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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 and meditation are our principal means of conscious
contact with God.
A.A.'s are active folk, enjoying the satisfactions of dealing
with the realities of life, usually for the first time in
our lives, and strenuously trying to help the next alcoholic
who comes along. So it isn't surprising that we often tend
to slight serious meditation and prayer as something not
really necessary. To be sure, we feel it is 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. Or perhaps we don't believe in these things at
certain newcomers and to those one-time agnostics who still
cling to the A.A. group as their higher power, claims for
the power of prayer may, despite all the logic and experience
in proof of it, still be unconvincing or quite objectionable.
Those of us who once felt this way can certainly understand
and sympathize. We well remember how something deep inside
us kept rebelling against the idea of bowing before any
God. Many of us had strong logic, too, which "proved"
there was no God whatever. What about all the accidents,
sickness, cruelty, and injustice in the world? What about
all those unhappy lives which were the direct result of
unfortunate birth and uncontrollable circumstances? Surely
there could be no justice in this scheme of things, and
therefore no God at all.
we took a slightly different tack. Sure, we said to ourselves,
the hen probably did come before the egg. No doubt the universe
had a "first cause" of some sort, the God of the
Atom, maybe, hot and cold by turns. But certainly there
wasn't any evidence of a God who knew or cared about human
beings. We liked A.A. all right, and were quick to say that
it had done miracles. But we recoiled from meditation and
prayer as obstinately as the scientist who refused to perform
a certain experiment lest it prove his pet theory wrong.
Of course we finally did experiment, and when unexpected
results followed, we felt different; in fact we knew different;
and so we were sold on meditation and prayer. And that,
we have found, can happen to anybody who tries. It has been
well said that "almost the only scoffers at prayer
are those who never tried it enough."
of us who have come to make regular use of prayer would
no more do without it than we would refuse air, food, or
sunshine. And for the same reason. When we refuse air, light,
or food, the body suffers. And when we turn away from meditation
and prayer, we likewise deprive our minds, our emotions,
and our intuitions of vitally needed support. As the body
can fail its purpose for lack of nourishment, so can the
soul. We all need the light of God's reality, the nourishment
of His strength, and the atmosphere of His grace. To an
amazing extent the facts of A.A. Life confirm this ageless
is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation,
and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can bring
much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related
and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for
life. Now and then we may be granted a glimpse of that ultimate
reality which is God's kingdom. And we will be comforted
and assured that our own destiny in that realm will be secure
for so long as we try, however falteringly, to find and
do the will of our own Creator.
we have seen, self-searching is the means by which we bring
new vision, action, and grace to bear upon the dark and
negative side of our natures. It is a step in the development
of that kind of humility that makes it possible for us to
receive God's help. Yet it is only a step. We will want
to go further.
will want the good that is in us all, even in the worst
of us, to flower and to grow. Most certainly we shall need
bracing air and an abundance of food. But first of all we
shall want sunlight; nothing much can grow in the dark.
Meditation is our step out into the sun. How, then, shall
actual experience of meditation and prayer across the centuries
is, of course, immense. The world's libraries and places
of worship are a treasure trove for all seekers. It is to
be hoped that every A.A. who has a religious connection
which emphasizes meditation will return to the practice
of that devotion as never before. But what about the rest
of us who, less fortunate, don't even know how to begin?
we might start like this. First let's look at a really good
prayer. We won't have far to seek; the great men and women
of all religions have left us a wonderful supply. Here let
us consider one that is a classic. Its author was a man
who for several hundred years now has been rated as a saint.
We won't be biased or scared off by that fact, because although
he was not an alcoholic he did, like us, go through the
emotional wringer. And as he came out the other side of
that painful experience, this prayer was his expression
of what he could then see, feel, and wish to become:
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."
beginners in meditation, we might now reread this prayer
several times very slowly, savoring every word and trying
to take in the deep meaning of each phrase and idea. It
will help if we can drop all resistance to what our friend
says. For in meditation, debate has no place. We rest quietly
with the thoughts of someone who knows, so that we may experience
though lying upon a sunlit beach, let us relax and breathe
deeply of the spiritual atmosphere with which the grace
of this prayer surrounds us. Let us become willing to partake
and be strengthened and lifted up by the sheer spiritual
power, beauty, and love of which these magnificent words
are the carriers. Let us look now upon the sea and ponder
what its mystery is; and let us lift our eyes to the far
horizon, beyond which we shall seek all those wonders still
says somebody. "This is nonsense. It isn't practical."
such thoughts break in, we might recall, a little ruefully,
how much store we used to set by imagination as it tried
to create reality out of bottles. Yes, we reveled in that
sort of thinking, didn't we? And though sober nowadays,
don't we often try to do much the same thing? Perhaps our
trouble was not that we used our imagination. Perhaps the
real trouble was our almost total inability to point imagination
toward the right objectives. There's nothing the matter
with constructive imagination; all sound achievement rests
upon it. After all, no man can build a house until he first
envisions a plan for it. Well, meditation is like that,
too; it helps to envision our spiritual objective before
we try to move toward it. So let's get back to that sunlit
beach--or to the plains or to the mountains, if you prefer.
by such simple devices, we have placed ourselves in a mood
in which we can focus undisturbed on constructive imagination,
we might proceed like this:
more we read our prayer, and again try to see what its inner
essence is. We'll think now about the man who first uttered
the prayer. First of all, he wanted to become a "channel."
Then he asked for the grace to bring love, forgiveness,
harmony, truth, faith, hope, light, and joy to every human
being he could.
came the expression of an aspiration and a hope for himself.
