By Wayne S. Includes excerpts and text edited from: AA Twelve and Twelve – 11th Step, miscellaneous excerpts from various sessions from the app Waking Up by Sam Harris, Tracy Cochran blogpost Giving is Receiving
The Get Up, Get Out, Get Sober (GUGOGS) meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous devotes the meeting on the third Sunday of each month to exploring meditation. Our meditation practice in this GUGOGS meeting is rooted in the 11th Step in AA and incorporates the traditions of mindfulness meditation drawn from a variety of resources. This introduction is intended to provide a context for both the experienced meditator and for those who are new to meditation and may have never meditated. It will also serve to prepare us for a group meditation experience followed by sharing about the experience, thoughts and feelings that may arise before, during and after the practice, or responses to the ideas presented in this introduction. We ask that you try to be fully present during the meditation and not be distracted by other things. Please be in a place where you can devote your attention to the practice. (This means not to get on your combine and thresh your wheatfields during the meditation.)
In the 11th Step chapter of the ‘12 and 12’ book, excerpts from page 68 state: “There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life. . . 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. Yet it is only a step. We will want to go further. We will want the good that is in us all, even in the worst of us, to flower and to grow. Most certainly we shall need bracing air and an abundance of food. But first of all, we shall want sunlight; nothing much can grow in the dark. Meditation is our step out into the sun.”
Meditation is an integral part of the ‘trilogy’ specified above in addition to self-examination and prayer. Here we will examine meditation more deeply to help you learn how to incorporate it into your life and for use in your ongoing Step 11 work. It will also inform how it interacts with the other two legs of trilogy. Incorporating meditation on some regular basis can also improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power.
Why would you want to meditate? Your mind is involved in everything you experience in life and the contributions you make to the lives of others. Given this fact, it makes sense to train it. You already know from our experience with alcohol what it’s like to have an untrained mind. Many of us are consumed by stress. We spend much time thinking about all the things we need to do, want to do, or wish we hadn’t done, and we spend less time truly content and focused in the present. Because of this we often fail to really connect with the people around us. Understanding our own mind directly through the practice of meditation is a way to correct for this.
When we meditate, we may close our eyes and become still. Something inside us longs to escape the daily grind, noise and distractions; the difficult people and thorny situations; and our reactions to it all. We are here to carve out a little time to sit and bring attention to our body, our breath, and/or our prayer, with a goal of connecting to life. It is a bit ironic that in the process of getting away from life, we can discover a deeper and more vibrant life.
A truth is that life is experienced in the present moment. Of course, we should strive to live a productive satisfying life, to be physically fit and healthy and creative and educated and have meaningful relationships. There is surely a difference between a life filled with love and opportunity, and a life that is just one long emergency. However, we do not always come to rest in the present moment and experience the peace and fulfillment that is available there. Genuine well-being is available through experiencing the moment even in times of intense difficulty and stress.
An ancient definition of meditation and mindfulness is remembering the present moment. For a moment in time, we emerge from a dense thicket of thought and emotion and remember that we are alive and breathing. During this we may wonder how we could get so caught up in the turbulence and may marvel that just the act of experiencing the moment can be so ALIVE!
Meditation, like any other human endeavor needs to be learned, nurtured and practiced. Even professional athletes have coaches and trainers, and continually refine their practice. The goal of meditation is not to become a great meditator. The goal is for there to be no difference between the clarity and freedom you experience in periods of formal meditation and the clarity and freedom you experience in your life, your relationships at work, when stuck in traffic and even when receiving a scary diagnosis from your doctor. Meditation can become a kind of wise companion which you can use daily or even occasionally to help you deepen your understanding of your own mind to help you live a more examined life.
When we’re lost in thought there are certain things we tend not to notice about the nature of our minds. For instance, every thought or feeling you’ve ever had good or bad has arisen and then passed away. The anger you felt yesterday or a year ago isn’t here anymore. If it arises again in the next moment based on your thinking about the past, you will experience it and it will once again pass away when you are no longer thinking about it. This is a profoundly important truth about the mind and can be absolutely liberating to understand deeply.
Meditation will not keep you from becoming angry, scared, or sad but with it you can learn not to stay angry, fearful or embarrassed for very long. Certainly circumstances matter, but it is your perceptions and responses to them rather than the circumstances themselves that determine the quality of your life. Some people are content amid real deprivation and danger while others are miserable despite having all the good fortune in the world. There are practices that allow us to break this habit of being lost in thought and simply become aware of our experience in the present moment.
