The Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” In prayer and meditation, our work with others, and meetings we are able to be present and work our spiritual program. However, the majority of our days are spent in the real world. It is much more difficult for us to work our programs in daily life, and we must remain vigilant.
A fundamental tool we have for practicing the principles in our lives is to remain mindful. When we are truly present, focused on what we are doing in the moment, we are able to see more clearly our own actions and thoughts. With mindfulness, we are able to be conscious of our spiritual practice. Whether we are meditating, walking, or working, we always have the potential to be mindful. People hear the word meditation, and most commonly think of a formal sitting meditation. Meditation means, “To focus one’s thoughts.” Recognizing where we currently are physically, emotionally, and mentally is focusing one’s thoughts.
One of the first thing we often notice when practicing this mindfulness is the arising of thoughts and emotions. We begin to notice more frequently anxiety, fear, resentment, etc. This can be painful, but leads to great insight. As we recognize our emotions and thoughts, we take some of their power away. Sometimes we feel that we are suffering but not exactly sure why. This is because the emotions and thoughts are being pushed down and eventually build up. When we are mindful and recognize them, we are able to prevent them from controlling us so much. Simply recognizing to ourselves, “I feel anxious” has tremendous power. Speaking about it with somebody else is even more powerful.
The Quality of Our Actions
Our thoughts and emotions drive our actions. When we become aware of the feelings and thoughts, we see the actions that follow them. We must ask ourselves many times throughout the day where our actions are coming from. Are they coming from a place of love? Of fear? Of anger? Of compassion? When we recognize where our actions are coming from, we gain insight into our true nature. The principles we are working to practice become more visibile to us, and we gain judgement in our actions.
A big part of looking at the quality of our actions is how we speak. Speaking accounts for the majority of our communication with others, not just what we say, but how we say it. Remaining mindful of our speech, we often say things and are able to see where in the heart or mind they came from. With this knowledge, we are able to work on these thoughts and feelings, or at least on not acting (speaking) on them. We check if our words are helpful, true, and loving or if they are vengeful, jealous, or harsh.
Along with the actual quality of our actions, we also must investigate our true intentions. Sometimes we do “good” things with bad intentions, or we make mistakes when our intentions are pure. When we notice resentful, selfish, or averting intentions arise, we must recognize them, for if we don’t we will act on them. When we perform a good deed, we also must gently praise ourselves for keeping pure intentions.
Being Gentle with Ourselves
When we find ourselves making a mistake or acting in an unwholesome manner, we must be accountable. We cannot afford to let ourselves get away with everything; we must deal with our mistakes before they deal with us. However, there is a gentle way to go about this. We must practice the principle of compassion with ourselves in these cases. Everyone makes mistakes, and they truly are opportunities to learn. If we hurt others, we must make amends promptly. We also must make amends to ourselves by diligently working to change the behavior.
It truly is not easy to practice these principles in the fast-paced world where not everyone is working a spiritual program. However, this is not an excuse to behave poorly. It is a true test of our abilities and growth.
“For it is only by accepting and solving our problem that we can begin to get right with ourselves and with the world about us, and with Him who presides over us all. Understanding is the key to right principles and attitudes, and right action is the key to good living.”
“Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us.”
I have found in my recovery that I must continue to take personal inventory ON PAPER. Simply trying to do it in my head does not work, and I fall behind. Furthermore, when I am doing a written inventory, I must also take the action to make amends where they are due.
I am currently in the San Francisco Bay Area. Living in Santa Monica, I believe I am blessed with one of the strongest recovering communities in the world. West Los Angeles is full of people of all ages and nationalities, from parents to their children, from homeless heroin addicts to soccer moms. It is a beautiful thing, yet traveling to Northern California has changed my perspective.
Buddhism and Service
Being of service is talked about a lot in twelve-step recovery and Buddhism alike. In my Buddhist studies, I have practiced Metta meditation, which is working on healing others. I try to think daily what I can do to better the day of other people. I work to take care of others without any expectations of results. It is my personal experience that there is absolutely NOTHING in the world that makes me feel as serene as helping somebody else. This holds true from small things such as letting somebody cut me off in traffic with no grudge to giving a homeless man a dollar. This also includes using Right Speech and Action, and being there for my fellows.
Twelve-Step Recovery and Service
In regard to twelve step recovery, I sponsor other young men and am of service as often as I can. I run a Big Book study that my friend and I recently started, and I never turn down a request to speak. It is said that nothing will so ensure immunity from my next drink as INTENSE work with another alcoholic. I find this to be the exact truth. When all else fails and I am feeling down, work with another alcoholic is guaranteed to bring me up.
