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Step Eleven

"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 and meditation are our principal means of conscious contact with God.

We A.A.'s are active folk, enjoying the satisfactions of dealing with the
realities of life, usually for the first time in our lives, and strenuously
trying to help the next alcoholic who comes along. So it isn't surprising that
we often tend to slight serious meditation and prayer as something not really
necessary. To be sure, we feel it is something that might help us to meet an
occasional emergency, but at first many of us are apt to regard it as a
somewhat mysterious skill of clergymen, from which we may hope to get a
secondhand benefit. Or perhaps we don't believe in these things at all.
To certain newcomers and to those one-time agnostics who still cling to the
A.A. group as their higher power, claims for the power of prayer may, despite
all the logic and experience in proof of it, still be unconvincing or quite
objectionable. Those of us who once felt this way can certainly understand and
sympathize. We well remember how something deep inside us kept rebelling
against the idea of bowing before any God. Many of us had strong logic, too,
which "proved" there was no God whatever. What about all the accidents,
sickness, cruelty, and injustice in the world? What about all those unhappy
lives which were the direct result of unfortunate birth and uncontrollable
circumstances? Surely there could be no justice in this scheme of things, and
therefore no God at all.
Sometimes we took a slightly different tack. Sure, we said to ourselves, the
hen probably did come before the egg. No doubt the universe had a "first cause"
of some sort, the God of the Atom, maybe, hot and cold by turns. But certainly
there wasn't any evidence of a God who knew or cared about human beings. We
liked A.A. all right, and were quick to say that it had done miracles. But we
recoiled from meditation and prayer as obstinately as the scientist who refused
to perform a certain experiment lest it prove his pet theory wrong. Of course
we finally did experiment, and when unexpected results followed, we felt
different; in fact we knew different; and so we were sold on meditation
and prayer. And that, we have found, can happen to anybody who tries. It has
been well said that "almost the only scoffers at prayer are those who never
tried it enough."
Those of us who have come to make regular use of prayer would no more do
without it than we would refuse air, food, or sunshine. And for the same
reason. When we refuse air, light, or food, the body suffers. And when we turn
away from meditation and prayer, we likewise deprive our minds, our emotions,
and our intuitions of vitally needed support. As the body can fail its purpose
for lack of nourishment, so can the soul. We all need the light of God's
reality, the nourishment of His strength, and the atmosphere of His grace. To
an amazing extent the facts of A.A. Life confirm this ageless truth.
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 related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable
foundation for life. Now and then we may be granted 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.
As we have seen, self-searching is the means by which we bring new vision,
action, and grace to bear upon the dark and negative side of our natures. It is
a step in the development of that kind of humility that makes it possible for
us to receive God's help. Yet it is only a step. We will want to go further.
We will want the good that is in us all, even in the worst of us, to flower
and to grow. Most certainly we shall need bracing air and an abundance of food.
But first of all we shall want sunlight; nothing much can grow in the dark.
Meditation is our step out into the sun. How, then, shall we meditate?
The actual experience of meditation and prayer across the centuries is, of
course, immense. The world's libraries and places of worship are a treasure
trove for all seekers. It is to be hoped that every A.A. who has a religious
connection which emphasizes meditation will return to the practice of that
devotion as never before. But what about the rest of us who, less fortunate,
don't even know how to begin?
Well, we might start like this. First let's look at a really good prayer. We
won't have far to seek; the great men and women of all religions have left us a
wonderful supply. Here let us consider one that is a classic.
Its author was a man who for several hundred years now has been rated as a
saint. We won't be biased or scared off by that fact, because although he was
not an alcoholic he did, like us, go through the emotional wringer. And as he
came out the other side of that painful experience, this prayer was his
expression of what he could then see, feel, and wish to become:
"Lord, make me a channel of thy peace--that where there is hatred, I may bring
love--that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness--that
where there is discord, I may bring harmony--that where there is error, I may
bring truth--that where there is doubt, I may bring faith--that where there is
despair, I may bring hope--that where there are shadows, I may bring
light--that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may
seek rather to comfort than to be comforted--to understand, than to be
understood--to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one
finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens
to Eternal Life. Amen."
As beginners in meditation, we might now reread this prayer several times very
slowly, savoring every word and trying to take in the deep meaning of each
phrase and idea. It will help if we can drop all resistance to what our friend
says. For in meditation, debate has no place. We rest quietly with the thoughts
of someone who knows, so that we may experience and learn.
As though lying upon a sunlit beach, let us relax and breathe deeply of the
spiritual atmosphere with which the grace of this prayer surrounds us. Let us
become willing to partake and be strengthened and lifted up by the sheer
spiritual power, beauty, and love of which these magnificent words are the
carriers. Let us look now upon the sea and ponder what its mystery is; and let
us lift our eyes to the far horizon, beyond which we shall seek all those
wonders still unseen.
"Shucks!" says somebody. "This is nonsense. It isn't practical."
When such thoughts break in, we might recall, a little ruefully, how much
store we used to set by imagination as it tried to create reality out of
bottles. Yes, we reveled in that sort of thinking, didn't we? And though sober
nowadays, don't we often try to do much the same thing? Perhaps our trouble was
not that we used our imagination. Perhaps the real trouble was our almost total
inability to point imagination toward the right objectives. There's nothing the
matter with constructive imagination; all sound achievement rests upon
it. After all, no man can build a house until he first envisions a plan for it.
Well, meditation is like that, too; it helps to envision our spiritual
objective before we try to move toward it. So let's get back to that sunlit
beach--or to the plains or to the mountains, if you prefer.
When, by such simple devices, we have placed ourselves in a mood in which we
can focus undisturbed on constructive imagination, we might proceed like this:

Once more we read our prayer, and again try to see what its inner essence is.
We'll think now about the man who first uttered the prayer. First of all, he
wanted to become a "channel." Then he asked for the grace to bring love,
forgiveness, harmony, truth, faith, hope, light, and joy to every human being
he could.
Next came the expression of an aspiration and a hope for himself. He hoped,
God willing, that he might be able to find some of these treasures, too. This
he would try to do by what he called self-forgetting. What did he mean by "self
forgetting," and how did he propose to accomplish that?
He thought it better to give comfort than to receive it; better to understand
than to be understood; better to forgive than to be forgiven.
This much could be a fragment of what is called meditation, perhaps our very
first attempt at a mood, a flier into the realm of spirit, if you like. It
ought to be followed by a good look at where we stand now, and a further look
at what might happen in our lives were we able to move closer to the ideal we
have been trying to glimpse. Meditation is something which can always be
further developed. It has no boundaries, either of width or height. Aided by
such instruction and example as we can find, it is essentially an individual
adventure, something which each one of us works out in his own way. But its
object is always the same: to improve our conscious contact with God, with His
grace, wisdom, and love. And let's always remember that meditation is in
reality intensely practical. One of its first fruits is emotional balance. With
it we can broaden and deepen the channel between ourselves and God as we
understand Him.
Now, what of prayer? Prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God--and
in this sense it includes meditation. How may we go about it? And how does it
fit in with meditation? Prayer, as commonly understood, is a petition to God.
Having opened our channel as best we can, we try to ask for those right things
of which we and others are in the greatest need. And we think that the whole
range of our needs is well defined by that part of Step Eleven which says:
" ...knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." A request
for this fits in any part of our day.
In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps we think of our day's
work and the chances it may afford us to be useful and helpful, or of some
special problem that it may bring. Possibly today will see a continuation of a
serious and as yet unresolved problem left over from yesterday. Our immediate
temptation will be to ask for specific solutions to specific problems, and for
the ability to help other people as we have already thought they should be
helped. In that case, we are asking God to do it our way. Therefore, we
ought to consider each request carefully to see what its real merit is. Even
so, when making specific requests, it will be well to add to each one of them
this qualification: "...if it be Thy will." We ask simply that throughout the
day God place in us the best understanding of His will that we can have for
that day, and that we be given the grace by which we may carry it out.
As the day goes on, we can pause where situations must be met and decisions
made, and renew the simple request: "Thy will, not mine, be done." If at these
points our emotional disturbance happens to be great, we will more surely keep
our balance, provided we remember, and repeat to ourselves, a particular prayer
or phrase that has appealed to us in our reading or meditation. Just saying it
over and over will often enable us to clear a channel choked up with anger,
fear, frustration, or misunderstanding, and permit us to return to the surest
help of all--our search for God's will, not our own, in the moment of stress.
At these critical moments, if we remind ourselves that "it is better to comfort
than to be comforted, to understand than to be understood, to love than to be
loved," we will be following the intent of Step Eleven.
Of course, it is reasonable and understandable that the question is often
asked: "Why can't we take a specific and troubling dilemma straight to
God, and in prayer secure from Him sure and definite answers to our requests?"

