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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The 11th Step Prayer - Invocation, Meditation & Contemplation

In the 11th Step prayer (or St. Francis' Prayer), set out on page 99 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we pray that God "make us a channel of thy peace." How do we become a "peace channel", and why a "channel" at all?

Page 55 of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, makes it clear that "the fundamental idea of God" is deep within the consciousness of each of us - man, woman and child. Such higher consciousness (most especially in the mind of the chronic alcoholic addict) may, however, be obscured by the cloud of three particular mental manifestations or constructs of extreme 'self-consciousness': namely, those of "calamity, pomp and worship of other things".

It is this "Great Reality deep down within us" described on page 55 - or what the Spiritual Experience Appendix describes as "an unsuspected inner resource" - which is the "peace" in the channel of peace sought through the 11th step prayer. It is by facing the powerful, inner and near-hypnotizing manifestations of "self" - the inner calamity, pomp, and worship of other things such as money, prestige, sex relations - and then going beyond the narrow confines of this self-consciousness to a deeper consciousness, that we will find true peace of mind. But how specifically do we do this?

In his classic work, The Sermon On  the Mount, Emmet Fox outlines three progressively higher levels of prayer: (i) prayer as we ordinarily think of it, but a prayer of invocation and affirmation, not a prayer for things or specifics; (ii) meditation, to change the level of our consciousness; and (iii) contemplation, or living that higher level of consciousness as we go through our daily lives.

In beginning the Step 11 prayer and asking that God as we understand Him make us "a channel of thy peace" we make a classic prayer of invocation, an affirmation and seeking after a Higher Power to remove us from ordinary "self" consciousness to a higher, meditative plane of consciousness. It is in this higher state of consciousness that we face the dualities that lock us into narrow self-consciousness, and which rob us of serenity and true peace of mind.

Most meditative wisdom traditions make use of a focus on the breath as a tool for meditation.  One such vipassana exercise consists of visualizing all forms of suffering, pain, anger and discord etc., as a black cloud of smoke that one inhales.  On the out-breath one visualizes exhaling a white cloud of purified smoke consisting of peace, well-being, love etc. Such a breath-focused, visualization technique may be used on the following meditative aspects of the 11th Step prayer, in which we ask that:

"(W)here there is hatred, I may bring love -
             "            wrong            "       forgiveness -
             "            discord           "       harmony -
             "            error              "       truth -
             "            doubt             "       faith -
             "            despair           "       hope -
             "            shadows         "       light -
             "            sadness          "       joy."
Repeating each of these opposing dualities on the 'in' and 'out' breath - picturing, for example, despair as a black cloud that is inhaled, and hope as an exhalation of white smoke - is a higher meditative exercise  or prayer that helps us get past  the narrow "self" consciousness that Bill describes as a "punishing inner dialogue." By stilling and focusing the mind by repeated application of these visualized meditations, one prepares the mind for the highest form of prayer, that of contemplation.

In preparing and stabilizing the contemplative mind we wish to take out into our broader day, we ask that we "may seek to comfort, rather than be comforted - to understand, rather than be understood - to love rather than to be loved." A higher comforting, understanding and loving consciousness - unconfined by narrow self-consciousness, and the constant stream of self-centered ideas and emotions, that is our normal, yet lowest state of being - is the contemplative attitude through which we want to perceive and interact with the world (and its people) that we are inherently a part of.

It is through this contemplative practice of "self-forgetting that we find."  It is by this change in our attitude - in our habitual way of thinking - that we find the hereto unsuspected inner resource or consciousness that constitutes a Higher Power we can live by.  It is how we find the true peace of mind that is a solution to our alcoholic addictions. It is through "dying" - dying to self, or the human ego - the prayer concludes that we "awaken [right now]to Eternal Life."

"Ego," according to my dictionary, is "the part of the mind that reacts to reality and has a sense of individuality"; whereas, "self" is defined as "a person's own individuality or essence". By dying to the 'ego' or 'self' we awaken spiritually and become a part of the whole. We awaken to the realization and perception that we are true human beings constituting integral pieces of the Ground of Being, inseparable living segments of Eternal Life, and indispensible parts of God as we understand God.

It is by such "self-forgetting" - by forgetting, or going beyond the perception of our individuality and its constant inner narrative - that we are relieved of the suffering induced by the bondage of self, and through which we come to realize that we no longer need to manage an Eternal Life that is always growing in consciousness along spiritual lines.  With such release, we are relieved of the symptoms of our self-centeredness (i.e., our addictions) and attain to the emotional and spiritual sobriety which is the release and peace of mind we were all seeking in  the first instance.

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