Since I’ve gotten so much positive feedback I am actually writing a book now. Now that it’s turning into something I don’t want to release it until it’s done. For now here’s a snippet of the beginning of my chapter on step 11 and thanks for all the support:
The scientific method is, at the time of this writing, the most successful and efficient tool ever devised by humanity for the understanding of the physical world. It’s stringent standards and ever reaching in-built philosophy of obtaining new information and testing that against current theories and knowledge, discarding entirely old ideas if they are proved false is, in my opinion, the apex of humility in action. I have gained a lot of ground applying its principles to my personal journey through recovery. However, for all it’s power as a tool it is only good for finding information. It cannot tell us what to do with it. Now that doesn’t mean it’s useless, it’s not. Applying honesty and clarity to any situation will often reveal an obvious choice.
The nature of step 11 was difficult for me as it was not only a step containing two very murky terms; prayer and meditation. Meditation has been popularized by atheistic and even naturalist practitioners of buddhist meditation. Or at least meditation with it’s roots in buddhism. Indeed there are many valuable method of emotional control, conditioning and mental organization in those gatherings. Sadly in my local community the taint of dogma and supernatural nonsense continue to corrupt the discourse. As such, I had to devise a new strategy and set of translations for dealing with the “natives”.
Prayer was equally troublesome. How does one ask for guidance or favor from something they are certain is not there. What process is being invoked mentally or emotionally when one participates in this part of their theistic or dogmatic simulations? One thing is almost certain that belief in a specific being or power is not necessary. As evidenced by the droves of vaguely “spiritual” members of 12-step fellowships. Many of them reporting accounts roughly in the shape of “I don’t know what I’m praying to, I just pray and it works.” That these people were engaging in positive self talk was soon so overwhelmingly obvious that an idea formed. They were making a mental patch or bridge over something they had no control over, once I had heard enough sharing it clicked and I began to develop a strategy.
I saw a few common themes come out of the sharing. Praying over things we’re certain of is pointless. Few or none prayed about a bus they were on making it to the next stop or if they’d be able to go to work tomorrow when nothing was stopping them. So praying for stuff in our control is a rare thing. When people have shared with me what they pray about, it’s mostly about things beyond their control, or where the importance is high and their control is limited. I watched a bit longer and took mental note of where and when people tended to pray. Soon a common thread revealed itself; praying seemed to be about about fear of the unknown. Much like people believe in karma to offset the fear of the unlikely car crash. Or the more malicious form that includes wishing bad things on someone that has wronged us or someone we value. But not at our hand. A sort of informal ordering that takes place out of sight. A rather brilliant human software adaptation to the anxiety that full knowledge of an indifferent universe would give many people. But without a thea or faith in some interventionary power, that kind of prayer wouldn’t work for me. I’d have to find another method to deal with the same need.
As I journeyed along my path to both broaden and deepen my own understanding of the universe I lived in I had to say I couldn’t blame them. After my final acceptance of an indifferent universe I fell into a long period of depression. Letting go of the last piece of my faith in the supernatural was painful. I had to grow up and let go of that source of comfort because it was not compatible with my recovery. I was going to live a life grounded in reality or none at all. Logically I was pleased with the state of things, my emotions were less placid after this acceptance. Eventually that too passed and I was able to start moving forward once more.
It became clear to me I was on to something, that though it wasn’t comfortable at first, was definitely right for me. So I resolved to accept the truth and get used to it. Why the hell not? I had already accepted the most unpalatable thing I could imagine, I had become the demon of my childhood. I was an alcoholic! Being raised in an alcoholic home, I had strong resolutions to be beat alcoholism. Accepting that and joining a program of recovery was devastating. Another blow to an already weary mind. If I had gotten through that, why not this. I didn’t know what was on the other side emotionally or if bitterness and nihilism at the willful ignorance of my fellows would consume me. What I knew for certain is that I could not go back. I didn’t have the mental power to subvert my beliefs that much. Not without using, and using meant the death over everything I’d worked for. The adage I came up with in my first year of 12 step work has held true “When it comes to personal growth; there is no way around, there is only through”. So I went forward, with the only faith I really have anymore; that eventually if I stick with it and ask for help, I’ll find a way. Prayer was kicking my ass so I just ignored it and focused on meditation.
Without the spoilers of my twelfth step awakening I’ll say that I found meditation to be useful for calming my mind and especially my emotions. So much of my emotional self is unknowable to me, I find I can only affect it through action. I can’t just think I care for myself, I have to go sit in a room and let myself relax. Or go to the pool. Something overt. This kind of action sends a message and gets me out of my emotional struggle. Just zoning out in front of the TV or sleeping 14 hours doesn’t affect the same result. Not to say it won’t for someone else, these are just my examples. And there was a period of heavy emotional work that I just needed a ton of sleep. Every time I return to these practices after a period of neglect I always feel better.