This week we study Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out. Wowza! That's a lot! Here are the aspects of the step we will concentrate on:
1. Sought - this is an active verb, indicating that this is an active step, not a passive one;
2. Prayer and meditation - what is the difference and why does it matter?;
3. Improve our conscious contact - this suggests that we have already established conscious contact and that we desire to refine it;
4. God - this refers us back to Step Two;
5. Only - this is a problematic word for the self-willed addict of any kind - we only get to pray for one thing;
6. Knowledge - this is one of the only two things I am seeking; and
7. Power - this is the other.
I found program in Berkeley, CA, where people didn't get down on their knees to pray and I never heard them talk about it (levitation, maybe, but not getting down on their knees). Every morning I would sit up in bed and close my eyes and do my "p&m" as my first husband called it. It took about 10 minutes. Then I moved to the East Coast of the US. In Central Massachusetts, a much more socially conservative region than Berkeley, people talked about getting down on their knees every morning to pray. People would say that their sponsor told them to throw a shoe under the bed, bend down to retrieve it, and while they were there take a few minutes to pray. People-pleaser that I am, I did that even though it was by no means part of my religious tradition. Let me tell you, getting down on one's knees in the bitter cold of a New England morning takes some doin'! As my marriage broke up and I began to date again and eventually got into some serious relationships, it was - frankly - embarrassing to pray in front of someone else. Sometimes I'd go into the bathroom and get down on my knees there (not bulimia! just prayin'!). As I mentioned last week in my writing, there was a period of time about 11 years ago when my husband and I experienced a tragedy and I stopped talking to God for a long time. Today, I am back to a practice that more closely resembles my early days in OA: each morning, before I get out of bed, I say the Serenity Prayer, Steps 1, 2, and 3, the Third Step prayer, ask to be kept from the first bite for today, and (usually) say either the entire Seventh Step prayer or ask for a specific character defect to be removed that day. Then I get up.
In our book For Today there is a lovely quote by Victor Hugo (p. 289) that reads, "There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees." There is no requirement that Step Eleven be taken on your knees. In this step we are seeking (we sought through prayer and meditation). We are searching to improve contact ("can you hear me now?" - or, more to the point, can I hear you now?) and to receive knowledge and power. The OA 12n12 does say, "Most of us have found it necessary to set aside some time each day when we can be alone and undisturbed." (p. 92).
Most of our literature spends a great deal of time explaining how to pray and/or meditate in Step Eleven. The AA 12n12 seems at times to confound the two, referring to them as if they were the same. The OA 12n12 says that prayer is talking to God while meditation is listening. The AA 12n12 writes, "Prayer, as commonly understood, is a petition to God." (p. 102). It goes on to say, don't make a specific request ("please let me lose 10 pounds by Friday") unless you tack on "... if it be thy will." (p. 102). I have nodded my head at this for years, until I read something recently (it might even have been in Eat, Pray, Love) that challenged this idea in a way that spoke to me. The speaker said, of course you can make a specific request - you are a child of the universe! You were created because you are worthy and you have the right to ask for whatever you want. That doesn't mean you will get whatever you want, but surely you can ask. I really like this because it helps me feel less selfish for even wanting things such as for a friend to have relief from her pain or for me to have a restful night's sleep. The OA 12n12 seems to agree: "Clearly, if we are to develop a vital relationship with a Higher Power, we will need to bring into our prayers all the things that concern us." (p. 94). According to the AA 12n12, meditation is the next step after the self-searching we do in Steps Four and Ten. That book goes on to say that in meditation we envision our spiritual objective for ourselves, and that "one of [meditation's] first fruits is emotional balance" (pp. 101-102). "Our purpose in meditating is simple: we seek to relax and receive spiritual nourishment by experiencing more fully our connections with our true unfragmented selves and with our Higher Power." (OA 12n12, p. 96). There was a period of my life when I sat vipassana meditation every day for 15 - 30 minutes. I would like to get back to some kind of meditation practice because I think it was helpful to me (I think it made me more serene). I talked to my sponsor and we agreed that in our lives, this would require getting up at about 4 a.m. - which I am unwilling to do. What I have been doing since January, though, is power yoga. I usually go twice a week; the focus on the present moment and on non-judgment make this for me a moving meditation. I have found it helpful and my sponsor says I look "grounded" (so something is working!).
