A very happy Monday, and a happy President’s Day to my American readers! I’m hoping you are having as beautiful a day as I am having. It feels more like spring than it does late February in my neck of the woods!
Today’s reading was from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we studied:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
There was a great crowd this morning… just enough people that everyone had a chance to share, a nice mix of long-timers and those with a smaller amount of sober time, a group of regular attendees and those who were new to the meeting.
When I read this particular step, I break it down and look at prayer and meditation as two distinctly separate things, though I suppose in an ideal world they would be connected. As for prayer, the chapter defines prayer perfectly:
Prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God. -pg. 102, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
My prayer life, or ritual of praying, has evolved quite a bit over the years, and I imagine will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I am currently at a point where the bulk of my praying is conversational in nature… I talk to God, express gratitude, ask for intentions, in much the same way as I would talk to another human being. I shared as much with the group this morning, and I wondered aloud if I am missing something important by not including more formal prayers in my daily practice. I invited anyone in the group that might be willing to share with me the benefits they receive from praying in a more formal manner.
As is always the case, my fellow Monday meeting attendees did not disappoint. Each person shared with me the various ways they pray, and how their prayer rituals help them. Unsurprisingly, the list was a diverse one:
- Morning prayers said immediately upon waking
- Morning prayer said over coffee
- Morning prayers said on the commute into work
- Reading from a daily devotional book
- Listening to Christian radio
- Formal meditation
- Yoga as a form of prayer
- Chanting and singing prayer
Believe it or not, I’m not sure I listed them all! In every case, the benefits received were the same, no matter what type of prayer is uttered: a deeper relationship with one’s Higher Power. In deepening the relationship, each person reports receiving a deeper sense of gratitude, a feeling of connection, and an overall sense of peace that, prior to a prayer life, had not been experienced.
Most important, not a single person could list a negative side effect to prayer. There simply is no downside! Even those who fall on the spectrum of agnosticism did not find a drawback in attempting to pray.
The group did not speak as much on the meditation piece, so it is hard to try to write a consensus. Speaking for myself, and I know I’m repeating myself from past blog pieces, meditation is a practice I dearly wish to master. Hell, I’d settle for being able to claim that I am half-assed meditator! Sadly, I can make no such proclamation. Here’s what I can say: when I have been able to meditate on a regular basis, I am able to draw upon a reserve of calm that I don’t otherwise have. That calm allows me to pause in stressful situations, and thoughtfully consider the best way to react.
Regular meditation also deepens my sense of gratitude, and allows me to be more present in my daily activities.
Finally, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment when I engage in a regular meditation practice. Similar to when I exercise, I feel empowered by the regular practice of something I know is good for me mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
Maybe, just maybe, now that I’ve written all this out, the fire will be lit, and I will restart my meditation practice!
Writing a post when everyone is home from school/work. Usually people around means I am anywhere but in front of the computer!
A meeting chock full of great thoughts and ideas, at least there was for this participant! This morning we read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and focused on Step Eleven:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
The chapter that covers this step talks in depth about the many benefits of prayer and meditation. In addition, it discusses methods to overcome agnostic/atheistic mindsets, as well as easy pointers on how to get started praying and meditating.
The first person to share talked about how he almost walked out of his first meeting because it talked about prayer and meditation. Agnostic by nature, he was sure that the end of the meeting would be asking for money and/or a signed contract. When neither happened, and he realized that he was in charge of his conception of a Higher Power, he stuck around and followed the suggestions given to him. Thirty-six years later, and he considers prayer to be an essential component of his daily life. He knows prayer and meditation works because he’s experienced the positive effects. He realized early on that he did not have to know how something works for it to work; therefore, he stopped questioning the mechanics behind the power of prayer.
His last point, and the one that stuck with me the most: he has learned through his years in recovery that it is not enough to ask for something through prayer, then sit back and wait for it to arrive. He must be a participant in the process, and do his part to make things happen.
Another gentleman with long-term sobriety shared his prayer life journey. I was trying to calculate his years of sobriety by following the story; I got up to 34 years before I got confused. Regardless of the actual number, suffice it to say he’s been sober a long time! He considers his prayer life an unfolding story, one that has developed slowly over time, and one he imagines will continue to evolve as long as he’s alive. He said he started the way most of us do… a daily prayer book that asks you to read something small each day. He said for years that is what his prayer life involved… reading, with not a whole lot of engagement on his part. Over time he noticed that quite often the reading for the day would correlate precisely to something that was troubling him. From there he learned to participate more in the process, rather than by simply reading a daily paragraph. Finally, through a series of chaotic events, he lost track of his prayer routine, and found himself out of sorts with no real reason as to why. He went to a retreat where the leader posed the following question:
If you find yourself in a state of discontent with no discernible cause, think back… was there something you were habitually doing that you stopped?
