We often tend to slight serious meditation and prayer as something not really necessary. To be sure, we feel it it something that might help us to meet an occasional emergency, but at first many of us are apt to regard it as a somewhat mysterious skill of clergymen, from which we may hope to get a secondhand benefit.
These are our stories. Please share your 11th step story on our website. Let your experience, strength and hope inspire your fellows to deepen their 11th Step.
Thursday night April 30, 2015, 7:30 11 Step meeting in Manhattan Beach California, my home group for 30 years. We had just voted and implemented our new format reading the St Francis prayer and meditating for 20 minutes before participating and were using it for the very first time. Christy R, our chair for this evening, called on me to share and I remarked that the meeting had been started in 1948 but did not know by whom or where and I was grateful for the long history of the meeting and the new format. After the meeting ended two men came up to me, they were Jim C and Tom C, brothers visiting from out of town and they shared with me that their mother Frannie C had started the meeting with her sponsor Kay R at her house, one mile or so down the street on a Thursday night in 1948. They talked about being kids and having all the people show up, sitting in the dark, sharing, smoking so much that one could not see across the living room. Jim and Tom are both sober for over 30 years and in town that night decided to come and check out the meeting started by Mom…that night of all night when we started meditating for 20 minutes! Coincidence?”
For over a year now I have been attending a weekly prayer and meditation meeting where we practice centering prayer as our 11th step. We share 20 minutes of this silent prayer followed by discussion of the book Divine Therapy and Addiction by Tom S. and Thomas Keating. Both the silence and the discussion have added much insight into the spiritual nature of each of the 12 steps.
Silence and our thoughts (the discussion we hold with ourselves) also have a role to play in centering prayer. Some thoughts are ordinary thoughts, memories and workings of our imaginations while others can be thoughts, emotions or memories that we simply couldn’t deal with at some point in our past and which have been stored in our bodies and hidden in the dark corners of our minds. It has been the experience of many of us in the group that while we sit quietly in a safe and open environment we may become aware of some of these old thoughts and feelings that we just don’t need anymore. In the silence our higher power frees us from these obstacles to living happy, joyous and free. We find that our higher power does for us what we cannot do for ourselves as we are not even aware of these hidden motives,feelings or memories. We simply show up and shut up for awhile and give our higher power a little space and time in which to work in us. While our part is to simply consent to the process it is a vital part which expresses our cooperation with and trust in our higher power’s help and care for us as that we came to know in steps two and three.
In 1958 after many years of sobriety Bill W. wrote an article called “The Next Frontier – Emotional Sobriety” which he talks about becoming free of outrageous demands to control others and false emotional dependencies on other people, places and things for prestige, esteem and security. While many of us have experienced some moderation of our unreasonable desires for power and control, security and survival, and affection and esteem we realize we have further to go on the journey toward emotional sobriety. Centering prayer as an 11th step practice is a vehicle that can help us on our journey into the next frontier Bill writes about.
The group experience is essential to 12-step recovery programs and as I continue on this spiritual path of the 12 steps I have found yet another good type of meeting thanks to 12-Step Outreach. I would be very much interested in hearing of your experience with centering prayer groups or other 11th step group experience.
In late May of 2009, I attended an Al-Anon meeting. Like many before me, I did not want to be there and experienced a hard difficult start in the Al-Anon program. I ignored alcoholism and its effects on my development for my entire life. As long as I did what was “right and ethical”, I presumed I was on the “normal” life path. When alcoholism took hold in my immediate family, I intuitively knew how wrong my presumption was, and that I possessed zero internal resources to continue to face addiction alone. I also did not have others in my life that I felt I trusted and could confide in. I was heartbroken and graced to know powerlessness.
By fall of 2009, I mustered the courage to attend open AA meetings. Here I learned about the disease of alcoholism and heard from many individuals stories of pain, courage and hope. I also began attending an open AA 11th step meeting. The meeting begins with the St. Francis prayer, followed by a speaker sharing their own prayer and meditation 11th step practice and then group sharing. In this quiet evening meeting, I felt the first sense of hope and possibilities that maybe, maybe this could work for me.
I then attended my first 12step centering prayer retreat that same November. Here I learned the centering prayer method of meditation to consent to open to a relationship with a higher power, a power greater than me. All the teaching was quite interesting for a true novice. I had no relationship with a higher power, had at a young age closed my mind to any existence of such. As a youth I concluded that religion was make-believe to provide employment and structure for those needing it. The retreat leaders suggested two 20-minute sits a day for transformation. As an Al-Anon member open to following directions, I committed then to the practice.
