A member who has applied himself to improving his conscious contact with his Higher Power spells out the basic steps in the practice of meditation
“SOMETIMES, when friends tell us how well we are doing, we know better inside. 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.
When I realized that these words applied to me, I also realized that it was meditation itself that I knew least about. I had misunderstood and neglected this Eleventh Step because I did not know what meditation is. I did not know that meditation means awareness, attention, listening. For a lifetime of drinking, I had not wanted to listen, especially to the self within.
With others in the same situation, I now belong to an Eleventh Step meditation group. The general intent of our work is to increase and enrich our understanding of meditation as described in the books Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. We have also adopted procedures from a number of other sources, some very old, but all quite standard, well-known, and simple, if not easy. We make use of some organization and planning simply to learn to sit still and to liberate and direct our faculty of attention. Many of the great thinkers of the past and present can instruct us, particularly in the early stages of the work.
Our purpose generally is to use meditation every day, alone most of the time. But by sharing our experiences, strength, and hope at the meetings, we enrich our meditations and our methods with as many leads and as many viewpoints as we can, just as in any other AA meeting. Meditation belongs and grows with daily life and daily growth, for it is in daily life that analytical thought binds us into the dilemma of opposites and consequently into sorrow, pleasure-seeking, and loss of freedom. In a life which may often seem onerous, boring, and senseless, meditation can free us to its beauty, its joy beyond pleasure, its passion beyond sorrow.
Because of the vital and literally endless potential of our Eleventh Step meditation meeting, I want to emphasize that it is in no sense a religious exercise; it “is not allied with any sect, denomination. . .or institution.” It is rather a training in the continuous application of mind for those who seek “to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him.” Its methods are equally applicable for agnostic, atheist, and any believer–or for those who use AA, their AA group, health, sanity, or any other of the many understandings and manifestations of the Higher Power.
Our meditation is divided into three phases. The first is concerned with an awareness of reality. Here we meet immediately the oldest forms of resistance: “My mind is jumping all over. I can’t concentrate. I should have said this. I’d like to do that. I ought to know more. I wish I had. . .Why can’t I. . .?” and so on without end. The mind is like an overactive child in its restless flight from self, from guilt and discomfort, and in its darting search for something, anything. The mind is always seeking pleasure or self-expansion and avoiding effort or danger, like an animal. When the animal rules us, thinking becomes a substitute for action, while masquerading as a plan for action.
Meditation is not an attempt to solve difficulties. Planning has its place in our mental life, and the discipline and training of meditation can help us to plan more effectively. But meditation itself is not planning or managing. And it is not daydreaming.
Meditation is, in fact, the specific corrective for racing thoughts. This first phase is a lesson in healthy thinking. We no longer fight these thousand thoughts and fantasies–we experience them. We used to let the manipulating ego eternally touch up its precious image, busily denying, distorting, and hiding the truth. Now we simply experience what is happening within the self and outside the self. Fearlessly, calmly, as if watching beside a stream, we watch all thoughts and all experiences flow by us. This is the essential process beginning the meditation: the reduction of the ego.
Thoughts are quietly observed; feelings are experienced; noises are heard, all just as they really are: “I hear a taxi horn outside. I feel my left foot. I feel my breathing. I remember what I should have said, not what I did say. I feel a tightness in my stomach. What is this anger? What do I really feel? I am daydreaming. I am not paying attention. I am attached to my thoughts; I must experience them. Why do I want to be good at this? Why do I want to fail? When will this be over? I don’t want to think of bad things. It ought to be different. It ought to be this way–my way.”
We discover what is happening right now, within the body and outside the body, as an experience, without any attempt to enter into it, to change it, to master it. We want only to be truly aware of a new experience, the experience of the inner and outer worlds perceived with immediate, fresh contact and without memories, images, or ideologies picturing what should be. The mind will often drift away into daydreams, but patiently we turn our attention back to the truth and the reality of existence and experience, all as it is happening right now.
