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Cultivating Mindfulness & Meditation In 12 Step Recovery

climbing steps in the woods

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to      make amends to them all

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others   

STEPS 8 & 9 - Straightening Out the Past

As mentioned in the essay on Step Three, in Buddhism there is no statement of belief, but rather going for refuge to the Buddha (in terms of AA, this is God the Father, the Creator; Jesus, the way shower; the Group of Drunks; all those who have come before us in AA and our sponsor), the Dharma (in AA the Big Book, the 12 Steps & 12 Traditions, all conference approved literature, our experience, strength and hope) and Sangha (the fellowship of AA, our home group). The refuges are not listed in descending order of importance; they are all on a plane. This makes the community of practitioners as important to individual awakening as the teaching or the teacher. In the same way, we do not recover from our addictions alone, but as sober members of a sober community.


These three Steps – 8, 9 and 10 - are designed to bring us back into harmony with our family, friends, workmates, and all of the communities of which we have been poorly functioning members.  These Steps also actualize the work we have done in Steps Four through Seven.  In Step Four we wrote about and began to face our fears. In these Steps, we confront our fears in the person of those we have harmed. We develop the virtue of courage by behaving courageously.  In Step Five we shared our resentments, fears, sexual misconduct and harmful actions with one other unaffected person. We can rely on our sponsors to be compassionate and on our side. In these Steps we face those who have been hurt by us, without any guarantee of forgiveness or understanding.  In Steps Six and Seven we declare our willingness to be changed by acknowledging our destructive characteristics and asking that they be removed. 


In these Steps we take the action that turns this willingness into reality.  Steps Eight, Nine and Ten make our intentions fact.  In Step Eight, while we are listing the wrongs we have done another, it is also useful to list the wrongs we have done ourselves at the same time.  If we have stolen from someone, we have affected his or her security and material well-being and we have also turned ourselves into thieves. Lying turns us into men and women who cannot be trusted; constant ill temper creates a personality that pushes others away. These are concrete examples of what we saw earlier as the concepts of karma and interconnectedness.  It is impossible for us to live and act in a vacuum. Every mental, verbal or physical action that we perform changes us as much as it changes the apparent object of those actions.

San Francisco Zen Center/2005


“Though in some cases we cannot make restitution at all, and in some cases action ought to be deferred, we should nevertheless make an accurate and really exhaustive survey of our past life as it has affected other people. In many instances we shall find that though the harm done others has not been great, the emotional harm we have done ourselves has. Very deep, sometimes quite forgotten, damaging emotional conflicts persist below the level of consciousness. At the time of these occurrences, they may actually have given our emotions violent twists which have since discolored our personalities and altered our lives for the worse.


While the purpose of making restitution to others is paramount, it is equally necessary that we extricate from an examination of our personal relations every bit of information about ourselves and our fundamental difficulties that we can. Since defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes, including our alcoholism, no field of investigation could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one.


Calm, thoughtful reflection upon personal relations can deepen our insight. We can go far beyond those things, which were superficially wrong with us, to see those flaws which were basic, flaws which sometimes were responsible for the whole pattern of our lives. Thoroughness, we have found, will pay— and pay handsomely.


We might next ask ourselves what we mean when we say that we have “harmed” other people (and ourselves). What kinds of “harm” do people do one another (and themselves), anyway? To define the word “harm” in a practical way, we might call it the result of instincts in collision, which cause physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual damage to people (and to themselves). If our tempers are consistently bad, we arouse anger in others (and we live in a state of anger and agitation). If we lie or cheat, we deprive others not only of their worldly goods, but of their emotional security and peace of mind (not to mention our own peace of mind). We really issue them an invitation to become contemptuous and vengeful. If our sex conduct is selfish, we may excite jealousy, misery, and a strong desire to retaliate in kind (we may also because of our own behavior suffer jealousy and the misery caused by imagining that our loved one has been, or is being unfaithful to us)."

Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, Step 8, pgs. 79-81

When we live mindfully, the recognition and confession of wrongs done, followed by restitution, goes a long way in mitigating the effects of previous actions. We are not condemned to continue to suffer and cause suffering with no way out of the terrible cycle. But in order to be free, we must make restitution to the greatest degree we are able. Only then the past stops being a chain and anchor and we “see how our experience can benefit others.”


In Step Ten we arrive at the present. As the Big Book says, “Sanity will have returned.” And the word “sanity” we have seen, means “health”—which means “wholeness.” Balance has been restored and the break between us and others has in large degree been mended. Step Ten helps us to tend this newfound communion with others. It also is a method of creating and increasing intimacy. Others may admire us for our talents or skills or native abilities (or they may dislike us for them); but it is vulnerability which allows others to love us. When we go to another person and admit our mistake and ask forgiveness, we display trust in him or her. Often trust is met with trust and the chance we have taken brings us closer to each other. It is as though we are saying, “I am making myself open to you and I have faith that you will behave kindly and compassionately.” This is the gift of generosity: we behave generously in admitting our fault and we provide the other person with an opportunity to practice generosity towards us. Most people, sincerely approached in this fashion, will rise to the occasion.


Forgiveness, then, is an essential part of each of these Steps: we ask forgiveness from others, we offer our forgiveness and we learn to forgive ourselves. A dictionary definition of forgive reads: “to cease to feel resentment against” and “to give up resentment of or claim to requital for an insult.” Thus forgiveness has two parts: the inward movement of letting go and the outward relinquishing of a debt. In both cases we give up resentment— which literally means to “feel again.” When we practice resentment we are reliving a situation which has caused us pain in the past. We run it through our minds again and again, each time feeling the pain from the original event. The event need not even be real. It may be a perceived slight or an entirely imaginary conversation. The emotional charge is the same. The difference between this and slamming our head against a wall repeatedly is minimal.


Forgiving ourselves for our past actions or derelictions is also important. Guilt can tell us where we have gone wrong and that may be its only healthy function. If we dwell on our flaws and failures, we continue in our self-obsession and become unavailable to others. And becoming ever more open to, connected with, and available to others is the purpose of these Steps. To hold our sins in a tight fist, unwilling to let them go, is to clench a handful of broken glass.


There is another form of forgiveness which, though not explicitly addressed in recovery literature, is also important to consider. If we are to have peace, we must learn to forgive the world for what it is. For a theist, this would amount to forgiving God. Old age, sickness and death, natural disasters, drought and famine—the world hurts us and those we love and eventually takes everything from us and kills us. To forgive the world, to forgive God, is perhaps something we don’t think of in those terms. Acceptance is another word for it. Acceptance does not mean approval. It simply means no longer hiding from reality. We began the process in Step One, when we accepted our powerlessness and the unmanageability of our lives. This is perhaps the easiest.

San Francisco Zen Center/2005

Step Ten, Eleven & Twelve

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