When it comes to the practice of AA’s Step Eleven — “ Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him , praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out ” — I’m sure I am still very much in the beginner’s class ; I’m almost a case of arrested development.
Around me I see many people who make a far better job of relating themselves to God than I do . Certainly it mustn’t be said I haven’t made any progress at all over the years ; I simply confess that I haven’t made the progress that I might have made , my opportunities being what they have been , and still are.
My twenty-fourth AA anniversary is just ahead ; I haven’t had a drink in all this time . In fact , I’ve scarcely been tempted at all . This is some evidence that I must have taken and ever since maintained Step One : “ We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable . ” Step One was easy for me.
Then , at the very beginning , I was fortunate enough to receive a tremendous spiritual awakening and was instantly “ made conscious of the presence of God ” and “ restored to sanity ” — at least so far as alcohol is concerned . Therefore I’ve had no difficulty with AA’s Step Two because , in my case , its content was an outright gift . Step Four and Step Five , dealing with self – survey and confession of one’s defects , have not been overly difficult , either.
Of course , my self-analysis has frequently been faulty . Sometimes I’ve failed to share my defects with the right people ; at other times , I’ve confessed their defects , rather than my own ; and at still other times , my confession of defects has been more in the nature of loud complaints about my circumstances and my problems.
Nevertheless , I think I’ve usually been able to make a fairly thorough and searching job of finding and admitting my personal defects . So far as I know , there isn’t at this moment a single defect or current problem of mine which hasn’t been discussed with my close advisers . Yet this pretty well – ventilated condition is nothing for self- congratulation . Long ago I was lucky enough to see that I’d have to keep up my self- analysis or else blow my top completely . Though driven by stark necessity , this continuous self-revelation — to myself and to others — was rough medicine to take. But years of repetition has made this job far easier . Step Nine , making restitution for harms done , has fallen into much the same bracket.
In Step Twelve — carrying the AA message to others — I’ve found little else than great joy . We alkies are folks of action and I’m no exception . When action pays off as it does in AA , it’s a small wonder that Step Twelve is the most popular and , for most of us , the easiest one of all.
This little sketch of my own “ pilgrim’s progress ” is offered to illustrate where I , and maybe lots of other AAs , have still been missing something of top importance . Through lack of disciplined attention and sometimes through lack of the right kind of faith , many of us keep ourselves year after year in the rather easy spiritual kindergarten I’ve just described . But almost inevitably we become dissatisfied ; we have to admit we have hit an uncomfortable and maybe a very painful sticking point.
Twelfth – stepping , talking at meetings , recitals of drinking histories , confessions of our defects and what progress we have made with them no longer provide us with the released and the abundant life . Our lack of growth is often revealed by an unexpected calamity or a big emotional upset . Perhaps we hit the financial jackpot and are surprised that this solves almost nothing ; that we are still bored and miserable , notwithstanding.
As we usually don’t get drunk on these occasions , our bright – eyed friends tell us how well we are doing.
But inside , we know better . We know we aren’t doing well enough . We still can’t handle life , as life is . There must be a serious flaw somewhere in our spiritual practice and development.
What , then , is it ?
The chances are better than even that we shall locate our trouble in our misunderstanding or neglect of AA’s Step Eleven — prayer , meditation , and the guidance of God . The other Steps can keep most of us sober and somehow functioning. But Step Eleven can keep us growing , if we try hard and work at it continually . If we expend even five percent of the time on Step Eleven that we habitually ( and rightly ) lavish on Step Twelve , the results can be wonderfully far – reaching . That is an almost uniform experience of those who constantly practice Step Eleven.
In this article , I’d like to develop Step Eleven further — for the benefit of the complete doubter , the unlucky one who can’t believe it has any real merit at all.
In lots of instances I think that people find their first great obstacle in the phrase “ God as we understand him . ” The doubter is apt to say : “ On the face of it , nobody can understand God. I half believe that there is a First Cause , a something , and maybe a Somebody . But I can’t get any further than this . I think people are kidding themselves when they say they can. Even if there were a Somebody , why should he bother with little me , when , in making the cosmos run , he already has plenty to do ? As for those folks who claim that God tells them where to drill for oil , or when to brush their teeth— well , they just make me tired. ”
Our friend is clearly one who believes in some kind of God — “ God as he understands him . ” But he doesn’t believe any bigger concept or better feeling about God to be possible. So he looks upon meditation , prayer , and guidance as the means of a self – delusion. Now what can our hard – pressed friend do about this?
Well , he can strenuously try meditation , prayer , and guidance , just as an experiment. He can address himself to whatever God he thinks there is. Or , if he thinks there is none , he can admit — just for experimental purposes — that he might be wrong . This is all-important . As soon as he is able to take this attitude , it means that he has stopped playing God himself ; his mind has opened . Like any good scientist in his laboratory , our friend can assume a theory and pray to a “ higher power ” that may exist and may be willing to help and guide him. He keeps on experimenting — in this case , praying — for a long time. Again he tries to behave like the scientist , an experimenter who is never supposed to give up so long as there is a vestige of any chance of success.
As he goes along with his process of prayer , he begins to add up the results. If he persists , he will almost surely find more serenity , more tolerance , less fear , and less anger. He will acquire a quiet courage , the kind that doesn’t strain him. He can look at so-called failure and success for what they really are. Problems and calamity will begin to mean instruction, instead of destruction. He will feel freer and saner . The idea that he may have been hypnotizing himself by autosuggestion will become laughable. His sense of purpose and of direction will increase. His tensions and anxieties will commence to fade. His physical health is likely to improve. Wonderful and unaccountable things will start to happen. Twisted relations in his family and on the outside will unaccountably improve.
Even if few of these things happen, he will still find himself in possession of great gifts. When he has to deal with hard circumstances he can face them and accept them. He can now accept himself and the world around him. He can do this because he now accepts a God who is All — and who loves all. When he now says , “ Our Father who art in Heaven , hallowed be thy name, ” our friend deeply and humbly means it. When in good meditation and thus freed from the clamors of the world, he knows that he is in God’s hand ; that his own destiny is really secure , here and hereafter.
A great theologian once declared : “The chief critics of prayer are those who have never really tried it enough. ” That’s good advice , good advice I’m trying to take ever more seriously for myself. Many AAs have long been striving for a better conscious contact with God and I trust that many more of us will presently join with that wise company .
I’ve just finished rereading the chapter on Step Eleven in our book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions . This was written almost five years ago . I was astonished when I realized how little time I had actually been giving to my own elementary advice on meditation , prayer , and guidance — practices that I had so earnestly recommended to everybody else!
In this lack of attention I probably have plenty of company . But I do know that this is a neglect that can cause us to miss the finest experiences of life , a neglect that can seriously slacken the growth that God hopes we may achieve right here on earth ; here in this great day at school , this very first of our Father’s many mansions .