The meditation practice in which we will engage is often referred to as mindfulness. It is a state of clear non-judgmental and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness. There’s nothing passive about mindfulness. You could even say that it expresses a certain kind of passion for discerning what is subjectively real in each moment. Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience it is the act of experiencing more clearly. One of the strengths of this kind of meditation is that it simply demands that we pay close attention to the flow of our experience in each moment; to simply recognize what is already arising in consciousness in each moment without modifying it. Meditation is the act of doing less than you normally do; it is the act of being less distracted while everything else is happening on its own.
Group meditation can be a particularly powerful way to experience this practice. When we sit with others in a group meditation, we may come away with a deeper sense of the people around us; not in a social sense, but in the experience of their presence and underlying intentions and energy. We may feel their basic kindness and may feel supported by their honesty.
To be alive is to be immersed in a great web of generosity. We are constantly giving and receiving; breathing and experiencing sensations, and then exhaling as we experience reactions to our environment. We may become conscious of how WE are generous and begin to know the truth of our interconnection with life. Meditating can have the effect of enhancing our generosity. We give our bodies, feelings, perceptions and suffering the gift of our nonjudgmental attention. We begin to notice how our actions, thoughts and attitudes impact the world around us. We begin to see how mindfulness of generosity makes us aware of our capacity for compassion–our capacity to emerge from isolation and willingly be part of life. At moments, we may be surprised by our capacity for joy and freedom from fear.
When we practice meditation one of the things we learn is how to begin again in each moment you notice that you’re distracted. We often use an anchor for this purpose. It can be the breath, the body, sensations, a mantra, or a prayer. The 12 and 12 book suggests we use the Step 11 Prayer (St. Francis Prayer) as the focus of meditation. Regardless which we use, we are training our minds by practicing a willingness to simply return to the present moment without judgment, without disappointment. When we get lost in thought, we return to our meditation using our anchor. Even if you spent five minutes thinking about something that you saw on TV last night, your schedule for tomorrow, what you are going to tell your boss tomorrow, or even fall asleep, you can break this spell. You can recognize what consciousness is by recognizing your distraction, letting it go, and choosing to return to the moment. You are not striving to eliminate these distractions, just notice them and return to the meditation.
This ability to begin again is also the foundation of forgiveness. The only way to truly forgive another person or oneself is to restart the clock in the present. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to practice it. You can notice that a conversation with a friend or a family member or colleague isn’t going very well, you’re not having fun at a party, you’ve been trying to get some work done but you found that just wasted the last hour on the Internet, or you’re working out in the gym and in an instant, you notice you haven’t been making much of an effort. You can notice each at that moment, and just begin again. There’s no real reason why the next 10 minutes in the gym can’t be the best you’ve had in years; no real reason why you can’t put that tough conversation on a new footing by saying something that is truly useful. The practice is to stop telling yourself a story about what has been happening and to fully connect with experience in the moment.
Learning to meditate gives you the ability to simply let go (or let be) negative emotions. You can decide how long you want to stay angry, sad, or frustrated. You can get off the ride before you say or do something stupid that you’ll later regret. You will not learn to meditate by accident, and you won’t learn it by jogging or hiking or playing music or doing any of the other things you do to feel good. Paradoxically once you know how to meditate you can experience the same insights into the nature of your mind while jogging, hiking, playing music and doing all the other things you like to do. You can have these insights and experience and change your perception of yourself and the world, through the practice of meditation.
Again, excerpted from the 11th step in 12 and 12: “When we refuse air, light or food, the body suffers. And when we turn away from meditation and prayer, we likewise deprive our minds, our emotions, and our intuitions of vitally needed support . . . Let’s always remember that meditation is in reality intensely practical. One of its first fruits is emotional balance. With it we can broaden and deepen the channel between ourselves and God as we understand Him.”
Giving is a wonderful way to feel both supported by AND accompanied in life. And we can start by giving ourselves the gift of our own generous attention. In our meditation be lavishly generous with yourself. View your meditation time as is a ‘no meanness or self-judgment zone.’ Remind yourself with your kind attention that you are not wrong to feel exactly what you feel. You just do. And you are totally welcome here.
Guided Group Meditation starts now
Addendum for possible individual use during meditation:
Step 11 Prayer of St. Francis.
“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace—that where there is hatred, I may bring love—that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness—that where there is discord, I may bring harmony—that where there is error, I may bring truth—that where there is doubt, I may bring faith—that where there is despair, I may bring hope—that where there are shadows, I may bring light—that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted—to understand, than to be understood—to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by for-giving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.”