Over the last five years of committed, consistent practice, I have experienced a slow opening of my mind and heart that I can share. I emphasize slow as I have gotten stuck along the way and scared at times and just keep doing the practice. Three gifts stand out for me now: unconditional love, experiential learning, and faith.
I’ve become aware of painful truths about myself. Some are behaviors that were apparent to others upon meeting me yet unknown to myself. Awkward to realize as an adult that one is immature. A friend shared the thought of being emotionally/spiritually an idiot savant. I visualized my unbalanced, lopsided self with this large crazy-head thinker, a buried wounded heart, and a disconnected tense body. Through meditation and time, I learned compassion toward myself and acceptance of the basic core of goodness within each of us. I do not have to do anything, this goodness has always existed within me. This is the unconditional love that our higher power has for us.
The next gift continues these experiential learnings from the practice. I do not do anything, just sit down and do the practice. I consent to God’s presence and action within. I am learning to be receptive. Strange and difficult feelings have come up from doing the practice. Another friend suggested being curious and gentle and friendly toward what arises. Here is where I am experiencing courage to feel these feelings, to seek counsel when needed, and to learn that we have all the time in the world to continue our practice and spiritual growth.
The last gift is a growing faith. Through meetings and teachings, I learned how one can move from me- centered to God-centered. I also learned that one moves from believing to knowing. A year ago, I heard Brother Charlie speak during a service at a Snowmass retreat. This is a paraphrase of what I heard: “It is better to have faith; what you believe in may turn out not to be true; with faith and commitment to this path, this path is eternally true and will support and sustain one.” I am discovering faith. Things I believed in as true, were not. I have faith this path, though difficult at times, has sustained and supported me these last five years of struggle and growth. I also feel the courage now to continue on without knowing exactly where it will lead and trusting the process completely.
I grew up in a world of “should” and “can’t.” The journey to “may, can, and will” has been long in terms of chronology. I started placing my behind on a cushion each morning nearly 20 years ago. The journey has been counter intuitive – the action which has produced the most change is non-action and the thinking that has made the most difference has been no-thinking. But in terms of distance the journey is incredibly short. Where has it lead me? Most recently to the observation that I was companioning Sisyphus in his journey up the hill. Quite frankly it took exhaustion to open my eyes (that counter intuitive dichotomy, so tired I could barely keep them open) and simple move from the frantic action of gripping and pushing to the one of sitting on the cold, cold rock when I am so tired and sleepy! But only at that still point am I able to receive the invitations of life. As I sit I am relieved of the sense of “should,” of this seeming need to change things, or the desire to be accepted. Instead I can enter the experience of what I’ve started calling the “Divine apathy” a place without valence, a place of being which is all there is in the infinite everywhere of here and now.
This was the seventh year we’ve had this all 12 step, 10 days, silent retreat and the past few years have been a turning point for me in being able to hold the silence. We do a lot of meditation time. Together in a group, 3 and a half hour of sits a day. I wish I could put my finger on exactly what happened during that time or know for sure that this or that shift took place but I really don’t know any of that. Here’s a story that sums up part of this feeling. On the drive back home that Sunday we wobbled down the road regaining our real world senses like keeping up with traffic, carrying on conversations, paying for things. We stopped at a Safeway that had a Starbucks and I got a vente hot tea and then got back on the road. Later in the week, I looked at my account and discovered a charge for $64 from that store. I called them and talked to 3 different people, started out fairly patiently and got irritation in my voice as it went on but much worse in my head. A few days later after the mgr went to all the trouble of reviewing the sales for that timeframe and their video tapes, he called me and asked if I received $60 in cash back. Immediately I remembered I did! I apologized profusely and hung up the phone I would like to think that all that praying equipped me to be so aware that I’d remember stuff like that, wouldn’t make those mistakes, and more importantly would have a better handle on the emotional programs! I wish I came back without the fears and the issues of my life. There were times at the retreat where I felt so relieved and so in touch with the God of my understanding. What I feel now after 10 days home is very much in touch with my powerlessness and everything that step 2 has to offer me! That is quite a lot when I think about it. I’m trying not to over analyze my experience there as our long time retreat leader, Pat Johnson suggested but let it unfold….more will be revealed…
