In centering prayer we acknowledge a core of basic goodness, a "Great Reality deep down within us." This is our Higher Power, and us, together. Our True Self. For many in recovery—myself included—we find it hard to reconcile our generally low opinion of ourselves with the cornerstone idea that God is there, deep down in every one of us. But reconcile it we must if we are to live free and purposeful lives.
A friend of mine who had struggled for years with credit card debt made this insightful observation: As long as he had debt, not only was he living in the past, but he had a hard time living fully in the present, and found it nearly impossible to imagine a happy future.
In the throes of being human, we accumulate spiritual debt, in the form (mostly) of resentments, fears, and the guilt we carry for harms done others. Making matters worse, shame often keeps us from facing up to this debt. As defiant alcoholics, and as approval-seeking co-dependents, we resist even going to a trusted confidant with simple acknowledgement of wrongs done.
We know the promises of the program are right around the corner, but we need to finish clearing up those things that block us from right relationship with our fellows and with God. During my talk on the 8th Step, "Made a list of all people we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all," we'll perform a mini-inventory of a recent harm done, analyze which aspect of self was involved, and investigate what’s required to become willing to make amends. We'll get to do it ourselves, and bear witness to each other, and in so doing, take a step on the path of lasting forgiveness and healing.
Step 2 isn’t just about coming to terms with how our thinking and behavior have been insane. That's kind of obvious. And, I’ve discovered, it's slightly more than coming to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
My current understanding of Step 2 has been informed by a persistent history of making mistakes, resolving to "be better," and making those mistakes again. And again. And again.
So Step 2 is a chance to fully accept the implications of Step 1 — the "I can't fix myself" part — and along with that, it is complete surrender to the idea that spiritual transformation at depth is imperative if I want to become "happily and usefully whole."
Piece of cake!
I’ll explore more about this on November 18 — join us at Colonial Church.
Centering Prayer is a relationship with the God of our understanding. Everything we do in it — carve out time and space, sit quietly with eyes closed, allow our thoughts to drift by, recall our sacred word — is in service of this relationship. I believe my discovery of this practice, and my willingness to return to it, are a pure gift of my Higher Power.
Everything in the Twelve Steps is in service of this relationship too. The Steps enable us to develop a personal relationship with our Creator by helping us remove the obstacles that are blocking us from it, which, as it turns out, are also the things that block us from true partnership with others.
The 8th and 9th Steps require us to move toward the people we have hurt - to consciously move toward the pain we have caused, rather than continue avoiding it. In so doing, we get to face who we are with honesty and humility, and as we learn to forgive, we start to learn what it means to be forgiven.
Join me on March 11, when I’ll share what I’ve learned about this vital process.
My initial surrender to alcoholism brought about a sufficient willingness to give AA a try, which pretty quickly led to the belief that AA could solve my alcohol problem. What a miracle. And even though surrender was a tool that worked, it was a painful experience, so I threw it in the drawer as soon as I was done with it.
If we stay sober, living life on life's terms means we will be given more opportunities for surrender and willingness to believe. And while belief alone isn't enough to bring about recovery and serenity, it is the essential starting point.
On November 12, I will share my experience with Centering Prayer and Step Two. It’s been a gradual journey, spurred mainly by "the deliberate manufacture of misery" on my part. Today it’s leading me to a realization of the promise that "we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are willing and honest enough to try."
“Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, most of us have found that the faith which really works in daily living is still out of reach." –Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 4
In Step 3 we made a decision to turn our life and will over to the care of a Higher Power. But that was just a decision. Real growth takes work.
A whole lifetime run on self-will, in which all our time and energy was spent satisfying our basic instincts, doesn't magically change overnight. Driven by unconscious and conscious resentments and fears, we've taken wrong actions that have harmed others, and blocked any chance of a relationship with the God of our understanding.
At the workshop on Saturday, January 9, I’ll share a simple and repeatable process for taking 4th-Step inventory that will lead us to the truth about ourselves, and free us from the fears and resentments that dominate our thinking.
There's a wonderful admonition on page 133 of the Big Book: "Avoid then the deliberate manufacture of misery."
It's astounding that we need this reminder, but we do. More than most people, we keep taking wrong actions despite the painful results. The problem, according to Bill W., is self run amok. Instead of accepting that my approach is flawed and changing to meet conditions, I either a) try the same thing, only harder; or b) resign myself to the failure, blaming outside forces. Even when self-will and self-reliance fail me, I persist because I suffer from the delusion that, by my own actions, I can control outcomes. It's a lesson I have needed to learn more than once, and I am still quick to forget it.
As Joe McQ. puts it in "The Steps We Took," we want to be self-reliant, but we're designed to rely on each other and God. Our selfishness and self-centered fear keep most of us from this basic truth.
Here's where Centering Prayer comes in. Twice a day for twenty minutes, I put my self aside and work on my relationship with God. It's an implicit admission that the self-reliance model doesn't work, and it's a mini-vacation from the ever-present, and, at times, imperious self. I get to practice other-reliance, which opens up the possibility that other-reliance will work in all the other areas of my life.
Join us on October 17 to experience Centering Prayer and its many connections with recovery in the Twelve Steps.
With my wife and daughter traveling for the month of August, I headed off for a week of family camp with my son, who was mostly intent on doing his own thing with his group of friends. Every day I took time to sit for Centering Prayer, usually in the mornings, and several times outdoors, beside the lake shore.
Released from my usual everyday roles — husband, father, AA sponsor, worker, provider, voice of reason, director, choreographer — I settled down hoping that I might experience some profound peacefulness, freed as I was from my usual attachments. And indeed, instead of engaging with thoughts of to-do lists, and that thing that person said at the office, oh and don't forget to pick up the such-and-such at Target, I found opportunities to ever-so-gently apply my sacred word when I was distracted by the call of a loon, or the breeze on my face, or the dew on the bench. By any measure it was a magical setting for my 11th Step meditation.
So why was I so uncomfortable? Father Keating writes that if we are persistent in our centering prayer practice, eventually "the emotional junk in our unconscious emerges," and eventually "the obstacles to opening [ourselves] to God are revealed." I was experiencing the unloading of the unconscious, and unable to fall back on my familiar patterns, I felt hypersensitive and untethered. Awareness can be painful.
But it can also lead to healing. One promise of the 12 Steps is that we will gain awareness of the obstacles in our path that keep us feeling separate from our Higher Power, and thus from ourselves and one another. When we place ourselves in God's hands through Centering Prayer, Keating reminds us, we are consenting to have God remove these obstacles. Compelled by circumstances to take a break from my normal state of constant busy-ness and distraction, I caught a glimpse of what it might be like to draw near to God's love and more genuinely consent to divine healing.
More shall be revealed.