cathedrals, synagogues and even graveyards as places where they feel divinely in tune. Others find that connection in nature, doing something they love, or through volunteering. It is also highly suggested that as you progress in recovery that you enhance your life with the abundant number of books and publications concerned with AA, spirituality and personal growth.
However, a central part of working Step 11 is not letting our own personal spiritual path take us away from the fellowship and practice of AA. Remember that we need the rooms of AA in order to deal with our addiction; our spiritual path, meditation and prayer will enhance the quality of our recovery but nothing can take the place of AA meetings, service and fellowship. With the 11thstep we are adding to the many ingredients that make up the perfect sobriety pie. Nothing can take the place of the serenity we feel the moment we step into a meeting, or shake the hand of a newcomer.
Prayer And Meditation: A Mindful Place Of Serenity
“In AA we have found that the actual good results of prayer are beyond question. They are matters of knowledge and experience. All those who have persisted have found strength not ordinarily their own. They have found wisdom beyond the usual capability. And they have increasingly found a peace of mind which can stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances.”
– Bill W
If you haven’t heard it before, AA is a simple program for complex people. Most members of Alcoholics Anonymous will say this simple suggestion about Step 11: Prayer is “talking to God” and meditation is “listening to God‘s reply.” This collective wisdom succinctly captures the meanings of prayer and meditation so well. It’s also a great reminder that improving conscious contact means building a relationship with God. In order to build any kind of relationship there needs to be a dialogue- and not merely a monologue, in one direction.
When we say that prayer is talking to a higher power, it doesn’t always have to be literally in the form of actual speech. Thinking a prayer, writing it or signing it may work for you. The key is to develop a form of prayer that feels right to you. If you have been attending AA meetings you have experienced saying a prayer. Even if the only prayers you say are the ones at AA meetings, you have been asking a higher power to keep you sober another day, for knowledge and the power to carry it out. These are habits that are helpful, healthy and may one day save your recovery.
Believe it or not, you have already been meditating every time you’ve stood as a community, in a meeting and observed the moment of silence. Every time you were out of your own head and listening intently to the story of another person, you were meditating. I firmly believe that this is one of the reasons meetings are the medicine for alcoholics and addicts; that reprieve we feel from the obsessive mind and that refocusing which brings us to the present moment is a major part of meditation. It is a simple fact that prayer, meditation and conscious contact calms us down and grounds us; usually helping to alleviate the fears that seem to overwhelm and threaten our recovery. That’s one of the reasons that we say “ It works if you work it.”
While actively working Step 11, any of us begin to notice more and more times when there is a presence of a higher power and the magnificent ways it works in our life.
The presence of a loving God can be experienced in nature, in the force of the ocean, through the unconditional love of our sponsor and other AA members and through the feeling of being anchored by our program during the storm of difficult times. That connection to a higher power and the intention of wanting to know what God’s will is for us usually shows up while listening to and talking with other members of AA.
If the reason we’ve been praying and meditating is to seek the knowledge of our higher power’s will for us and the power to carry that out, how do we identify what God‘s will is for our lives? I think it’s much simpler to identify what is not God‘s will. In fact it’s a great starting point to acknowledge that it is not God‘s will for us to relapse. Therefore acting in any way that might lead us to relapse is not God’s will and informs us about a whole bunch of behaviors, choices and thoughts that we should NOT engage in. Using all of the knowledge that we have gained from our previous work on steps, about our patterns and ourselves we try our best to avoid destructive patterns.
In “It works: how and why” we read, “ God‘s will for us is the ability to live with dignity, to love ourselves and others, to laugh, and to find great joy and beauty in our surroundings. Our most heartfelt longings and dreams for our lives are coming true.”
Our step work wouldn’t be complete without questions that we can seek to answer as we continue to work the 12 steps of AA. Here are some Step 11 guideline questions that I have found the most useful- both in the beginning of Step 11 work and at various intervals in recovery:
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Now is the time to put knowledge, faith and ideals into action; we can’t pass on something that we don’t have.
Some members of AA find that consistent prayer and meditation helps put a focus on a higher power instead of on them, which is a relief and a freedom.
No longer feeling such an urgency to control every little thing in our lives and surrendering that self will run riot, leads to more satisfaction and success.
This is a spiritual awakening. As part of our spiritual awakening we begin to manifest the three elements of recovery in AA, which involves the body, the mind and the spirit. These 3 elements together make up who and what we are and therefore true healing includes all of these aspects of the self. Just like a three-legged stool, our recovery cannot stay upright and secure unless all three legs are equally strong. So we work on and maintain all of them equally.
With this faith, courage and strength fully realized our days of active addiction no longer seem like a tragedy or a waste. We see that our experiences can serve a higher purpose; we are ready to carry the message to the addict who is still suffering. In Step 12 we are going to explore the ways in which we can carry the message of recovery and to help others who are still suffering.
The 12 Steps are kind of like a recipe for a super human special cake, one that brings about a personality change sufficient to allow alcoholics to recover from our alcoholism. When we’ve baked in the spiritual experience and arrived at step 12, it’s time for the best favorite part, the icing on the cake!
Those who pray, stay.
Here is a list of some great reading material:
“A new pair of glasses” – by Chuck “C”
“The language of recovery… And living life one day at a time” – by Blue Mountain Arts
“Daily Reflections: A Book of Reflections by A.A. Members for A.A. Members”
“As Bill Sees It (The A.A. Way of Life)” – selected writing of Bill W.
“Came To Believe…The spiritual adventure of A.A as experienced by individual members”
“Mindful recovery a spiritual path to healing from addiction” – by Thomas & Beverly Bien
“Recovering spirituality: achieving emotional sobriety in your spiritual practice” – by Ingrid Matthieu
Unrelated to A.A specifically, transformative for spiritual growth:
“The places that scare you a guide to fearlessness in difficult times”
“When things fall apart heart advice for difficult times” – by Pema Chodron
“You can heal your life” – by Louise Hay
“The four agreements” – don Miguel Ruiz