The secret of “conscious contact”

As a Christian I was taught to “pray without ceasing.” I’m not sure what that meant exactly. I think it means to “pray continually.” In other words, “Don’t stop praying.” As I recall, I prayed sporadically… if I prayed at all.

The 12 step program has taught me that recovery is a continual process. Some may feel that they are recovered, but I suspect that referring to your recovery in the past tense (recovered) tends to lead us to believe that it’s all over. We’re done. We don’t need the fellowship anymore.

I realize that – in a sense – I am recovered from the obsession, from continually “acting out.” But I prefer to think of myself as recovering. Recovery is a continual process. It’s something I do everyday. Continually. Religiously.

Bill W. made sure that Step 11 contained the secret to our success. “Sought to improve our conscious contact” is an important ingredient in our continual recovery. The term ‘conscious contact’ carries with it the sense that we are continually improving our contact with Higher Power.

Whether you are in constant contact with God, or the Universe or your higher self, you must continually seek to improve your connection with Higher Power. Through prayer and meditation. Continually.

Why?

Simple. We need to improve our awareness. Awareness of self, awareness of Higher Power and the will of God. Life is a two-part game: The inner game and the outer game. Step 11 is part of the inner game. Improving our ‘conscious contact’ is our inner game as addicts. It is the secret of our success.

We can only work Step 12 (our outer game) for so long until we start to run out of spiritual energy – energy from a much higher source. This spiritual energy is what fuels our recovery. Step 11 is how we prevent recovery burn-out – the part where many of us crash and burn.

I have a tendency to go it alone. Once I figure out what I need to do, I try to do it. But, sooner or later, I get to a point where I can’t remember why I’m working so hard at what I thought was so important.

Spending time in prayer and meditation seems so unproductive. If I’m going to sit for a while, I find myself trying to problem-solve. The last thing I want is to remain still in order to improve my ‘conscious contact’ with my higher power.

But the inner game of improving our conscious contact is an important ingredient in our recovery. It’s the secret to our success. The next blog post will explore a little further this concept of ‘conscious contact’ – how we can learn to be still, and become more consciously aware of the present reality that surrounds us.

The 12 benefits of mindfulness meditation

Plenty has been written on the science and the art of meditation. You may have read a number of books telling you what to do, how to do it, and why you should do it. But as an addict, I’m sure you’re wondering how it’s supposed to fit in with your recovery.

Do we practice meditation just because Bill W. makes mention of it in Step 11? After all, it’s just a suggestion… right?

Perhaps if we understood the benefits of meditation, we would be more inclined to give it a try. One type of meditation I practice is called “mindfulness.” In the spirit of the 12 step program, here are 12 reasons why you should practice ‘mindfulness’ meditation:

1. Improve focus: There is a connection between focus and mindfulness. When we’re not focused, we have slipped into some form of mindlessness. The daily practice of focusing your mind will impact your entire day. Improved focus will develop your ability to perform any task with more accuracy and effectiveness.

2. Enhance your relationships and communication: Much of our dysfunction in relationships with other people has to do with fear. Fear breeds all kinds of toxic attitudes that spill over into our interactions with others. Mindfulness can help us to let go of the fear – fear that crowds our inner lives without us even knowing it.

3. Relief from anxiety and depression: This is a biggie. I don’t think I need to explain how important it is to gain freedom from the ill effects of anxiety and depression. Emotional balance is what we all need to help us gain full recovery.

4. Improve your self awareness: When you know better, you do better. If you become aware of what is going on – and what you are doing to resist what is going – your self-awareness will enable you to make the changes necessary to gain full recovery.

5. Deepen peace of mind and sense of flow: An addict is very fragmented – compartmentalized into a million little pieces – because of the shame and the lies. This reference to ‘peace and sense of flow’ describes what is called “oneness.” A feeling of wholeness; not fragmented any longer.

6. Master stress and the ability to relax: I am a stressed out person. You would never know by looking at me. On the outside I appear to be calm (most of the time). Handling stress isn’t our strong suit as addicts. Mindfulness practice teaches us to become masters of stress.

7. Deepen insight and intuitive wisdom: A ‘deepened insight’ goes much deeper than intellectual insight. You don’t attain ‘intuitive wisdom’ by studying all night long for a test the following day. Instead, you access it by learning to remain quiet and observant.

8. Increase resilience to change: As you learn to stop resisting the things that happen to you (some sort of change to your routine) you gain mental elasticity and emotional flexibility. It is what it is.

9. Strengthen faith and self-confidence: ‘Acceptance’ doesn’t mean you have to settle for second best. There’s no ‘resigning’ yourself to a lousy situation. Acceptance gives you the ability to see past ‘what was’ and begin again with what is. And this stance puts you in a powerful position: Connection with God, and belief in your true self.

