Group Meditation Step Eleven
At 7:00 AM five days a week you can find a small group of AAs meeting at a club on the north side of Tallahassee, Florida. The group is called Conscious Contact. Its purpose is the daily practice of the Eleventh Step.
The meeting usually starts with a reading from the Eleventh Step discussion in the Big Book that begins “On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead.” Then the Serenity Prayer begins a twenty-five minute period of silent meditation. Meditation ends with the prayer of St. Francis from the Eleventh Step in the “Twelve and Twelve.” A brief discussion follows. After the Lord’s Prayer we’re off to work at 7:45.
The meeting has been going for about a year now. For those of us who attend, it has become an essential part of our lives. In the “Twelve and Twelve” Bill W. compares meditation to food and water. In our experience the comparison is appropriate.
Out of this meeting has developed a method for directly dealing with resentment, frustration, and fear. The meditation-based approach is a powerful addition to the technique suggested in the story “Freedom from Bondage” in the Big Book. It is an alternative for people who never learned to pray or don’t like prayer.
Meditation is a little like playing a musical instrument. Anyone can make a sound with a violin but it takes practice to make music with one. Just a few days of regular practice will provide benefits. Two weeks of daily meditation, at the same time each day, should show tangible changes in the quality of your life.
There are a number of introductory books on meditation at most bookstores and libraries. For the first year of my meditation practice all I did was count my breaths–one to ten and then back to one. This is a good way to quiet the committee meeting going on in your head.
The book Zen Training by K. Sekida has some very good instruction on meditation and breathing. His basic breathing exercise is “bamboo” breathing, or breathing in segments: Breathe in in three stages–breathe, pause, breathe, pause, breathe, pause. Breathe out in one stage against slight pressure. It will take a little practice to get the pressure right. If you’re gasping for breath the exhalation pressure is too high. If the pressure is too low there will be little tension in your abdomen and your mind will tend to wander.
The idea is to keep tension in your lower abdomen while you are breathing. If you do this, you can keep your mind tightly focused. Sekida also suggests focusing on an object and holding your breath for a minute while maintaining the focus. You will find that it is much easier to hold your mind focused if you also hold your breath. You may want to start with fifteen or twenty seconds and work up to a full minute. This technique has added to the quality of my meditation in terms of clarity of mind.
The procedure for eliminating resentment, frustration, and fear uses the segmented breathing technique. First, you bring the cause of your resentment or frustration, or the object of your fear, clearly into mind. You attempt to experience it in detail. Then you abruptly return to your inmost self by closing your eyes and focusing your eyes and mind on an infinite wall while practicing deep abdominal breathing using the segmented technique. Ten minutes of this practice can blow away small resentments.
An example of the power of mindfulness came to me last year. One day my secretary told me in an excited way that there would be a meeting the next day during which the transfer of some of my space to other people would be discussed. This came in the midst of trying to rebuild an alcohol devastated life. After assuring her that there would be no conflict, I went on with my work. But by the time I got home at 5:15 I felt attacked and feelings I have learned to recognize as depression were very strong. It got worse. By 5:30 I used the bamboo breathing exercises to return to my inmost self. By 5:40 I was back to normal, not to be bothered again. Four years ago this event could have lasted for a month and I would have been physically ill for the entire time. (As it turned out, the meeting didn’t even get to a discussion of my space.)
Seven o’clock in the morning is a tough time for most alcoholics, active or recovering. It took me three months to get to the point where I could look forward to getting to a 7:00 AM meeting five days a week. The benefits have been considerable. The use of segmented breathing and mindfulness to deal with fear and resentment is just one benefit. The practice has brought serenity into my life that was previously unimagined.
Solitary meditation is excellent, but meditation in a group is even better. There is something about the power of the group that helps keep my mind from wandering and makes me more open to my Higher Power.
If you get to Tallahassee, come to see us for the early-morning meeting. For those who come, it is a solid experience on which to start the day. People who come daily for two weeks tend to come back for a long time.