There are a lot of good reasons to avoid working the twelve steps. Certainly, listing out every resentment ever is scary. Undeniably, the prospect of making things right with our enemies is unpleasant. And working Step 12 - carrying this message to other alcoholics - can sometimes involve making actual phone calls. Truly, that’s the stuff of nightmares.
Surprisingly, it isn’t steps 4, 9, or 12 that I’ve been avoiding. Rather, I’ve been skirting around Step 11 for just about as long as I’ve been sober. Here’s what it says:
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.
Prayer isn’t the part that gets me. Prayer is easy, formulaic. It's the obligatory line at the end of an e-mail to my boss: “Curious to hear your thoughts.” “Happy for any feedback.” “Let me know what you think!”
Meditation, on the other hand. I’ve been avoiding it like a performance review. I mean, sure, I got to Day 7 on the Head Space app, but that was mostly for the soothing British accent. Meditation is waiting, receiving, openness to the other, to mystery - or to nothing at all.
A few nights ago, I was at a meditation meeting. In preparing us for the meditation, the leader admitted this: “When I don’t know what’s going on, I just decide what’s going on. Then I’m less anxious, even if I’m wrong.”
Word. Like the leader, I can’t exist in ambiguity very long before I start making up stories.
Sitting in a circle of former crackheads and the recently sober, you’d think that “most jittery” would be a hard contest to win. Not for me, folks: I clinched it with ease. As soon as the twenty-minute meditation started, my body started to move. Legs out, legs in. Legs to the side. Head to the side, then to the other. The leader suggested that a thread was gently pulling at the top of our heads, ushering us into a “comfortably straight” position. I wonder absently what the hell “comfortably straight” is, and if I'll be able to do it for more than 10 seconds.
Within 60 seconds of sitting down for meditation, God gently suggested that I place my hands on my belly. At first, I balked: What about my story? In my story, my belly's the villain. Why would I touch her?
When I was twelve, my voice teacher cut through my same story with a similar suggestion. When you breathe, put your hands on your belly. See how far you can push it out. Even then, I could scarcely escape self as object long enough to properly do the voice exercise. After all, I had already written my story: My body was wrong. Too round, soft, bumpy. No natural waist. What would my belly look like, fully distended? What will my teacher think? Doesn’t my belly stick out tremendously far?
After Tuesday's meditation, we read from Pema Chodron’s The Places that Scare You. Intuitively, unironically, I knew: My own body is the scariest place there is. And yet, I found a way to greet it. There was something miraculously honest, confronting, and forthright about resting my hands on this loathed part of myself for nearly twenty minutes.
Ever met those parents who are just clearly and irrationally terrified of their young children? For me, one comes to mind. When his son misbehaved in the slightest, his reaction was disproportionate. He spoke like he was angry, but there was fear in his eyes. Never mind that a toddler can be only so malicious. What if dad lost control? What next?
This is the stance I’ve adopted towards my body. I love her, I’m grateful for her, but I just can’t wait to get her on the school bus. Then at work, I am fully disembodied. Arms and legs are blessedly incidental. Helpful for getting to meetings. Helpful for taking notes.
When I come home to her, my body wants to know what's next. Time to play? Let’s hang out! I’m hungry!
I am a little charmed, and a lot scared. What if I’m not enough? What if you misbehave? How long until bedtime?
No wonder I don’t want to sit in silence with my body for twenty whole minutes.
Like that fearful father, I need only recognize that this playful little body just wants connection. She just wants permission to be young and wiggly and weird. It’s hard to trust that she is in fact benign when I never agree to play with her. When I never let her set the agenda.
I said this at the meeting, or something like it. It was strange to admit to a room full of strangers that I am both curious and terrified to rest my hands on my stomach, to nonjudgmentally feel the size and shape of it. Of course, as so often happens when I speak to other addicts, no one batted an eye. No one was surprised.
The world is kinder and gentler than we think. She only wants to play. But we only discover this in letting go, or at least in loosening our grip - in resting our hands on our bellies, and simply waiting.