From Fear to Faith to Knowledge
I can only answer this question based upon my own experience, and by default, much of my experience will differ from the instructions in the Big Book. I remember the disclaimer on page 164 that states, “we know only a little” – and by virtue of that, I feel the sharing of personal experience and opinion, so long as it’s kept in perspective as such, is one of our most valid tools for growth. After all, that’s what we’ve been doing here for the past ten months or so, isn’t it?
It was explained to me, very simply, that prayer is speaking to God and mediation is listening for a response. I was also told that the steps are in order for a reason. Improving conscious contact with the God of our own understanding through prayer and meditation didn’t come until the eleventh step – and I was confused. In early sobriety, it was strongly suggested that I pray, morning and night, if to ask nothing else but “help me” in the morning and say “thank you” at night. I did just that for months. I tried at times to expand my prayer life, feeling very awkward about it. Sometimes, I would pray for my Higher Power’s care for someone else. That was more of the “Now I lay me down to sleep” sort of prayers I said as a child, and I realized that that felt more comfortable than an intimate sort of spirituality I imagined every other person in the rooms experienced.
But I’m digressing a bit. Meditation – listening. What was I listening for? God’s will for me, I suppose, but how was I supposed to hear any sort of message from God in the cacophony of my own jumbled thoughts? Then it was suggested that instead of listening – intently trying to hear some sort of voice in my head – I attempt to quiet my thoughts instead. So, that’s what I did. If I could get a ten second stretch where I didn’t hear my own voice in my head, I was really doing something!! With practice, though, the quiet periods became longer and longer to the point where I could be still for minutes, and then, if I was really, really surrendering to the process, even an hour!
I used certain tools to help me with these quiet times. I used music – or sound, rather. The sound of waves, rain storms, babbling brooks (disclaimer: make sure you PEE FIRST, or I guarantee all you’ll be thinking about is doing just that!). Sometimes, I used classical music, but never anything with words, as I found them to be very distracting. I also used scent, either incense, candles, or perfume sprayed on my skin or pillows. On occasion, I would place an object and focus on that, but I found meditation with my eyes open (early on) to be much more difficult.
Now, these are all things I did approaching the eleventh step – though one not accustomed to meditative practices could begin eleventh step work in this way. There are many, many good primers out there on a variety of different meditative practices, and I believe anyone would benefit by learning more than one technique. I personally have designed routines that I use to ease anxiety, reduce or tolerate pain, calm anger, etc. There is no one right or wrong way.
Getting back to the order of the steps, it took some time for me to understand why the eleventh step was so far down the list. If I should be praying for God’s aid and grace early on, shouldn’t I also be submerging myself in meditation, asking for guidance and knowledge of God’s will for me? I think I finally have an opinion about the wording and placement of this step.
When I first put down the drink, I need help keeping it put down. I was not able to do that alone. I was insane with the urge to drink, and I needed to be restored to sanity. I made the decision to turn my will and life over to the care of God as I understood God. I commenced to get busy setting down on paper a fearless and searching moral inventory, and I exercised faith that bringing those things out of the dark and into an honest rapport with my Higher Power and another human being would help me to become willing to have removed those defects in me that stand in the way of following God’s will for me. I humble myself again and ask that they be removed – every single one that stands in the way of my usefulness to my Higher Power. I’ve got a list of folks I’ve wronged in one way or another, and I must go forth and make amends for those wrongs. Then, I’ve got to take all I learned in the fourth through the ninth step and try to live it each day. At what point before this can I be reasonably certain that my consciousness is guided by my Higher Power? While I’m still full of defects without a name? Before I’ve become ready to have those things removed from me? While I’m still nursing a resentment, unwilling to make amends for my part in a wrong? Before I’ve learned to do daily housekeeping to make sure I’m not piling up another fourth step?