Bingo! He realized he was missing his time spent in prayer and meditation. He went home, fished out his “little black book,” and now makes sure he stays in practice.
A few attendees shared of their struggles with making prayer and meditation part of their daily routine. All recognize the benefits of such a practice, but, like any new habit, it can be a bumpy road getting started.
Finally, a friend of mine shared her thoughts on the subject of prayer and meditation. She is sober about 2 1/2 years, but I know from spending time with her that acceptance of a Higher Power has been her biggest struggle. Turns out she is actively working on this aspect of her recovery; she remarked that the shine is off the penny, so to speak, in terms of meeting attendance, step work, and the various readings. She knows she needs a deeper connection in order to sustain her sobriety, and she is seeking spirituality to fill that need.
She said she is learning, through her research and reflection, that attachment is the origin of suffering. In other words, if she is suffering, then she has an expectation of an outcome. Either she is trying to control what happens, or she is trying prevent something from happening.
As she was speaking, I recalled a conversation I had with my husband not an hour before. I was explaining to him the root cause of some internal angst I have been experiencing, and seeking his advice on how to proceed. His suggestions were, at first blush, unimaginable, and I told him so, and my defense of my opinion. His face has that look that tells me I need to stop and rewind, but I was unable to fully decipher what specifically I had said to cause his expression.
So I ask him to please just tell me what is causing the pained look, since I have tried to decipher with no success. He considers for a moment, then says, “Everything you’ve said since we’ve started this discussion, from you thoughts about what is causing your discontent to your reaction to my advice… that’s all Old Josie talking.”
And it was a light bulb moment… every single moment of disquiet I have experienced with regard to this issue, every quick fix action I’ve taken, and every subsequent action to correct the quick fix… all seen through the lens of pre-recovery thinking. It stopped me in my tracks.
Whenever I have found myself in the past heading down the path of old thinking, my correction has always been to deepen my efforts at prayer and meditation. So it was crazy enough that this step was the one we were discussing. A coincidence that is never a coincidence.
But then to hear my friend describe in layman’s terms a basic tenet of Buddhist thinking in a way I could understand, a concept that applied so directly to the discussion I was having with my husband, was the breakthrough I needed.
Attachment to an outcome = suffering
Yep, that pretty much sums up in a nutshell the source of my suffering.
So I got the wake-up call I needed this morning. Of course, like my friend above said, the wake-up call is not enough. I need to be a participant in the process. The good news is that you can start just where you are when it comes to prayer and meditation!
Coincidences-that-are-never coincidences will always be a miracle to me!
Today was a slooowwww meeting…. the type of meeting that has you staring at the clock, and wondering if the battery has died.
Strange, really, because today we read a relatively long chapter from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve traditions, so there was less sharing time, rather than more. Plus the step we covered,
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, asking only for His will for us and the power to carry it out
is one that typically has people lined up to share their experiences with both prayer and meditation. Not so today, which makes for a slightly uncomfortable meeting. Well, uncomfortable for the chairperson, at least… nothing makes me squirm more than protracted silence in a meeting!
So I possibly talked longer than necessary about my experience with prayer and meditation, as it relates to both recovery and, well, just life itself. Coming into recovery I has no fundamental issue with the concept of a Higher Power, or praying to a Higher Power, but I suppose I had significant skepticism that my Higher Power would listen or respond. To my way of thinking at the time, I had prayed about a gazillion times for Him to help me stop drinking. What makes my current prayers easier to hear than those in active addiction?
And while I’ll never know the official answer, my best guess is the quality of the prayers, rather than the quantity. When I hit my alcoholic bottom the prayer wasn’t urgent, with a time stamp on it… “God, help me out of this crisis and I’ll never drink again!” There was no bargaining; I had no chips left to use. There was nothing left but a hopeless sincerity: I need help, I’m out of answers.
For whatever reason, it worked. And continues to do so, in matters both large and small.
So prayer has been a regular part of my life for as long as I’ve been sober. Meditation, not so much. I’ve had small periods of maintaining a daily practice. Regular readers probably remember I took a course on meditation, and got a heck of a lot out of it. In fact, my longest stretch of daily meditation came right after completing that course.
Then summer came, and there went the practice.
I am now a few weeks into a short, but daily, meditation practice. And while I’m not going to say I’ve been transformed, I can say I notice some distinct benefits. Probably the main difference I notice is my ability to detach from the fun house that can be my thought process. It doesn’t stop the craziness, but it most definitely slows it down. More importantly, I am aware that the thoughts and feelings are not facts, and I can disengage from them, rather than allowing them to swallow me whole.
When that happens, my friends, it is a freaking miracle!
