In the 11th step we “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.”
What is the 11th step and why is it important?
The 12-step program is fundamentally a spiritual one. It is based on the belief that a strong spiritual foundation is an essential component of maintaining a healthy and fulfilling sober life. Daily spiritual practice is therefore one of the cornerstones of a sober lifestyle. This step can be very difficult for some members, and utterly natural for others. All 12-step programs include their fair share of agnostics and atheists as well as assorted skeptics of other types.
The program encourages everyone, regardless of their belief system, to engage daily in this habit. This should be done with an open heart and good intentions. There is a good reason for that. Everyone can and does benefit from verbalizing their spiritual needs and listening quietly in return. If nothing else, it establishes clarity regarding our spiritual needs and goals. More often than not, it results in an unexpectedly deep spiritual connection between our Higher Power and ourselves.
To work this step, set up a daily spiritual habit. Envision your spiritual goal, which is typically to connect more directly and fully with the Higher Power of your choosing. When cultivating your habit, find a quiet and relaxing spot and let go of your preconceived notions of spirituality and prayer.
Remember, the 12-step system is very open and accepting regarding the content of your spiritual practice. You can connect with any Higher Power of meaning to you, through any practice you find meaningful. This can consist of any combination of prayer, meditation, or other activities that have spiritual meaning for you. The exact method matters less than the ability to establish a meaningful relationship with your Higher Power.
The reason prayer and meditation are specifically mentioned in the step is due to their specific complementary qualities. Prayer allows you to speak to your higher Power and seek specific guidance. Meanwhile, meditation allows you to patiently and openly listen to your Higher Power in return.
How and what do we seek through prayer?
How do we pray? Some of us have an established religious practice from our childhood or background. If you still feel a connection to that heritage, that could be a good way to establish the practice of prayer. Simply return to the fold in a way that feels natural and comfortable for you. Even if you have never prayed in the context of your cultural beliefs, it may be easier for you to begin this practice by reading about the traditional practices of that faith and by getting advice from religious figures well versed in that approach.
For those of us who have never engaged in prayer and do not have a traditional form of worship they are comfortable with, it can be more challenging. One option is to simply say what is in our hearts to our Higher Power. As long as it is heartfelt and free of self-serving manipulation, it will establish that connection.
Another option is to look through spiritual literature for prayers you identify with, no matter what their origin. Ask yourself, what was the person who wrote these words feeling? What were they attempting to channel? Why do I identify with these words? What am I trying to connect with? Then recite those words in an open-hearted manner.
When we engage in prayer, it is important to notice that step calls for prayer “only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” This means we try to avoid asking our Higher Power for specific outcomes. We also try to avoid, as much as possible, bargaining with our Higher Power.
Very often people will make a deal with God in return for specific favors. For example, “if I just get this job, I will go to Church every Sunday.” In practicing step 11, we avoid this behavior. This sort of bargaining has a self-centered and manipulative element to it that is unbefitting a healthy spiritual practice. When we petition our Higher Power, we bring our worst impulses into a practice which should be spiritually pure. It is also very reminiscent of the sort of mental manipulation which very often accompanies addiction.
Sometimes it is unavoidable to ask for a specific outcome. If for example someone we care about is sick, or we have suffered a serious reversal, it is only natural to ask for relief. In that case, we should ask for the outcome we want but add the caveat “if that is your will” or some variation thereof. Remember, we ultimately do not know the will of our Higher Power and it would be both presumptuous and conceited to assume that we do.
Rather our only goal in this practice is to understand the will of our Higher Power for us and to establish the mental fortitude and courage to follow it. Remember, we have followed our own manipulative and self-determined path for years. It led us only to the dark depths of despair. Our goal in cultivating a spiritual practice is to find a new and better path, as paved by our Higher Power. This will lead us to a more fulfilling healthy and sober path in the long run.
Once we have cultivated the habit of open-minded prayer and quiet meditation, it becomes an essential element of our self-care. We find that nourishing our souls is just as important as feeding and maintaining the health of our bodies.
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