Up to step ten, I’m working on faith. I’ve got to have faith that this whole process is a) going to keep me from picking up a drink and b) lead me to a God of my understanding who will guide my life. There’s an expression: “You can’t put new wine into old bottles.” How apropos, eh? Well, I’m an old bottle until I have learned the tenth step. I have faith until then that the process is going to make me into a completely new bottle, able to be filled. Step eleven is about knowing: praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. Upon taking step eleven, I’m committing to strengthening that knowledge. I don’t need faith anymore in the process. I have knowledge of it. I haven’t picked up a drink, and I have become a better person, a useful person. Faith will still serve me well as I encounter new things and experiences in recovery, and as I walk through those new things, my faith turns to knowledge.
Every once in awhile, when I’m operating on faith, my Higher Power hits me over the head with something to remind me that I know. Very gently, of course! Think….love taps!
I’ve just completed a process which I started with the faith that I had the rudimentary skills to tackle. I went back to school. There were signs along the way that it was God’s will for me, though at the time, I was operating on about 60% faith, 40% fear. Looking back, I see that my fear was folly, but that’s for another post. I tried not to get too far ahead of myself, remembering that I was walking the path, and there were many bends around which I could not see. No sense in running up ahead, I put one foot in front of the other. I completed my first year, and then my second, and then my third. Before I knew it, I was preparing for life after graduation which, it was assumed by my family and my professors, would include a graduate education.
As I saw myself being successful in this endeavor, I was down to about 5% fear and 95% faith. I applied to programs at four different schools. I had no idea at the time how competitive the process was. Those around me started to caution me not to be too optimistic, though they assured me, “We know you’ll get in somewhere.” I could feel the old fear rising, so I increased meditations. As the fear eased, the letters started coming in. First one acceptance, then a second, then a third – and the third came with an offer for full funding, including a job teaching. I had only applied to programs within two hours of my home, expecting to commute. Thinking I would commute. Thinking I would drive four hours, round trip, every day for three years. My husband looked at the offer I’d received from this major university, looked at me and said, “Are you ready to be reasonable now?” The money was good. One could live off of it in our small town, but in the city? How could I afford to maintain an apartment and help out a little with the bills at home? Again, back to the meditation. Knowledge of your will for me, God. Power to carry it out, God. What do I do?
I had received an invitation to join a national honors society. The fee for the first years’ membership and initiation was $70. I don’t throw money around for prestige, and besides, I was already an active member of my campus honors society – but for some reason, I didn’t hesitate. The day I got the invitation, I sent in my acceptance and fees. I received a package in the mail, and there was this little paragraph with instructions on how to apply for a fellowship for first year graduate studies. I had gotten pretty good at assembling applications, so I filled it out, got letters of recommendation and sent it in. In the space of a week, I won the chapter fellowship and the national fellowship. I had $6,000 to put towards rent for the first year.
Love taps? Something like that. These are the obvious ones I see in the present moment, though there have been plenty I see in retrospect. My point in all this is that, over time and by seeking God’s will for me through much prayer and meditation, fear is replaced by faith, faith by knowledge. We’ve got a pretty good starter guide in the Big Book, and we can receive guidance and wisdom from our religious teachers, though I think how we ultimately take this step will, in great measure, be found in the step itself – knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
These days, a lot of my meditation time is spent on the road, or on my front porch, or in my bed as I’m falling asleep or waking up. Every once in awhile, though not nearly often enough, it’s spent in the hammock in my side yard or down amidst the trees in our little orchard. There’s no drill sergeant to stand over you and make sure that you do your meditation at the same time every day, in the same, rigid way – though there is something to be said for a regular routine. It may be the treatment centers who suggest “90 in 90” – but we can learn a lot from them about building regular habits. The most important thing while finding what works is to keep it simple enough so that it doesn’t feel like punishment and doesn’t strike fear in you when you get off schedule. The process has so many rewards built into it that maintaining it, once it gets started, is a pleasure rather than an obligation. It’s fine to gather experience, strength and hope from others on how to approach this step, but keeping in mind that it’s based upon one’s own understanding of God, it follows that we may develop very different methods for improving our conscious contact through prayer and meditation. The important thing, I believe, is not how we do it but that we do it!