Includes excerpts and text from: AA Twelve and Twelve – 11thStep, excerpts from sessions from the Waking Up App by Sam Harris, excerpts from Tracy Cochran blogpost Giving is Receiving. Edited and written by Wayne S.
Our GUGOGS meditation practice is rooted in the 11th Step in AA and incorporates mindfulness meditation drawn from a variety of resources. As we ready ourselves for our meditation practice, please be fully present during the meditation and not distracted by other things. Be in a place where you can devote your full attention to the practice. As we read together, please consider that our meditation practice has just begun . . .
The 11th Step of the ‘12 and 12’ book says: “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: self-examination, meditation and prayer. Through our practice here, we hope to learn how to incorporate meditation into our ongoing Step 11 work and 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, in whatever way we experience this. AA’s Big Book also reminds us that our overall objective is to take this trilogy practice with us wherever we go with this inspiring statement from page 87 ‘what used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind’.
Why do we meditate? The mind is involved in everything we experience in life and the contributions we make to the lives of others. Given this fact, it makes sense to train it. From our experience with alcohol, we may already understand what it’s like to have an untrained mind. For many of us our minds are often racing. We spend much time thinking about all the things we need to do, want to do, or wish we had not done, and we spend less time truly content and attentive to the present. Because of this we often fail to really connect with ourselves and the people around us. Training our mind directly through the practice of meditation is a way to correct for this.
We often meditate with closed eyes as we become very still. Something inside us may long 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, or prayer, with a goal of connecting to life. It’s ironic that in the process of getting away from life, we can discover a deeper and more vibrant life.
Life is experienced in the present moment. Most of us strive to live a productive satisfying life, to be physically fit and healthy, 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, even our well-intended striving may separate us from the present moment and the experience of peace and fulfillment that is available there. Genuine well-being is available through experiencing these moments 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 other human endeavors 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 we experience in periods of formal meditation and the clarity and freedom we experience in our lives, relationships at work, when stuck in traffic and even when receiving a scary diagnosis from a doctor. Meditation can become a kind of wise companion which we can use occasionally or daily to help deepen our understanding of our own mind to help us 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 we’ve ever had good or bad has arisen and then passed away. The anger we felt yesterday or a year ago isn’t here anymore. If it arises again in the next moment based on our thinking about the past, we may experience it again and it will once again pass away when we’re 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 us from becoming angry, scared, or sad but with it we can learn not to stay angry, fearful or embarrassed for very long. Certainly circumstances matter, but it is our perceptions and responses to them rather than the circumstances themselves that determine the quality of life. Some people are content amid real deprivation and danger while others are miserable despite having all the good fortune in the world. Our meditation practice allows 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 doing less than we 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. As 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, underlying intentions and energy. We may feel the basic kindness of others and may feel supported by their honesty. Sharing after a group meditation may help enhance our experience.
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 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.
As we practice meditation, we learn how to begin again in each moment even when distracted. We often use an anchor for this purpose. It can be the breath, the body, sensations, a mantra, or prayer. Step 11 suggests the 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, use the anchor to return to the meditation. Even if you just 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 that you were distracted, let it be, and return to the moment. We are not striving to eliminate 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 found that you 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 effort. You can notice it, and just begin again. There’s no 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 a story about what has been happening and to fully connect with experience in the moment.
Learning to meditate gives us the ability to simply let negative emotions go (or be). We can learn to recognize and accept our anger, sadness and frustration with less judgement and more curiosity. We can get off the ride before we say or do something stupid that we will later regret. We will not learn to meditate by accident and won’t learn it by jogging or hiking or playing music or doing any of the other things we do to feel good. Paradoxically once we know how to meditate, we can experience the same insights into the nature of our mind while jogging, hiking, playing music and doing all the other things we like to do. Through this practice, we can have these insights and experience and change our perception of ourselves and the world.
Again, excepted from the 11th step: “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 our Higher Power.”
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 your meditation be lavishly generous with yourself. View your meditation time as 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 we are all totally welcome here.
Group Meditation Practice
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.”