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Monday, July 28, 2008

"Self-Examination, Meditation and Prayer" - Using Basic Recovery Tools: Part III

Bill W. wrote the series of essays that would be published as "The Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions" when he was fifteen years sober and had emerged from his own 'dark night of the soul' - a prolonged, ten year bout of depression that followed shortly after the "vital experience experience" that led to his co-founding Alcoholics Anonymous with Dr. Bob in the summer of 1935.

To me, Bill's reflections in the Twelve and Twelve on how to work the 12 Steps of Recovery first set out in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, are an invaluable insight into the deeper workings of a spiritual practice that is designed to awaken a "new state of consciousness and being" in the person who applies this spiritual methodology. And perhaps no passage in the Twelve and Twelve more succinctly sets out the path to follow for a person who is earnestly seeking the spiritual awakening that is necessary to permanently arrest one's alcoholic addiction, than the following passage from Bill's essay on Step 11:
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 interrelated and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life. Now and then we may be given a glimpse of that ultimate reality which is God's kingdom. And we will be comforted and assured that our own destiny in that realm will be secure for so long as we try, however falteringly, to find and do the will of our own Creator. (Emphasis added.)
I hear much talk about the necessity of prayer - and it is necessary - at AA meetings. I hear that we are to pray to the God of our own understanding for help throughout the day, and to give thanks at night. Indeed, the Third Step tells me to repeat the Serenity Prayer each time my emotional state is disturbed or my mind is racing and indecisive. The Third Step and Eleventh Step prayers are specifically laid out for our daily use.

Yet,while effectiveness of prayer is often and loudly touted, too often the necessity of meditation - the need for a quiet time of contemplation in the morning and evening - is not mentioned . . . let alone emphasized. Sometimes, even old-timers seem to scoff at the notion that meditation is a basic recovery tool that is necessary and required to achieve the emotional sobriety we all eventually require It is as if the practice of meditation is seen as some strange foreign "Eastern" tradition that was not a fundamental aspect of every religious tradition - West and East - including the Christian tradition.

Indeed, "self-examination, meditation and prayer" are three vital components of each of the world's great wisdom traditions. How then do we 'logically interrelate and interweave' these three ancient practices?

I suggest, as was shown to me, that first thing in the morning the spiritual aspirant looking for recivery from any of life's varied addictions sit in a straight backed chair for a 10 minute period of meditation. I was instructed by a man with over three decades of sobriety achieved through daily periods of prayer and meditation to count the breath. (Indeed, this is a fundamental technique of both Buddhist and Hindu yogic practice, as well as a technique used in many Christian, Jewish and Muslim schools.) This appears to be the technique that Bill himself was shown by his sponsor - Ebbie T.

In "The Man Who Sponsored Bill W." Ebbie recalls how he was shown a simple method of morning meditation by Rolland H. and the Oxford Groupers that had come to his rescue, before Ebbie in turn carried the Oxford Group message and methods to Bill.

"Rowland gave me a great many things that were of a great value to me later on," Ebbie recalled. "He had a thorough indoctrination and he passed as much of this on to me as he could. When we took trips together we would get up early in the morning, and before we even had any coffee, we would sit down and try to rid ourselves of any thoughts of the material world and see if we couldn't find out the best plan for our lives for that day and to follow whatever guidance came to us."

Following their period of morning meditation, they would make a simple list, based on the guidance they received during this quiet time, of the things they would like to accomplish during the day - a handy reference when the mind is chaotic! They would repeat this quiet time of meditation again in the evening, sitting for a ten-minute or so period trying once again to rid themselves "of any thoughts of the material world."

Personally, I find it absolutely essential to quiet my mind in this manner first thing in the morning. The clamorous and undisciplined "thoughts of the material world" that arise first things in the morning are the "calamity" that helps obscure the fundamental idea of God within me, as it is within every man , woman and child (AA, page 55). It is my job to uncover that "Great Reality" within me. First by a few minutes of quiet to dispell that obsessive (and oppressive) voice of "self" that can arisen unbidden first thing in the morning. Then, by being aware of my thoughts and emotional condition throughout the day - by the process of "self-examination" or taking a continuing personal inventory of my thoughts, actions and how these make me feel - and asking for relief from the "bondage of self" and repeating the Serenity prayer when I find my "self" emotionally distured or indecisisve, as laid out in Step Three. And finally, by engaging in another period of quiet contemplation, prayer and meditation at the end of the day, to lay that false "self" or human ego to one side before sleep.