Welcome! My name is Jim M and I am a recovering addict and alcoholic from St. Louis. It feels great to be posting a bit of experience, strength and hope on this new website and hope that it becomes a safe place for people to share their 11th Step experiences with others so we can learn and grow. I took an Introductory Workshop to Centering Prayer in 1996 when I was ten years sober and knew intuitively that the practice was what I had been looking for to experience spirituality on a deeper level and to be open to the promises of recovery. I joined a Centering Prayer group after the workshop and most of the members were in recovery. My first impression of Centering Prayer was that it was uncomfortable just to be because of the cascade of thoughts and feelings that came through my mind. I soon learned that having thoughts was a part of the process and that this prayer was designed to strengthen our ability to let go and accept the experience of the present moment. Our job is to simply sit and return ever so gently to the Sacred Word. Simple, but not easy, right? Gradually the benefits of the prayer became evident and I started looking forward to my sits. Physically I felt better and I could sense more patience and kindness toward myself and others. It took about four years to establish a daily practice of two periods of prayer, but every time that I participated in a retreat, workshop or other event with Contemplative Outreach my desire and resolve to practice increased. In 2000 we held our first 12-Step Centering Prayer weekend retreat in St. Louis led by Donald Masters who commissioned the DVD series, “The Contemplative Dimension of the 12-Steps”, with Thomas Keating. Being on retreat with other people in recovery and focusing on Centering Prayer was a life changing experience. Simply stated, the prayer opened us up in a way that allowed for honesty at a very deep level. I knew then that I wanted to do my part in spreading the good news about Centering Prayer as an 11th Step Practice for recovering people. I could feel the healing this brought to my life and wanted to share it with others. In 2005 Donald Masters hosted a 10 Day Intensive retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado for people in recovery. The retreat was so successful that the same core group of people has returned every year since then. Pat, who serves our retreats and is on the National Faculty of Contemplative Outreach, recently said, “The most impressive aspect of serving the AA retreat all these years for me has been to see the rapid change in AA people from year to year. So noticeable that one cannot help but marvel at the process. What an honor and privilege it has been to serve this particular retreat.” What would I say to encourage someone in recovery who is interested in Centering Prayer? This could be a great way for you to practice your 11th Step on a daily basis. Being able to surrender, go deep within, and consent to God’s presence and action may be just what you are seeking. We continue to offer 12-Step Centering Prayer weekend retreats and in 2010 we will host one in May and in November in St. Louis. Check the website for other retreat locations. Please let us hear from you and contact us if we can help in any way.
I have been in a 12 step recovery program for over 30 years and have always struggled with the Meditation part of the 11th Step, “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”. Prayer had always been part of my recovery and varied from “Thy will be done” to “help!” depending on my self-centered urgency.
I came into recovery laden down with guilt, shame, remorse and a rucksack full of deeply engrained false belief systems many of which were self-imposed. I could look in the rear-view mirror of my life and see the devastation I had caused others and myself through my Addiction. I had lived a life of irresponsibility, immaturity and self-centered fear, leaving a trail of mayhem wherever I went.
I grew up in a culture where vulnerability in men was a sign of weakness. “Don’t talk about your feelings and certainly not your fears”. Six years into recovery I hit an emotional bottom and broken I became willing to listen as only the dying can be. I believe that is when I started to let go and let God. I found a Sponsor, went through the steps, took inventory of my shortcomings and slowly began to experience periods of contentment. Some of my old belief systems started dissolving and I became more and more interested in spirituality. I tried all sorts of meditation methods from listening to Calming music to walking meditation to Mindfulness. I was introduced to Centering Prayer about one year ago and have with the exception of a few hiccups meditated twice daily for twenty minutes. I have found it to be gentle. I had tried to sit still before and meditate but always stopped as soon as negative or dark thoughts came to the surface. I understood meditation to be rigid. Again, I was rigid and perfectionistic. Having a Sacred word that gently allows me, during meditation, to return to my consent of God’s presence and action in my life has opened up a new dimension to the 11th Step.
I recently went on an 8-day silent retreat to Mount St. Anne’s in Killenard. I was introduced to my peers on the first day, which took about 15 minutes. The next time we spoke to each other was the following Tuesday. We meditated six times daily for 30 minutes. I experienced a huge sense of dignity and respect from both facilitators and my peers. As the days passed by, the silence became deeper and deeper and a sense of cohesion was more obvious in the group. It was truly a Spiritual experience being there.
