Friday, 10 December 2010

When we retire: silence and secrets

"When we retire at night we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God's forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken." (87:1, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

For a very long time, I took Step Ten to be nightly written inventory (plus an occasional 'spot-check' and a periodic reworking of Step Four) and Step Eleven to be prayer plus an attempt to follow Eastern practices to achieve an altered state of consciousness or to blank my mind of all thought. In other words, I had been basing my understanding on a combination of what I happened to hear at meetings and Hollywood depictions of meditation.

It struck me as odd, therefore, that the first paragraph in the Big Book that examines the subject of prayer and meditation in detail focuses on self-examination. This looked like an error, as though Step Ten had leaked into Step Eleven.

I have been granted a different understanding of this now, however.

Step Ten, when practised as set out on pages 84 and 85, is about developing consciousness of my relationship with God and the world around me as I go through the day. It is about taking the insight from Step Four—the deep understanding of the failure of self-will plus self-propulsion as a basis of living, i.e. the Step Three requirement—and applying it in the moment, asking God to bring me back to the line of His will for me whenever I spot myself straying. No analysis. No fretting. No extended introspection.

This part of Step Eleven is about retiring—standing back—from the day and examining how well I have been practising Step Ten. This self-examination paragraph falls within a 1930s definition, pre-Hollywood, non-Buddhist concept of meditation—directed, guided thought in the presence of God.

Step Ten requires no writing. It requires no analysis. It requires watching, asking, and turning. It requires amends and, sometimes, discussion.

This Step Eleven review I sometimes write down. More often than not, today, I do not.

What is key, however, for me, is that I do not treat this as an analytical exercise. My mind is not to be in charge of this process. My mind is split. Part of my mind resides with God. Another part is in league with my ego, forming little plans and designs and on concealing these plans and designs from the part of me that resides with God. God must be in charge of this process. I do not seek to analyse myself. I ask God to show me what needs to be shown. And I wait in silence until what needs to be shown is indeed shown.

There is no great mystery to the ten questions. I try to cast the net very widely, however. With 'resentment' I ask to be shown any disturbance on my part because my perception of the world does not match my ideal for the world. With 'fear' I ask to be shown any disturbance on my part because my perception of the future does not match my ideal for the future.

Vital to this process, however, is space.

If I do not allow space into the process, I will simply use the Step Eleven review to rehash all of the things I spotted during the day. This is pointless. What is far more important is to allow enough silence for God to show me what I would otherwise be suppressing. Time and time again I have discovered that leaving ten, fifteen, twenty minutes of silence will allow a memory to float to the surface that would otherwise have sunk to the bottom of my consciousness. The junk in the upper part of my mind is not the point of this exercise. The point of this exercise is to bring out the secrets, the thoughts that frighten me so much that I want to push them out of sight. When I look back at the biggest disasters of my recovery, the behaviour that has most harmed other people, the starting point was a thought—a self-seeking desire, usually—which I pushed down and kept secret. Once a thought is labelled 'out of bounds' to the programme, once I have decided to handle a particular area of my life myself, once I allow a secondary, selfish motive to piggy-back sound, otherwise selfless activity, I'm in serious trouble.

This principle applies throughout my AA experience. The one secret I hold from my sponsor will be what kills me. The one secret I hold from myself will split me in two. And the lower self, where the secret resides, is the perfect culturing medium. One day, once the secret has multiplied and fomented, it turns into designs, plans, and actions.

As inspiration turns into intuitive thought and into decisions, secret selfish desires will do likewise.

And this is why the Step Eleven meditation requires God as my guide and the silence that draws out secrets from within my consciousness.

Once the secrets are drawn out, I ask for forgiveness, a return to wholeness, and a return to God's will for me. I am reintegrated and become one, again, because there is no corner hidden from Him.

These secrets are also what form the basis for the corrective measures and the plan for the coming day, the focus of where I am to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear in Step Ten.

The three elements—the Step Eleven plan for the day, the Step Ten monitoring, and the Step Eleven review—thus become a triangle of activities that keep me whole and sane and living fully inside the triangle of the three legacies and thus the circle of wholeness and sanity that is the aim of this programme.

1 comment:

David Hubbard said...

My sponsor and I were just talking about this when we met last night.
His sponsor calls 11 the safety net for 10.
Something else I saw you left out and had to be pointed out to me is that 10 requires action.
"Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help." I never realized that working the Step off the wall. But it's right there in the directions.
For a long time, I went around saying I practiced step 11 and sought the conscious contact with God. However, it wasn't until I started the consistent practice of Step 10 and constantly seeking out other alcoholics to work with that I realized how much I needed to be in constant contact with God. I need the self-examination that goes along with the whole deal.