I also enjoy, as Dr. Bob, advocated a period of time each day devoted to reading something - anything - of a spiritual nature. But it is this logically interwoven practice of self-examination, meditation and prayer that gives me the unshakable foundation - and gets me out of me. It is when I let up on any of these - particularly meditation, or more immediately, self-examination - that things get shaky.

(See also, Basic Recovery Tools: Part I and Basic Recovery Tools: Part II)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The "Serenity Prayer" - Using Basic Recovery Tools: Part II

For me, as for most others I suspect, there are three key concepts that stand out in the "Serenity Prayer" - serenity, courage and wisdom. All three concepts reflect an element of our consciousness, the mental "attitude" or internal perspective that we take in respect of the world that surrounds us and our state of being within that world. When utilizing the Serenity Prayer as the principal tool in my spiritual 'tool kit', it is these three components of what amount to a deeper, yet higher 'God-consciousness' that I focus on.

I am told that practicing the Third Step of Recovery, and in fact my entire psycho-spiritual recovery from a hopelessly, helplessly addicted state of mind and body, is contingent upon my bringing the power of my will to the task at hand each time I become emotionally upset or indecisive about what to do in the face of the vicissitudes and curve-balls that life itself has a way of tossing in my direction. And that task is (a) to "pause" from the thoughts and actions that have so disturbed and shaken me, (b) to ask for an inner "quiet" in which to recollect the Wholeness of G_d and my place within that entirety, and (c) from the internal "stillness" - a quietistic attitude and the non-rationalistic, non-analytic, non-judgmental mode of thought and cognition gained by doing this this invokes - take in and absorb the effect of the Serenity Prayer.

All of these affirmative actions, contemplations and meditations are intended to invoke an attitude of trusting acceptance in me that the results of all that is transpiring in that moment will occur in a good, orderly and directed fashion that will ultimately satisfy the requirements and needs of all, and not merely satisfy my narrow desires and quell my ego-centric fears.

The Serenity Prayer is, thus, really a means for reorienting my interior attitude - a means of reorienting my innermost thought processes. ("Attitude", is defined in The Concise Oxford Dictionary" as being a "settled opinion or way of thinking"). Truly, "nothing is good nor bad," as Shakespeare observed, "but our thinking makes it so." The Serenity Prayer is thus the mechanism for the conscious "attitude adjustment" that A.A. is often said to be the acronym for.
"Serenity" then becomes the state of being or consciousness that I am affirming and invoking.

In Emmet Fox's classic work, The Sermon on the Mount, a book that Bill, Bob and other Recovery "pioneers of consciousness" relied upon, Fox observed that there are really three levels of 'prayer': the lowest level being 'prayer' as we commonly think of it, but prayer invoking and affirming the omnipresence of God and not a mere asking for things or outcomes; the next higher level of 'prayer' being meditation, or a quiet abiding in that omnipresence; and contemplation, the highest level of 'prayer', in which to practice the continued abiding in God's omnipresence that we find only in meditation.

Often, in troubled times I merely make the silent affirmation, "God, you grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change", knowing that the 'courageous' (from the Latin cour, meaning 'heart') process of detaching from what my reasoning and analysis is saying to gain an intuitive perspective will follow, and that I have the "wisdom" to know the difference between the two ways of thinking about and responding to life's circumstances. I often have to say the Serenity prayer frontwards, backwards, silently, out loud or in my own words, but acceptance comes. I find that backwards is often the way this powerful prayer works best - a quiet inner affirmation that I have the wisdom to know the difference between the two attitudes or ways of thinking about this life, courage to let go of the fearful, egoic way of thinking about life that I learned as a young boy and perfected in my addictions, and then serenity is what is left.

Paul's letter to the Corinthians says, "God is Love." It could equally say that God is serenity, inner peace, acceptance, truth or any one of the synonymous attributes of God that we can find within ourselves through the Serenity Prayer when we move from finding life itself "unacceptable" to an attitude of inner acceptance.

(See also, Basic Recovery Tools: Part I and Basic Recovery Tools: Part III)