Sounds of Silence – Grapevine Article April 2004 by Jean C.

They can be heard anytime the bondage of self drops away

My home group usually seizes up if there’s a whole forty-five seconds of silence between shares. Then someone leaps into the breach, saying, “I’ll talk because I just can’t stand the silence.” This might be part of my problem with meditation. As an alcoholic, I’m used to having a few plates spinning in the air and lots of cunning plans chattering away in my brainpan. The prospect of any kind of silence is truly frightening.

Approaching silence is what we do when we meditate. In prayer, as I have been taught to think of it, I get to yak to the Higher Power and, God knows, I’m comfortable with that. But listening? Not my forté.

We are encouraged in the Big Book to look for our own methods in this area. That scares me too because when I’m not busy resisting everything and everyone, I want to be completely dictated to.

Early in my sobriety, my first sponsee told me that she had no clue at all about meditation, and sitting still just made her “committee” get louder. Miraculously, when I opened my mouth to answer her, someone else talked. That someone quoted an old-timer who advised that we let go of our old ideas about what meditation is and try to find some place that already exists in our lives where we feel the bondage of self drop away. My sponsee knew exactly what that meant and told me that when she went to swim laps at the pool, there was a point when it was just the water and the movement and the sound. “That’s it! Go there,” I said. She said “But that’s exercise, not meditation.”

Yes, it is meditation. A little research showed me that, historically, people have tried to reach that state she described in her swimming many, many ways, and not a few of them have involved movement. In fact, AA co-founder Bill W. practiced a walking and breathing meditation to get through his depression while he was writing Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

Years later, another sponsee told me she couldn’t meditate because she couldn’t stop her mind. But the point of meditation is not to stop the mind, but to watch the mind–to develop a witness position on that running commentary of self-obsessed fear that can dominate. I believe anything that helps me do that is meditation.

Another suggestion that has helped me is to say the Serenity Prayer one word at a time, a full breath in between each word. This begins to work wonders with the first word and the first breath: “God, aaaaah. . . .” It works because it turns me in the direction of the program instead of the direction of my self-obsessed thoughts. Meditation is a change of mental direction, nothing more complicated than that. I understand changing mental direction; I used to use gin to change my mental direction all the time. Now I have these easier and more effective ways.

Like needing the “right” pen to write the Fourth Step, some of us procrastinate about meditating because we can’t find the “right” time of day or the “right” place. There is no wrong place or time for “God, aaaaah. . . .” and it only takes a couple of seconds. It improves my direction even if I get interrupted after the first word. This corresponds with the direction Bill gives at the end of Step Three in the “Twelve and Twelve”: “In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision, we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness say: ‘God, grant me the serenity. . . .”

The key word there for the willingness to change mental direction is “pause.”

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