As with most people, I gave this Step much thought when I began working the program. It seemed straightforward enough to me–I was to take some time each day to improve my conscious contact with God. But as time went on, things which appeared simple on first hearing began to take on a deeper meaning and practicing the Steps required more than a superficial understanding
What is prayer? What is meditation? I was very familiar with what are called “foxhole prayers.” In my days as a practicing alcoholic, I often prayed for God to “please get me out of this situation.” My pleading prayers were usually followed by the promise, “And I’ll never drink again!” The foxhole prayers and the drinking continued for quite some time.
When I began to practice Step Eleven, my lack of experience and knowledge became obvious, but by being willing to let go of old ideas and being open to new ones, I came to discover some of what practicing Step Eleven means. Meditation was the term with which I had almost no experience. Perhaps you, too, may be a little confused about the term meditation.
Meditation is described as a practice of building discipline in concentration. The main idea is quieting the constant chatter in our minds so that we can become aware of God’s will in our lives. Meditation techniques appear in most every spiritual path. There are mantras (sacred words spoken over and over) like the Rosary or verses from the Hindu Upanishads. There are physical postures and movements like kneeling in prayer, doing Yoga or Tai Chi. Some meditative techniques include different visual symbols such as the Jewish system of concentration on the Hebrew alphabet letter aleph or, for the advanced student, the four letters which form the name of God, called the tetragrammaton.
Luckily, meditation does not require one to be proficient in the great variety of different methods and techniques. What’s important is to find a method which is right for you. If you have a particular religious background with which you are comfortable, you begin there. In the Christian tradition, for instance, there is a method called “Centering Prayer.” This is an ancient form of meditation which can be traced to the early desert fathers, hermits who devoted themselves to a life of prayer. Centering Prayer consists of sitting quietly and being aware of your breath. The object of this method is to use one of the most natural processes of life, breathing, as a focus to quiet the mind.
For many people, the particular meditation practice which they choose may have been popularized by another religious faith. Various techniques are so universal that one religion could hardly claim total credit for their evolution. Breathing is breathing, whether you call it Centering Prayer or Yoga. Just because you use a meditation technique from a particular faith does not mean that you have to convert! Thousands of people in this country practice the Chinese discipline of Tai Chi to strengthen their bodies and calm their minds, but very few have converted to Taoism, the source of this marvelous technique.
There are formal courses on meditation, but some of these can be quite expensive. Thus far, my total financial investment in meditation techniques is the cost of a few books (paperback, usually on sale). But even my meager monetary investment is not necessary. Ask your minister, priest, rabbi, or a friend who meditates.
One ancient technique mentioned in our Fellowship’s book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, consists of reading a passage of inspirational writing with care. Thus, our minds are calmed, and we find deeper and deeper meaning in the text.
Once we find a type of meditation practice which suits us, how long and how often should we practice? Some teachers of meditation recommend fifteen minutes to thirty minutes, once or twice a day. The next question is, “What is supposed to happen in my meditation?”
Some would have you believe that the aim of meditation is some sort of unearthly spiritual experience. It is true that a blissful state of meditation may be accompanied by some previously unfamiliar experiences, but the true experience sought for by the masters is, as the Buddhists might say, “no thing.” I have heard countless stories from people who said that nothing (no thing) was happening in their meditations. However, their lives during this time were going through wonderful transformations.
In my own case, I can remember a time when nothing was happening during my daily meditations. There were no special sights or sounds, no feelings of elation. Nothing at all that happened. During the day, however, a wonderful process was taking place in my mind. As I was busy working or driving the car, repressed memories began to come to the surface. These memories were of times which earlier had caused great guilt and remorse, the sort of thoughts that could–and did–contribute to my having to drink to suppress them. Now, after my meditations, these horrid times of my life came into my consciousness fully healed and forgiven! It was as if I could see all of these events of the past from a totally new perspective, a new point of view which now contained grace and forgiveness. God seemed to be doing for me what I could not do for myself.
Are there dangers in meditation? Like everything else in our lives, our meditation practice demands rigorous honesty. Because of the blissful feelings often accompanying meditation, the practice can become a form of escape from real life. Instead of being a natural part of our daily living, meditation can become a self-centered exercise used to close out the world and other people. This type of misuse of meditation has been given the name Quietism. I believe that in this Step we are seeking God’s will in our lives and the power to carry that divine will out. We are not looking for meditation to become our entire life.
Another form of meditation malpractice is a feeling of superiority that can come from long hours in quiet solitude. Again, our literature warns us, “We are not saints.” Our meditation should always reflect a “willingness to grow along spiritual lines.” A spiritual experience during meditation is not necessarily a “spiritual awakening.” The transformation of our lives is the result of practicing all Twelve Steps, not the result of total concentration on only one part of one Step.
When the meditation practice of Step Eleven is integrated into a total program of recovery with honesty and humility, it is the beginning of a fantastic adventure. Daily meditation opens new worlds for discovery. Prayer, communion with God, becomes a reality, not just a possibility.