Imagine you found yourself in a deep dark hole. It was so deep in fact that there was absolutely no way that you could just jump out or pull yourself out of it. The only way you could get out of the hole was if there was a ladder you could use to climb out with.
Addiction is similar to that deep hole. Left to out own devices, we found it impossible to extricate ourselves from it. We tried many strategies but we always seemed to end up back in that hole once again. The programs of AA, NA and OA provided us with a ladder to help us depart from the hole of addiction. Each of the rungs of the ladder represented a different aspect of the program to help us climb out. Some of those rungs included going to meetings, getting a sponsor, working the steps, taking service commitments, practicing daily prayer and meditation and helping another member of the fellowship. By climbing the rungs we found that we could extricate ourselves from that dark pit. We also found that when we neglected various aspects of the program we began to slide back into the hole. It was not something we could say we were ever free and clear off.
Personal Reflection: Am I going up or sliding down the ladder?
Prayer and meditation are integral parts of our program. This was actually a turn-off for many of us in the beginning of sobriety. Prayer in particular was a sore point for us. Growing up, we had often had bad experiences with the religion of our youth. It was often shoved down our throats with no regard for what we wanted or needed. We also often experienced a G-d who was angry and punishing. There was enough self flagellation taking place without G-d jumping on the band wagon. The prayers that we mechanically muttered rarely resonated with us.
All that changed as we became immersed in the program. We learned that our Higher Power could be whatever we wanted It, He, or She to be. It was totally up to us. Most of us opted for a loving caring Higher Power that we could pour our hearts out to. We learned that prayer was an opportunity for us to have a personal conversation with the G-d of our understanding, whenever we needed to. Many of us also adopted a meditation practice. During those moments of silence, we found answers to questions which had dogged us or inspirational thoughts moving us in totally new directions. Not believing in coincidence we attributed this to our Higher Power as well.
Personal Reflection: How do I use prayer and meditation to maintain my sobriety?
Over the past decade there has been a proliferation of retreat centers. People go to these centers to practice meditation and prayer in silence. Much time is also spent in personal reflection while there. After a week of healthy food and body and mind work, they feel quite serene as they reenter the world. Yet, as they’re driving down the highway heading for home and they see police lights flashing in their rear view mirror; and a voice ordering them to pull over, that state of serenity is quickly broken. How is that possible? They just spent 10 hours a day in deep prayer and mediation. They had such a sense of calm and peace when they left the retreat center. Yet now, all those feelings of fear, blame and resentment come flooding back over the possibility of a speeding ticket.
In recovery, we have come to understand that true serenity is defined by how we respond to the trials of life; both big and small. When we are on retreat, of course we gain a type of serenity. It is the serenity of secluded spiritual practice. The very nature of retreat facilitates it. In recovery, we gain practical serenity. That is the calm of not responding negatively in the face of adversity. It is actually of a much more profound genus.
Personal Reflection: How can I improve my response to conflict?
One of the main tools of the program is meditation. As we began to meditate many of us were quite taken aback at just how challenging it was. We had been told to focus our attention solely on our breath. This seemed simple enough. What we discovered was that our mind was everywhere except on focusing on our breath. Our thoughts cascaded from one topic to another that were often only loosely associated. A lot of the time we would end up dwelling on thoughts from the past. These often caused us much distress. We had frequently behaved quite inappropriately due to our alcohol or drug addiction. Sometimes we thought about the future. These thoughts were just as disturbing. We discovered that without our drug of choice to soothe us, fear had often kicked in. This could often verge on feelings of panic as some upcoming event or commitment loomed on the horizon. We were advised to as best as possible “stay in the moment”. This worked some of the time, but often our thoughts turned to past transgressions or fears of the future. In those moments we turned to another cornerstone of the program. We turned to our Higher Power to help us to stay in the present and practice the principles of acceptance.
Personal Reflection: Do I look up often enough?
Recently, two people who had just come out of their yoga class had a small fender bender in the parking lot. Right after the accident they began to yell at each other at the top of their lungs. Both had spent an hour doing deep stretches in class and ended their session in deep meditation. Yet now, just a few minutes later, they had left the serenity of the class far behind. So, the question is where did a spiritual experience take place that morning? Many would say that their hour long session of yoga and meditation qualified as spiritual. We in the program look at life a little differently. We believe the true spiritual experience took place when they lost it with one another in the parking lot. Yes, the yoga class was very nice and relaxing. But, it was when they were yelling at each other that they had the greater opportunity for spiritual growth. If they had chosen to examine their actions, they would have discovered opportunities to work on anger, pride, self righteousness, arrogance and a host of other defects of character. The real spiritual “work” takes place when we see those darker parts of ourselves and have the capacity to own up to them. If one of them had stopped yelling and said “forgive me for hitting your car”, that would have been a spiritual home run.
Personal Reflection: What was my last rude awakening?
In the 1960’s gurus and ashrams first appeared in the United States. Along with yoga, meditation began to become a household word. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of Americans were already practicing meditation in an unpublicized way. They were members of twelve step programs and meditation was a foundation stone of recovery. Of course, when newcomers came into the program, meditation was a foreign concept. They often turned to their sponsor for clarification. Their conversation began with the sponsee asking for how often and long they needed to meditate. Usually they were told to meditate daily for about 20 minutes. Invariably, the sponsee would say, “well, what if I have a busy day ahead”? To which the sponsor would say, “then you’d better meditate for an hour”. That answer seemed counter-intuitive but the reality is that time spent in meditation is time well spent. Those few minutes help set our mood for the entire day. When we meditate, we feel calmer and more present. A more stressful day requires greater preparation. Beyond that, many of us find solutions to problems while sitting; that we believe are Higher Powered.
Personal Reflection: How long do I need to meditate for today?
There are a number of cartoon characters who perpetually have a rain cloud over their heads. While it’s sunny for everyone else, for them it is raining.
For some people, this description is not far from the truth. Of course we are not talking about weather conditions. Rather, we are talking about life attitude. There are people who walk around under a cloud of negativity for the whole day.
When our feet hit the ground in the morning, we have our first choice of the day. Are we going to choose to have a “good” day or “bad” day. For some of us, this might be a surprising statement. In the past we might have said, “how can I have a good day with all that I have to deal with today”? We have discovered that as we work our program; our attitude is a choice and is not dependent on the events of the day. Experience has also shown that when we include prayer and meditation as one of our first daily acts, our sense of positivity is also strengthened.
Personal Reflection: What kind of day did you plan for today?