The facilitators Eileen and Kathleen were wonderful. We were introduced to Thomas Keating’s DVDs The Contemplative Dimensions of the 12 Steps.
I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the founders of the 12 Step Program. I cannot put into words what Thomas Keating has given me this week. I am slowly discovering that recovery is about subtraction. It is about slowly removing the false self, the ungrounded and unfounded fears. The old belief systems begin to fall away only to be replaced with a sense of peace and a faith that has grasped new soil.
Mount St. Anne’s is truly a beautiful place. The staff was wonderful. Meals were served in silence and one felt treated with great dignity and respect.
It was a peak experience in my life and I would highly recommend it.
John S. W.
I just returned from St Benedict Monastery after spending 9 days in silence with my 12 step brothers and sisters. This was my 7th retreat there in 7 years. This time the silence was filled with fury and groans for the first 3 days until I finally surrendered and was lost to depths never experienced before. Words are powerless to describe such experience but I can somewhat measure the depth and width of what happens in silence by the way I (dis) function on “re-entry” from the retreat; this year was informative in that regard. As in the 3 previous years I drove from Los Angeles: right after I dropped 2 friends at the Aspen airport,I headed back to LA; 5 miles later I was pulled over for speeding (70 MPH in a 55 MPH zone). The young sheriff officer was very nice in taking my papers and after checking them came back to inform me that he was not going to write me a ticket…. After that I wisely decided to observe the posted limits all the way home and got my car washed in Glenwood Springs where upon exiting the automatic car wash I scraped my left rear bumper on a small wall I did not see. That was Sunday and the rest of my drive proceeded without further incidents that day; I will spare you my adventures on Monday between Baker and Yermo. We’re all familiar with jet lag which can be described as one’s soul being 30,000 feet and 3 time zones behind trying to catch up with one’s body…well I now know there is also a condition created by long retreats that one could call spiritual lag. The beauty of spiritual lag is that it never goes away and seems to grow and build upon itself, layer upon layer, year after year.
I know we shouldn’t judge our experience in centering prayer and I don’t mean this in the way of judging but only by way of talking about the journey I wanted to share this. Being on retreat and with the long periods of prayer at times gave me a totally different cp experience. Sometimes I felt so attentive to my hp and so aware when thoughts began creeping in, and the returning to that attentiveness using my sacred word. Those experiences were great! We would all walk out of the prayer room and be able to look outside seeing the crisp snowy mountains, the clouds and blue sky. It was obvious everyone in the room had similar experiences that arose from the silence. We were surrounded by all this beauty!
Now that I’m back in my everyday routine my prayer seems less rich, more crowded with thoughts, and often I can’t believe how long I go before I even realize I’ve been engaged in the thought. Sometimes too, I feel like I’m just repeating my sacred word over and over again, almost like I’m not aware I’m saying it, and continue to engage in the thought. It was disappointing at first because I wanted to be able to keep what I had there. I think I’ve noticed this before but more so this year.
My first thought was do I need to do four hours of sits a day to get anywhere? I do have a job and a life too (sarcasm). I’m beginning to realize what Thomas means about developing a friendly attitude to my thoughts. They’re an integral part of the prayer. How friendly can I be to my prayer practice just the way it is? Can I let go of the attachment to what I experienced on retreat?
I attended the 10-day retreat this past January in Snowmass for the fourth year. I had mixed feelings about attending the retreat this year. There were times I was excited about the retreat and seeing my friends again, and there were times that I just wanted to stay home in my world that I love and take that 10 days and go on a vacation! During those 10 days in Snowmass, it was difficult for me, but I resigned myself to the fact that I was there and I was going to make the best of it. On a daily basis, outside of the meditation time, I would sit in the prayer room and surrender myself to God, praying for not only the knowledge of His will, but also the courage to carry out His will, whatever that may be. When I came home, I experienced intense unloading that lasted about 36 hours. I’m grateful for the unloading as God, the Divine Therapst, brought things to the surface for me and by Wednesday I had sought professional help. A part of me that has been untouched was revealed and I am willing to see where that takes me.
I just got home from service work that I have the privilege of providing that I was guided to as a direct result of the meditation. Today, I’m reminded again how I am being led to a life that is perfect, and all I have to do is be willing, work the steps, pray and meditate, and do the next right thing. The program and this meditation practice have carried me through the most difficult time of my life, and it continues to carry me, even when times are good.
And by the way, I’m going on vacation in three weeks!!