Cultivating Mindfulness & Meditation In A.A. 12 Step Recovery
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all of
these defects of character
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
STEPS 6 & 7 - Growing and Changing
Steps Six signals the turning point in our recovery. In the first five Steps we have been concerned mainly with getting and staying sober and establishing a solid foundation in recovery. In Step Six we begin preparing ourselves for a life of service. We become willing to give ourselves over to the process of recovery without being able to either predict or control the outcome. If we declare our intention to be of service, we must let go of how that service may present itself. Of course, we have already done this in a general way in Step Three. But here we declare our readiness to let go of specific characteristics. In effect, we become willing to let go of portions of our personalities, our habitual and ingrained behaviors - in short, parts of our selves.
It is at this point that the Steps can be illuminated by the mindfulness concept of interdependence – that all things are dependent upon each other for their existence. For example, such a simple thing as a flower is the sum total of all the causes and conditions which comprise it: sun, air, soil, water, nutrients, pollination by insects, the seed that came from a flower, that came from a seed that came from the unbroken line of life back to the first simple cells. Take away one of these and there is no flower.
What the concept of interdependence means for our recovery is this: as change is constant and unavoidable and at least in part determined by volition (the faculty or power of using one's will), we are not necessarily stuck in our suffering. There is a way out. We are not hopeless and helpless. Release from suffering can be learned and taught; and the process of change is, at least to some degree, in our hands. First we must realize that our thinking and behavior has turned everything upside-down. We have sought pleasure in what can only cause suffering and the nature of the self is a distorted view of the self. Learning the balance between where we can effectively use our will power and where it will lead only to frustration is not an easy lesson. It is, however, a necessary one if we are to maintain sobriety and useful lives.
To say “all things are self” is interconnectedness. And it is just this interconnectedness which we, as alcoholics, must grasp as an essential part of our recovery. In our active using, we narrow and narrow our vision of who we are, what we are and can become. Desperately trying to control and minimize our suffering, ignorant of its cause, we only create more and more for ourselves and those around us. In recovery, the nature of the self is seen differently. As we practice the 12 Steps, we actively engage in real behavioral and perceptual change.
In Step Seven, we “humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.” But what are we asking? Whom are we talking to? Buddhist philosophy does not see God as an external, omniscient, theocratic, interventionist presence. There is no grandfatherly “guy in the sky.” The Eastern view of God is the “the awakened one nature” within and between all of us. God is the reliance on the spark of divinity within ourselves and in all living beings – people, creatures, plants, the Earth.
Step Seven particularly concentrates on humility. The word humility is related to the word humus, earth. Humility recognizes the common nature we share with all beings. Sometimes we call this our true self or our awakened self. Worthiness, then, is not a matter of divine election, of intelligence, even of meditative absorption, but rather of cultivating the connection with others based on the commonality of earth. Humility doesn’t require that we be rid of our self, rather it requires that we acknowledge who and what we really are: beings who are joined to other beings. Neither higher nor lower, of greater or lesser value.
The delusion that we are separate from others, can live as our whim inspires us, and act as if we are not contingent on myriad causes and conditions is a primary cause of our suffering. And this delusion is one into which the alcoholic falls ever more deeply as long as they are drinking. We deny that we are part of a community, that our actions have consequences, and that we are beholden to anyone else for our behavior. Only through the sundering (cutting away) of this delusion do we have any possibility of health or happiness.
Once we are ready to undertake this radical change in our lives, we can begin to look at the mechanism of transformation. As we maintain both physical and emotional sobriety, we find that the gap between impulse and action becomes longer. In our active addiction, it was all but non-existent. We were creatures of simple reaction and our reactions were almost always born of fear. But as our minds attain to some sort of occasional serenity, we have the option of acting on our first impulse or of restraining our behavior. This is the moment of grace. And it comes as a result of our willingness to be rid of whatever cripples our efforts to be of service, to be in communion with our fellows. As a tool, meditation is incomparable for this work as it allows us to observe the activity of our minds in quietude, free from the necessity of response.
In the work of Steps Six and Seven, we keep our character defects before our consciousness, and when they arise, in the gap between impulse and action, we can choose to behave as though they have already been removed. We are mindful when we enact mindfulness. We are in recovery when we enact recovery.
The Twelve Steps conspire to relieve us of the bondage of self and to open us to the world in ways that we cannot imagine at the beginning of the process. If we could imagine them, they would be grounded in our disease. The path of recovery is one which leads us away from disease and into health, the original meaning of which is wholeness, like the wholeness we form when we join hands at the end of a meeting. As the Seventh Step prayer says: “Remove from me every single defect of character that stands in the way of my usefulness …”
San Francisco Zen Center/2005