The word "improve", as I wrote above, suggests that we are buffing and polishing the conscious contact that we already have with the God we came to believe in in Step Two. "In order to recover from compulsive eating, we need a living, developing, ongoing relationship with this Higher Power" (OA 12n12, p. 92). Improve, living, developing, ongoing… these words all have the connotation of a relationship that is growing and evolving all the time - as long as I do my part (show up, participate). So is having a relationship the same thing as having conscious contact? Well, I know that when my husband is checking his email while I'm talking to him I get pissed off, so maybe it is (because under those conditions his contact with me is not conscious). As with any relationship, I can't expect to maintain radio silence for months at a time and to find when I return that the relationship has improved. ON THE OTHER HAND (she wrote emphatically) I take extreme issue with the slogan, "If God feels far away, who moved?" Speaking only for myself, I find this question punitive and mean. The AA 12n12 notes, "All of us, without exception, pass through times when we can pray only with the greatest exertion of will. Occasionally we go even further than this. We are seized with a rebellion so sickening that we simply won't pray." (p. 105). Then it goes on to say, "We should simply resume prayer as soon as we can, doing what we know to be good for us." (p. 105). The OA 12n12, meanwhile, acknowledges that there will be times we feel angry at HP. It advises that we keep praying and the anger will pass and we'll feel closer to HP. Maybe… that hasn't ever been my experience, but I can believe it has been true for some. I don't feel any closer to God than I did 11 years ago, and although my anger has died down it's still there in the background. It's just that I came to recognize that I had to find a way to make the relationship work if I didn't want to eat (and I didn't want to eat). It's like being in a job you can't afford to leave even though the boss can be a jerk sometimes. I sigh, and shrug, and get on with the business of improving that conscious contact so that I can perform well on the job.
What's my job? To figure out HP's will for me and to carry it out. This is the infamous "other duties as assigned" part of every job description. It's vague, it's daunting, it's limiting - but it's my only job. Therefore, when I pray not to descend into negativity today, "We pray about these things, not so we can get our way, but so we can can bring our will regarding them into alignment with God's will." (OA 12n12, pp. 94-95). I have a disease of "more" and as an addict (to food) I don't like the limitation of only getting to pray for one thing. Why can't I pray for a parking space when I am running late? Oh, right, because God is not Santa Claus, nor is God a gumball machine where I stick in some change and out pops the prize.
The AABB has probably the most beautiful language about Step Eleven and it may already be familiar to many of you. Found on pages 86 and 87 are the instructions for Step Eleven. For example, it starts with, "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." (p. 86). Then it goes on to describe ways that we apply our job duty of praying for knowledge of God's will for us: "In thinking about our day we may face indecision... Here we ask God for an inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision." (p. 86), and "As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action." (p. 87). How do we know we've gotten it? Lots of us talk about that gut feeling of rightness, or of a calm and serenity that comes over us, along with the confidence that the problem - whatever it was - has been taken care of. This is an important question, though - how do I know it's God's will for me? I have a couple of examples but no answer, I am sorry to say. The first is that I am on the Board of Trustees of a non-profit that was founded and used to be owned by my family. The ED and I have been trying to figure out a new way to communicate with my family members in a way that was respectful and helpful but didn't force him to spend hours of his time and didn't place me in the middle between the two entities. We thought we had a splendid plan, which was set in place about a year ago. Last summer I took some of my family's questions to the ED, as planned. No response. October came; no response. November, December, and finally one morning in January I woke up and had the thought, "I must get this resolved today. I will send the ED an email." In fact, the email was written in my mind when I woke up. It all seemed so natural - I was sure this must mean it was HP's will for me. So I sent the email. Over the course of the next few weeks I nearly lost the close friendship and good working relationship with the ED, several other Trustees were dragged in, and my family all got mad at me! Now, I will say that I have learned many valuable lessons from that experience so in one way we could argue that it was in fact God's will for me. On the other hand… yeah, no, probably not. "Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen" - or, I would add, keyboard. But here's another one: about three years ago I was just about to change my fee structure in my business (I am self-employed) but could't quite bring myself to do it. And then the recession hit and I'm so glad I didn't! The OA 12n12 suggests that the way to distinguish between HP's will and my will is to ask: ask that HP increase my desire if I'm supposed to do it, decrease my desire if I'm not. Ah, but that would mean I'd have to slow down, and I'm an addict; I want it NOW! The AA 12n12 writes, "We discover that we do receive guidance for our lives to just about the extent that we stop making demands upon God to give it to us on order and on our terms." (p. 104). This brings to mind an OA friend who says that there are three answers to prayer: yes, no, and not now.
The AA 12n12 characterizes Step Eleven as an "individual adventure" (p. 101) which really seems rather like a cruel joke, doesn't it? I mean, I just wanted to lose weight! I didn't sign up for an adventure. But the AABB reassures me, "It works -- it really does." (p. 88).
QUESTIONS FOR STEP ELEVEN:
1. What is your belief about recovery through a spiritual relationship?
2. Do you have a daily practice of prayer and meditation?
3. What is it?
4. What do you say when you talk to God?
5. What is the difference between prayer and meditation, for you?
6. In what ways does God speak to you?
7. Has your conscious contact with the God of your understanding improved as you have been working these steps? How so (or not)?
8. What kind of improvement are you looking for in your conscious contact?
9. How do you tell the difference between knowledge of God's will for you and well-intentioned rationalizations from your own unconscious?
The Twelve Steps