While Step Ten focuses largely on keeping our thoughts and emotions in check, the next step takes a look at their very foundation. As most should know by the time they reach Step Eleven, the foundation of recovery is one of spiritual growth. Much of our work in the Twelve Steps focuses on establishing a sense of spirituality. In Step Two, we define our Higher Power and learn to put faith in it. Then, upon reaching Step Three, we give up our delusions of control. From a certain standpoint, you might even say that every single step is about spirituality in one form or another.
Step Eleven, however, focuses on the daily maintenance of our spirituality and how this maintenance might be achieved. The obvious answer is through prayer and meditation. This might cause some to wonder why Step Eleven is necessary at all. To be certain, many of us began praying and meditating long before we reached this point in our recovery. Some of us prayed only in times of need, while others prayed every single morning upon waking. What makes Step Eleven so different? Aren’t we simply doing more of the same? In some ways, yes. But trust us when we say that this step certainly earns its place in every addict’s program of recovery.
Addicts and alcoholics who struggle with spirituality need not fear this step. By the time you reach Step Eleven, you already know that spirituality is not the same as religion. You even know quite a bit about how it works. This step simply helps you to remember these lessons and put them into practice on a daily basis. Below, we’ll discuss how to do this as outlined in AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, known commonly as the 12&12.
What Is Step Eleven?
As stated in the 12&12, Step Eleven is as follows:
“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.”
As you can plainly see, there is a bit more here than simple prayer and meditation. This step also references the notion of conscious contact with our Higher Power, whatever that may be. And while Step Three required us to turn over our willpower, we must now dig a little deeper and begin to discover just what that means for us. Naturally, the answers may vary for every recovering addict or alcoholic who asks this question of themselves.
Despite forming our concept of a Higher Power in early recovery, many addicts and alcoholics may still wince at Step Eleven. After all, some of us identify our Higher Power as something quite earthly. It isn’t uncommon for atheists and agnostics to use their support group as a substitute for God. Such people may wonder why they would bother praying. After all, their Higher Power is right there in the room with them. In this light, prayer seems unnecessary.
For this reason, some may find that they have prayed very little—if at all—by the time they reach Step Eleven. Upon reaching this step, they might take umbrage with the notion that they have somehow ignored their spirituality. To be certain, they did foster their spirituality in their own way. But now it’s time for something different. This will be trying for some people. Some may even feel that they can skip it altogether, having gotten this far without any semblance of the practice now suggested to them. These individuals might last for a time, but many relapse and soon wonder where they went wrong.
Perhaps it will take us some time to grow accustomed to the notion of prayer and meditation. Even so, we should try to make the very best start that we can. The rewards will not always be immediate, although they are for some. But even if they take time to arrive, the rewards will often be vast. Alcoholism and addiction wrought havoc on our bodies and minds. We find these on the mend in recovery. It’s time for us to begin mending our spirit as well. To do this, we’ll need to understand a bit more about the meaning of Step Eleven.
What It Means
We’re often told that recovering addicts and alcoholics should never give in to contempt prior to investigation. The truly spiritual person cannot judge without evidence. This applies to Step Eleven. We must pray if we wish to establish conscious contact and divine the right course of action for our lives to take. One prayer that embodies these ideals quite well is the Prayer of Saint Francis. There are many versions but the one in the 12&12 reads as follows:
“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace—that where there is hatred, I may bring love—that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness—that where there is discord, I may bring harmony—that where there is error, I may bring truth—that where there is doubt, I may bring faith—that where there is despair, I may bring hope—that where there are shadows, I may bring light—that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted—to understand, than to be understood—to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.”
Saint Francis didn’t ask his God for favors. He simply asked for the strength and ability to do the right thing wherever he could. No matter how we define our Higher Power, this is the will for us if we are to become sober. We must cast selfishness aside and work toward something greater. This is what we learn upon making conscious contact. Prayer and meditation help us to maintain this contact, so that we may never forget this vital lesson.
Many say that prayer is talking while meditation is listening. But both operate on one very similar idea—visualization. Saint Francis didn’t utter his prayer once and then hope that everything worked out. He visualized how he could help others, and then he worked to achieve his goal. The willingness to do this is inherent in Step Eleven. During our prayers and meditations, we focus on the type of person we wish to become. We endeavor to establish a mood that fits the temperament with which we would like to approach the world. And with this mood established, we set out to be the very best that we can be.
How to Practice
Now that we understand the goal of Step Eleven, we must discuss its actual practice. We can easily use the prayer above, even if we do not believe in the same God as Saint Francis. But the 12&12 provides some even simpler advice:
“In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps we think of our day’s work and the chances it may afford us to be useful and helpful, or of some special problem that it may bring. Possibly today will see a continuation of a serious and as yet unresolved problem left over from yesterday. Our immediate temptation will be to ask for specific solutions to specific problems, and for the ability to help other people as we have already thought they should be helped. In that case, we are asking God to do it our way. Therefore, we ought to consider each request carefully to see what its real merit is.”
This caution is quite important. Many addicts and alcoholics spend great quantities of time attempting to rationalize poor or harmful decisions. When we try to pray only for what we want, we risk doing the same thing while using God as our justification. In such cases, we convince ourselves that we’re receiving guidance from some divine source. But in reality, we’re simply closing our eyes and hearing what we want to hear.
For this reason, we must do as Step Eleven suggests and pray only for what is right. And this extends to the prayers we say for others as well. Do not pray that someone does what you want them to do. Only pray that things work out well for them. When you meditate on an issue, do not meditate on how to do things your way. Instead, let your mind’s eye guide you to the best moral and ethical choice possible. Whether you practice Zen sitting meditation or walking meditation doesn’t matter. If you wish, you can simply sit or lie down in silence for a while. But always ensure that your mind and your heart are calm. If we let your own egotistical thinking break in, our prayers and meditations will often prove fruitless.
Step Eleven bears many similarities to Step Ten, especially wherein scheduling is concerned. To be certain, we must practice Step Eleven on a daily basis. But we may also pray or meditate when we find ourselves troubled by a major decision or a rogue thought. In the end, there’s no perfect way to practice. Simply ensure that you keep your heart in the right place and try to be a positive force in the world. You may stumble from time to time, but this is part of life. As long as your prayers are honest and your soul is kind, you’re on the right track to maintaining your 12 step recovery program.