This can be done, but it has hazards. We have seen A.A.'s ask with much
earnestness and faith for God's explicit guidance on matters ranging all the
way from a shattering domestic or financial crisis to correcting a minor
personal fault, like tardiness. Quite often, however, the thoughts that
seem to come from God are not answers at all. They prove to be
well-intentioned unconscious rationalizations. The A.A., or indeed any man, who
tries to run his life rigidly by this kind of prayer, by this self-serving
demand of God for replies, is a particularly disconcerting individual. To any
questioning or criticism of his actions he instantly proffers his reliance upon
prayer for guidance in all matters great or small. He may have forgotten the
possibility that his own wishful thinking and the human tendency to rationalize
have distorted his so-called guidance. With the best of intentions, he tends to
force his own will into all sorts of situations and problems with the
comfortable assurance that he is acting under God's specific direction. Under
such an illusion, he can of course create great havoc without in the least
intending it.
We also fall into another similar temptation. We form ideas as to what we
think God's will is for other people. We say to ourselves, "This one ought to
be cured of his fatal malady," or "That one ought to be relieved of his
emotional pain," and we pray for these specific things. Such prayers, of
course, are fundamentally good acts, but often they are based upon a
supposition that we know God's will for the person for whom we pray. This means
that side by side with an earnest prayer there can be a certain amount of
presumption and conceit in us. It is A.A.'s experience that particularly in
these cases we ought to pray that God's will, whatever it is, be done for
others as well as for ourselves.
In A.A. we have found that the actual good results of prayer are beyond
question. They are matters of knowledge and experience. All those who have
persisted have found strength not ordinarily their own. They have found wisdom
beyond their usual capability. And they have increasingly found a peace of mind
which can stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances.
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. Almost any experienced A.A. will tell how his affairs have taken
remarkable and unexpected turns for the better as he tried to improve his
conscious contact with God. He will also report that out of every season of
grief or suffering, when the hand of God seemed heavy or even unjust, new
lessons for living were learned, new resources of courage were uncovered, and
that finally, inescapably, the conviction came that God does "move in a
mysterious way His wonders to perform."
All this should be very encouraging news for those who recoil from prayer
because they don't believe in it, or because they feel themselves cut off from
God's help and direction. 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. When these things happen we should not think too ill of ourselves.
We should simply resume prayer as soon as we can, doing what we know to be good
for us.
Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of meditation and prayer is the sense of
belonging that comes to us. We no longer live in a completely hostile
world. We are no longer lost and frightened and purposeless. The moment we
catch even a glimpse of God's will, the moment we begin to see truth, justice,
and love as the real and eternal things in life, we are no longer deeply
disturbed by all the seeming evidence to the contrary that surrounds us in
purely human affairs. We know that God lovingly watches over us. We know that
when we turn to Him, all will be well with us, here and hereafter.

 

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