If any of you have had the opportunity to work the twelve steps before, you know that certain steps are scarier than others. For me, ironically, Step 4 - the fearless and searching moral inventory - was no sweat. I love writing stuff down (blog) and I love talking about myself (blog). When there’s an undertone of regret, despair, or grandiosity (blog) -- well, I’m not mad about that either. Step 4 - which is typically one of the two scariest steps - didn’t bother me a lick.
In contrast, Step 11 threw me through a total loop. That’s the one where we seek “through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God.” That one was, and is, the hardest. I know a few yogis and even just a few people with meditation apps who have somehow mastered the art of sitting and doing nothing for 3+ minutes. Those same people would assure me that I need not be sitting and I need not be doing nothing in order to meditate. Yeah yeah yeah. But basically, sitting and doing nothing. I can’t hack it.
Luckily, the person who took me through the steps wasn’t too intent on anything looking a certain way. So while I couldn’t meditate, per se - at least not without my brain sounding off, my breathing becoming dangerously uneven, and my toes needing to be violently scratched - I could meditatively read. In order to work Step 11, I found a passage on page 86 of our twelve-step literature that I really loved:
On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. Under these conditions we can employ our mental faculties with assurance, for after all God gave us brains to use. Our thought-life will be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong motives.
In thinking about our day we may face indecision. We may not be able to determine which course to take. Here we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision. We relax and take it easy. We don't struggle. We are often surprised how the right answers come after we have tried this for a while.
Think about that. What an excellent thing to read in the morning! Every day, on awakening, I read from the bottom of page 86 to page 87. Sometimes I read it twice. I don’t know that it served the same purposes as meditation, per se, but it did remind me to check myself: How are my motives? In what areas of my life am I working needlessly uphill? Have I tried asking God for a hand? Often, the answers to these questions were something like: Kinda selfish, Pretty much everywhere, and Not really. But reading this every morning meant I stood a chance of doing something different today.
Perhaps one day I’ll be transformed into someone, at once very LA and very into eastern religion, who meditates daily. These people sing the praises of meditation in almost a creepy way, as if they’re getting a cut from Buddha himself. Perhaps one day my own mornings will begin with three or four minutes of sagely, serenely “just noticing” my thoughts. Perhaps the world around me will feel loud and bustling in a way that reminds me how small I am, and how rare quiet really is. Perhaps this will tickle my new, buddhist sensibilities. Perhaps.
Until then, I think it’s important to remember that we get to work the steps imperfectly. We work them to the best of our ability. For me, right now, Step 11 looks just like a prayer and a pause - every morning, on awakening.