Some of us need to be backed up against the wall by one of life’s painful situations before we remember the Twelve Steps. But too often, when we are in pain, we may leap into the inventory process, writing furiously and hoping for promised relief. We may begin writing a Fourth Step . . . but in our impatient despair, we may skip over Steps One through Three. This beclouded decision to start the steps with the Fourth Step emerges from a mind that has been confused in the darkness of anguish. Can you see yourself in this description?
However, with guidance, we can find proper alignment and work the steps, starting with the first and ending with the twelfth. There is an unspoken guarantee that this spiritual process will bring freedom and new understanding to any difficult situation, always contingent on one’s willingness to live a spiritually principled life.
For many years of recovery I practiced the steps, knowing they were my torch through the dark periods caused by the onslaught of life’s challenges.
In the late 80’s, and almost twenty years into recovery, I found myself a bit dissatisfied with my meditation practice. I wouldn’t describe the situation as being dark, but more like the opacity of candlelight in the early morning. Any suffering was caused by my anticipation (expectation?) of celestial visits, or visions of the third eye. I wanted each meditation to be extraordinary, thinking that practicing every day would be an invitation to the ones that have ascended.
Although I wasn’t backed up against an insurmountable wall with this situation, I decided to work the steps, with my subject matter being the Eleventh. Freedom came, as guaranteed, but it wasn’t the promise of a bright light engulfing me with each sit, but an understanding that my part in the practice was to just show up and be with what arises. This was the beginning of my meditation practice turning to a mindfulness practice.
I also received the gift of knowing I can work the steps anytime, even when life is delightful, I can pick any subject and find an enlightening experience. Shortly after the session that focused on Step Eleven, I worked a whole set of steps on the topic, what is the lesson I most need to learn in this incarnation? The answer that came was compassion.
The subject matter for the next round of steps was given to me; I worked them on the topic of realizing and practicing more compassion in my life. When working steps, life often gives us lesson in the specific area we focus on. This time was no different I got together with my sponsor when I was ready to do Step Three, we went to a temple and burned incense, I read my heartfelt step, turning it all over, my heart was wide open to learn compassion. A most beautiful thing happened two weeks later, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Admittedly news from the doctor brought tears immediately, and then with suddenness I remember my third step and the realization filled my heart: what better way to learn compassion? My tears of self-pity turned to tears of joy, as I realized that the step process was in fact, working, because left to my own devices I could not have orchestrated events any better in order to achieve my life’s goal of learning compassion.
I have been embracing the step process for years now, and my life continues to be riddled with challenges. I’m mindful each day of the principle of impermanence, and like a slingshot I’m transported back to the wonderful moment perfect moment.
Anytime, anywhere, I would love to sit with you.