10. Develop emotional stability and balance: Emotional sobriety… absolutely!

11. Increased flexibility and acceptance: Just as you gain resilience to change, you can learn to accept what is: Your circumstances; your family; your boss; your financial situation… the things that normally stress you out.

12. Awaken more gratitude and caring: We live in an abundant universe that is generous and friendly. When we learn to trust God and this magnificent Universe of which we are a part, it awakens within us a deep respect for all that is. As we become more grateful, we become more caring; as we become more caring, we become more grateful.

These 12 benefits of meditation I have listed here just scratch the surface. If you have done the steps together with a sponsor, but still have questions about the spiritual emphasis in the program, I suggest you get started doing Step 11 and begin the practice of mindfulness meditation.

There are practical benefits that you can receive if you remain honest, open and willing. Open yourself up to the possibilities of practicing meditation on a daily basis.

 

Why pray?

You may have asked this question – out loud or quietly to yourself. I know I have pondered it many times.

And it’s a tough one: Any question that begins with ‘why’ is usually hard to answer. But it’s important to know why we pray if we are going to do it with any conviction.

To those of us who are recovering in a 12 Step program – whether we believe in a Supreme Being (God) or not – it is suggested that we pray. (In fact, we are given at least two specific prayers; one at the conclusion of step 3, and another for step 7.)

But the reason you should pray has very little to do with your religious, philosophical or metaphysical views on God. In fact, it has more to do with your recovery than you might realize…

If you are somewhere between childhood and old-age, you know that God is not some big Vending Machine in the sky that provides whatever you want, whenever you want: You know you can’t just say a few magical words, (prayers), and… ‘presto’… Providence drops it into your lap – instantly.

The Serenity Prayer is a perfect example of the type of prayer we should pray often. It contains the three reasons we need to pray in order to remain in recovery:

• Serenity to accept – Surrender
• Courage to change – Love
• Wisdom to know the difference – Clarity

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” Here is a reminder to continue in a state of surrender and humility. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation, or ‘giving up’ on life. It is the opposite of giving up: It means “letting go.”

“The courage to change the things I can…” For some of us, courage came in a bottle: ‘Liquid courage.’ It’s how we coped with life. The rest of us had other drugs-of-choice that gave us courage. True courage is fueled by love. Without love’s power, we seek courage where it cannot be found – and remain in our addiction.

“And the wisdom to know the difference” The reason we should pray is because we often don’t know the reasons why things happen the way they do. The reason we pray is to ask for wisdom when we don’t understand what’s going on. In fact, that is the exact time to pray!

When life becomes confusing, overwhelming and just plain unacceptable – that is the time to pray. Don’t wait till you feel good to pray. The time to pray is when you don’t know what to do, and your next move is unclear. That is the time to ask for wisdom.

Why bother with Step 11?

What was Bill W thinking?

I mean, what are we supposed to do with “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God…” ?

It makes a nice “spiritual program” sound kind of religious, don’t you think?  We could call it the “Church of Bill W.” or “The World-Wide Church of Recover-ology.”

To an agnostic all this ‘God’ stuff does sound pretty religious.  And to a religious person it sounds really lame.  The phrase “as we understood God” makes me wonder who or what we are dealing with!

When I reflect upon the necessity for Step 11, it occurs to me that a whole bunch of us give lip service to this step, but don’t really practice it.  We sort of skip from Step 10 over to Step 12.  None of us verbalize it, but the question we may be asking is, “What practical benefit can we addicts derive from working Step 11?”

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in God.   I happen to be a Christian, and my God is the God of the Old and New Testament – Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  But if “Higher Power” is just a rock or, at best, the ‘group’ – what benefit results from praying to a rock… or the group… or a rock group? 

If prayer and meditation is going to produce practical results (in other words, if I ever hope to gain knowledge and power of God’s will through conscious contact), “Higher Power” needs to conform to certain criteria.  I believe there are four: 

1.Personal  2.Present  3.Patient  4.Powerful

If there’s going to be some kind of communication going on between my Higher Power and me, I think you would agree that my Higher Power needs to be personal and present.  In other words, the God of my understanding must think and feel as I do in this present moment.  What good would it do us to have a Higher Power that can’t hear, can’t speak and can’t communicate in the here-and-now?

Similarly, what help would I receive from a ‘God’ who (although personal) had no compassion or understanding for my weakness as an addict?  If recovery is all about ‘progress, not perfection’ how could my Higher Power help me if this ‘God’ had no tolerance for my imperfections?  My Higher Power needs to have patience.

And finally, my Higher Power must be powerful.  Obvious, right?  If I am going to spend the time in prayer and meditation in order to gain knowledge and power, my ‘God’ must have the ability to deliver what I so desperately need… knowledge and power!

Before I got into recovery, I believed in a God that could.  But not in a God that would.  It has become obvious to me that “Higher Power” must be willing and able to communicate with me as well as deliver knowledge of God’s will and the power to live it.  

In a word:  Higher Power is all about Love.