Adequate understanding of this first phase is essential: We must accept reality–all of it, the self and the world–just as it is. Only this acceptance will help us to receive sanity in place of what we have called the madness of alcoholic thinking.
It is at this point that we need help and instruction, in addition to working out problems in the group. The final purpose is to apply this process in all our affairs. “Let’s always remember that meditation is in reality intensely practical. One of its first fruits is emotional balance.” It is in this first phase of our method that we begin to accept ourselves and life, to participate in reality in closer union with reality, to diminish the eternal bickering of escape, conquest, evasion, triumph, and injustice-collecting. It is here that study, reading, and practice will begin to open a new world of health and sanity.
The second phase of our method depends upon the use of one-pointed attention. Some like to relax by tightening the fists for a minute and then allowing the hands to open of themselves, and so let all tension drain from the body. This little exercise is not essential; it is simply a physical reminder to experience and be aware, not to try to run things, but to let them happen. It is a symbol of “letting go.” As we move into the second phase, we allow the thoughts and pictures in the mind to drift or be gently led from center to side of the mental screen, often gray or dark at first before our closed or half-closed eyes.
Instead, at the center we picture an idea, an important thought, or, as in the beautiful example given in “Twelve and Twelve,” a prayer. We may find one or more of the Steps or other parts of the AA program useful as a center for awareness. We can review the day to come or the day past–not analyzing, recriminating, nor gloating, but experiencing and understanding. How often, for example, have I suddenly realized the deeper meanings of one of the Slogans! Here is where I allow new understanding to develop: Instead of focusing on my idea of sobriety or growth or sanity, I learn that which is new to me–which was not mine until now–which comes from a source beyond me, a Higher Power (no matter how I describe it or experience it). As I can do in looking at an ikon, I let ideas, experiences, and memories look back at me and teach me; I learn from them. If I try to strangle a habit or a fault, it will teach me nothing; but if I am truly aware, I can learn from it. For instance, compare controlled drinking to the First Step.
If a problem persistently comes up and will not let me alone, it is here in meditation that I learn to experience it. It is here that I learn what I truly feel, not how I analyze it. Analyzing it is only another way of blaming someone or something else. Often just the willingness to see a problem clearly is the beginning of its resolution. Facing something and experiencing it fully means the end of escape maneuvers and ego domination, and these are the real sources of anxiety and resentment. “As we have seen, self-searching is the means by which we bring new vision, action, and grace to bear upon the dark and negative side of our natures. It is a step in the development of that kind of humility that makes it possible for us to receive God’s help.” Here in this phase I learn the meanings, for me, of many kinds of wisdom and many parts of the program. I allow the depth and impact of these meanings to grow within and to teach me to grow from within. In this way I can experience the joy of discovery of my true self; such joy releases more energy for more growth and discovery of life.
Having now prepared ourselves in awareness and attention, in totally experiencing reality, and in willingness to learn, we are ready to move into the third and last phase of our meditation. This is the Eleventh Step proper. We are not managing anything. We are not teaching anyone. We are not mentally repairing the past or gilding the future. We are allowing all the contents of the mind to drift to the side of the mental screen. We practice readiness to learn–humility–teachability–the state of seeking and receptivity. And that is all we do. All the rest is up to the Higher Power.
New understandings may come now or at any time later. Our practice here is to be ready and to trust, openly and without ego or pride, as much as we can. Our contact may be in the form of healthier understanding; it may be very simple; it may be beyond anything we can imagine. There is no end to the kinds of individual experiences possible in the practice of the Eleventh Step or in the effects flowing from it.
Here in the third phase of our meditation we offer our preparation, imperfect as it may be, for whatever within or beyond us leads to new growth of the true self. From here on, each person follows and develops his own beliefs, outside the limits of this discussion. The meditation can then be ended with a brief review of the experience. Sometimes it is all hard, even painful work; just as often, perhaps, there is a pure and unexpected joy. Both feelings are valid and ought not to surprise or mislead us. There is only this: Awareness is all.
11The AA Way of Life, page 264
22Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 104
33Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 100