Other than my rambling about prayer and meditation, I was able to eke out a few pearls of wisdom from the various attendees:
One regular attendee also claims religious ministry as his profession. He says there are a multitude of ways in which to practice both prayer and meditation; whatever works is a great way to go. For him, prayer is talking to God, whereas meditation is listening for God’s answer.
Another regular had a very difficult time with the concept of prayer in early sobriety, but after trying it with a simple, “God, please keep me sober today,” he found himself a believer because of its effectiveness. Thirty six sober years later, and he still prays that simple prayer daily!
A woman shared how difficult the practice of meditation continues to be for her. She finds she has to concentrate so hard, the meditative quality seems to vanish! She knows, though, when she even makes the effort, she is better able to slow her thoughts down for the rest of the day.
Finally, a gentleman raised his hand and shared he had relapsed a few weeks back, and is currently fighting his way back to comfortable sobriety. He said the first things to go when he picked up a drink were prayer, meditation, and 12-step meetings. His lapse lasted about 2 months, but the picture he painted of his emotional state during those two months was grim, the kind of wake-up call every recovering alcoholic needs to hear before they decide to pick a drink again. Despite the hardship he enjoyed, his faith has not wavered: he feels profound gratitude to be sitting back in the seat of a 12-step meeting again. He believe he has been given a gift, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober.
As always, I am humbled and grateful when a person has the courage to share with all of us his story of relapse, for it gives the rest of us a reason to stay sober today.
After an excellent weekend of kids’ athletic triumphs (my son qualified for a NATIONAL cross-country meet!), I am reminded this morning how blessed I am to be sober, today and every day.
Alright, we are in the home stretch! That is what I thought when I got to this step while going through them, and that is what I think as I am writing this series. Recovery-wise, Step 11 works in conjunction with step 10, and so are typically done simultaneously. The way Step 10 is a mini-step 4, Step 11 is a mini-step 3 (Turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him).
Here’s the logistics of Step 11: In the morning, say your prayers, and make sure to ask God to direct your thoughts and actions so that you may better serve His will. This is important, because it is so easy to revert to self-will, asking for what we want, demanding what we think should happen. So getting in the proper mindset, right up front, is important. Next, take a minute to review your day, what’s on the to-do list, and what decisions need to be made. Ask God for help with the decisions, and take some time to meditate. Remember, praying is asking for God’s help, meditating is listening for His answer. Conclude with a prayer asking to be free from self-will, since it is something that pops up again and again.
Throughout the day, when faced with anxiety or indecision, pause, and ask God for guidance, help, direction. Turn the problem over to Him, and have confidence that He will handle it.
At the end of the day, take a moment and reflect on what you’ve done, both good and bad. There are many different checklists available that you can use, if you find that sort of thing helpful, but the idea is: what did you do well? what could you have done better? what amends need to be made tomorrow? Ask for forgiveness for the failings, thank Him for the successes, and pray for direction in determining any corrective actions that might be taken tomorrow.
This sounds like a lot of stuff, but in reality, each of these steps take but moments of each day, and I can tell you, make an absolute world of difference in the quality of my life.
I can’t say enough about how this step helps in everyday living. The minute I feel out of sorts, I make it a point to shoot up a quick prayer and ask for His help. Just that very small act almost invariably lifts whatever burden I am carrying off my shoulders, and I can breathe easier. When I make the effort to clue in to my surroundings, I find He answers even more than I have asked of Him!
As I have mentioned a few hundred times, I am achieving sobriety through the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. While I haven’t actually begun step work with my sponsor, I attend a lot of meetings where we study and talk about the various ways people have completed the steps. This weekend we studied Step 11 in a meeting, and while I am nowhere near ready to even think about that step (they are in order for a reason), I learned something that may help me in my daily life, right now.
For those not familiar with the steps, Step 11 reads:
To date, I haven’t given a lot of thought to this step, but recently I have had a lot of interesting things happen that I believe are signs from God, but I don’t necessarily understand what those signs are supposed to mean to me (see my post on Synchronicity, as one example). I have continued to pray that I obtain understanding, but it has not yet been granted.
And then someone shared their interpretation of Step 11, which is that both prayer and meditation are necessary, because prayer is speaking to God, and meditation is listening to what He has to say. That blew me away… I am fantastic at talking to God, but how good am I at sitting and trying to listen? I heard that explanation, and I realized that to God, I am probably a lot like my 9-year-old son is to me… he is great at telling me all that is going on in his life, and complaining about what is missing, and demanding all that he needs, but when it comes time to hearing what I have to say back to him? He is usually too busy moving on to his next activity to pay much attention to my pearls of wisdom.
My extremely limited knowledge of meditation involves people with shaved heads, sitting in a lotus position, and chanting “ohm”… not really my bag. But I am guessing I need to expand my horizon a bit on the real meaning of meditation and figure out a way to make it work in my life, because I don’t want to just talk at God, I really do want to hear what He has to say back to me.