It is one of those things that I cannot truly understand at the moment. I do not know why being of service in the program does so much for me. All I understand is that it keeps me spiritually strong, and that is enough to understand for me. I have five sponsees at the moment, and I absolutely love seeing them grow. The twelfth step of Alcoholics Anonymous reads: “Having had a spiritual awakening as THE RESULT of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.” I capitalize “the result” because that is the direct results of working the steps. Plain and simple.
Twelfth Step in Buddhism
One problem I initially had with the twelfth step was that it directs us to carry the message to other alcoholics. The first line of Chapter 7: Working With Others talks about intense work with other alcoholics. I find that my caring for others and being of service absolutely MUST extend beyond AA. The second half of the twelfth step encourages us to practice these principles in all our affairs. This is as close as the steps come to recommending that I help others outside of the program.
I do not mean to criticize, for I think it is open to interpretation. I simply think that our constant thought of others must extend universally, as I have learned from Buddhism. Practicing Buddhism has really helped me learn to be of service outside of the program. To me, it can be as simple as keeping my heart open. I work on coming from a place of love in all my actions. Coming from a place of love, or questioning myself when I am not, I am able to see how I am treating others and myself.
I have found through experience that my thought of others with a warm heart saves my life. It helps me live in gratitude, for I am truly able to see the beauty of the world. I believe there is a bit of bad in the best of us, and a bit of good in the worst of us. I believe humans and the world as a whole is inherently good. When I am able to see this, I am able to come from a place of forgiveness, love, and acceptance.
Before I got sober, I was ruled by fear. I often hear in twelve-step meetings the importance of turning my will and life over to a power greater than myself. Looking back throughout my life, I always was and am turning my life over to something, essentially giving it control. When I was using, I turned my will and life over to Fear. My actions and thoughts were ruled by my fear of myself and my overwhelming emotions which I never learned to cope with.
Fear completely ruled my life. I lived in suffering, and found no peace in things as they were. There were problems with me, a spiritual malady that prevented me from seeing the blessing of life. Instead of living in gratitude, I let fear overpower me.
When I was newly sober, there were many times that I felt overwhelmed by my emotions. My sponsor used to say to me, “The good news is you’re feeling again. The bad news is you’re feeling again.” My fear of seeing my true emotions and who I was were what drove me to use. Life had gotten so unbearable, that when I made that decision to seek a better path, I had to suddenly start dealing with all these emotions. I didn’t feel like I wanted to get high, I just felt like I didn’t want to feel.
Today, I am able to deal with these emotions, although fear still does get the best of me on occasion. The second and third step were my first turning point with the fear situation. I trust that a power greater than myself holds the best path for me, and that everything happens for a reason. My higher power is forgiving, and no thought or feeling I have is inherently wrong. As I trust in God, I am able to walk through my fear, and see that it is only making me stronger and better able to cope with it.
Buddhism has also greatly aided me through living without the controlling reign of fear. My Samatha and Vipassana practices have helped me become more aware of myself and my emotions, as well as seeing the true nature of my fear. I see that fear comes completely from within, as I am sometimes in fear when completely alone and silent. It is often said in the program that fear is one side of the coin and faith is the other. I have found this especially true through my meditation practices. When I experience fear, it is directly because I have a lack of faith in that moment. Just as fear comes from within, my higher power must come from within.
When I am able to sear my fear and my suffering in this light, it opens a door to a realm of possibilities. I am able to see that one of my suffering is a lack of faith, and even being too hard on myself about it. I criticize the world, specifically myself, and am not able to live in acceptance. I see that the cessation of this specific suffering is possible, because I have experienced it before. I know that the way through this suffering is through right effort, right livelihood, right action, and of course right view. My view is becoming stronger and stronger as the days go by. I know that right effort is important because I must not give up and persevere through the fearful times. Right livelihood is important to me today because I earn a good honest living. My livelihood is important to maintain because it allows me to live in confidence, knowing that my faith and lack of fear brings me to higher ground. Finally, my actions are extremely important. as I sometimes must act my way into right thinking. With Buddhism as well as twelve-step recovery, right action sometimes needs to come first, as experience leads to true faith.
I heard a newcomer say in a meeting recently that “fear is some powerful shit.” I respect his opinion of course, but I pray that one day he can see that it is only as powerful as he allows it to be. Today, fear is not as powerful as it used to be. Waves of emotion occur. I do not have to let them become waves of fear or waves of craving, and for that I love my higher power.