He hoped, God willing, that he might be able to find some
of these treasures, too. This he would try to do by what
he called self-forgetting. What did he mean by "self
forgetting," and how did he propose to accomplish that?
thought it better to give comfort than to receive it; better
to understand than to be understood; better to forgive than
to be forgiven.
much could be a fragment of what is called meditation, perhaps
our very first attempt at a mood, a flier into the realm
of spirit, if you like. It ought to be followed by a good
look at where we stand now, and a further look at what might
happen in our lives were we able to move closer to the ideal
we have been trying to glimpse. Meditation is something
which can always be further developed. It has no boundaries,
either of width or height. Aided by such instruction and
example as we can find, it is essentially an individual
adventure, something which each one of us works out in his
own way. But its object is always the same: to improve our
conscious contact with God, with His grace, wisdom, and
love. And let's always remember that meditation is in reality
intensely practical. One of its first fruits is emotional
balance. With it we can broaden and deepen the channel between
ourselves and God as we understand Him.
what of prayer? Prayer is the raising of the heart and mind
to God--and in this sense it includes meditation. How may
we go about it? And how does it fit in with meditation?
Prayer, as commonly understood, is a petition to God. Having
opened our channel as best we can, we try to ask for those
right things of which we and others are in the greatest
need. And we think that the whole range of our needs is
well defined by that part of Step Eleven which says: "...knowledge
of His will for us and the power to carry that out."
A request for this fits in any part of our day.
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. Even so, when making specific requests,
it will be well to add to each one of them this qualification:
"...if it be Thy will." We ask simply that throughout
the day God place in us the best understanding of His will
that we can have for that day, and that we be given the
grace by which we may carry it out.
the day goes on, we can pause where situations must be met
and decisions made, and renew the simple request: "Thy
will, not mine, be done." If at these points our emotional
disturbance happens to be great, we will more surely keep
our balance, provided we remember, and repeat to ourselves,
a particular prayer or phrase that has appealed to us in
our reading or meditation. Just saying it over and over
will often enable us to clear a channel choked up with anger,
fear, frustration, or misunderstanding, and permit us to
return to the surest help of all--our search for God's will,
not our own, in the moment of stress. At these critical
moments, if we remind ourselves that "it is better
to comfort than to be comforted, to understand than to be
understood, to love than to be loved," we will be following
the intent of Step Eleven.
course, it is reasonable and understandable that the question
is often asked: "Why can't we take a specific and troubling
dilemma straight to God, and in prayer secure from Him sure
and definite answers to our requests?"
can be done, but it has hazards. We have seen A.A.'s ask
with much earnestness and faith for God's explicit guidance
on matters ranging all the way from a shattering domestic
or financial crisis to correcting a minor personal fault,
like tardiness. Quite often, however, the thoughts that
seem to come from God are not answers at all. They prove
to be well-intentioned unconscious rationalizations. The
A.A., or indeed any man, who tries to run his life rigidly
by this kind of prayer, by this self-serving demand of God
for replies, is a particularly disconcerting individual.
To any questioning or criticism of his actions he instantly
proffers his reliance upon prayer for guidance in all matters
great or small. He may have forgotten the possibility that
his own wishful thinking and the human tendency to rationalize
have distorted his so-called guidance. With the best of
intentions, he tends to force his own will into all sorts
of situations and problems with the comfortable assurance
that he is acting under God's specific direction. Under
such an illusion, he can of course create great havoc without
in the least intending it.
also fall into another similar temptation. We form ideas
as to what we think God's will is for other people. We say
to ourselves, "This one ought to be cured of his fatal
malady," or "That one ought to be relieved of
his emotional pain," and we pray for these specific
things. Such prayers, of course, are fundamentally good
acts, but often they are based upon a supposition that we
know God's will for the person for whom we pray. This means
that side by side with an earnest prayer there can be a
certain amount of presumption and conceit in us. It is A.A.'s
experience that particularly in these cases we ought to
pray that God's will, whatever it is, be done for others
as well as for ourselves.
A.A. we have found that the actual good results of prayer
are beyond question. They are matters of knowledge and experience.
All those who have persisted have found strength not ordinarily
their own. They have found wisdom beyond their usual capability.
And they have increasingly found a peace of mind which can
stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances.
discover that we do receive guidance for our lives to just
about the extent that we stop making demands upon God to
give it to us on order and on our terms. Almost any experienced
A.A. will tell how his affairs have taken remarkable and
unexpected turns for the better as he tried to improve his
conscious contact with God. He will also report that out
of every season of grief or suffering, when the hand of
God seemed heavy or even unjust, new lessons for living
were learned, new resources of courage were uncovered, and
that finally, inescapably, the conviction came that God
does "move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform."
this should be very encouraging news for those who recoil
from prayer because they don't believe in it, or because
they feel themselves cut off from God's help and direction.
All of us, without exception, pass through times when we
can pray only with the greatest exertion of will. Occasionally
we go even further than this. We are seized with a rebellion
so sickening that we simply won't pray. When these things
happen we should not think too ill of ourselves. We should
simply resume prayer as soon as we can, doing what we know
to be good for us.
one of the greatest rewards of meditation and prayer is
the sense of belonging that comes to us. We no longer live
in a completely hostile world. We are no longer lost and
frightened and purposeless. The moment we catch even a glimpse
of God's will, the moment we begin to see truth, justice,
and love as the real and eternal things in life, we are
no longer deeply disturbed by all the seeming evidence to
the contrary that surrounds us in purely human affairs.
We know that God lovingly watches over us. We know that
when we turn to Him, all will be well with us, here and
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