Spiritual principles behind Step Eleven: Spiritual Awareness

What are the spiritual principles behind Step Eleven?

Sought 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.

There are many spiritual principles that go hand-in-hand with Step 11; these include mindfulness, knowledge, self-knowledge, connectedness, humility, love, harmony, truth, open-mindedness, faith, compassion, understanding, self-forgetting, willingness, wisdom, and serenity, for starters.

However, the primary spiritual principle generally associated with Step 10 is awareness.

Step Eleven implies that we already have a conscious contact with the God of our understanding, and that we should now perform actions to improve and strengthen our spiritual connection with that power. Back in Step Two we began to seriously consider a higher power that makes sense to us. In Step 3 we made a big decision, which was to trust that Power, to think and act in accordance with the will of God, which in AA basically means to practice spiritual principles. We came to rely on our spiritual connection many times throughout the Steps. Each time we called upon our concept of God for help, we improved our relationship with our higher power. Step Eleven recognizes that reaching out to the God of our understanding, most often referred to as prayer and meditation in the literature. When we reach Step 11 we deeply contemplate and explore our own concepts of prayer and meditation, ensuring they are in step with our particular spiritual path, beliefs, etc. The critical spiritual principle of open-mindedness continues to be essential for us.

What if I still don’t have a specific idea of a higher power, God, etc.?

Do not consider it unfavorable if you reach Step 11 before you have a concept of God that makes sense to you. We may find that the religious institutions we were raised in do not hold the key for us, and that is okay. But what if we cannot think of a specific concept of God more fitting to us than that which we were taught to believe in as children? If this applies to you, then this an extremely important and exciting time for you. You’re starting from scratch on this. Some say a blank slate is the best way to look at this – that the more adjectives one applies to God, the more wrong they probably are. Why? Because as humans, we just don’t know. The exploration involved in the personal quest for a connection to “God within” can actually be fascinating, but real open-mindedness is definitely a prerequisite. Spiritual questing, in general, may very well be the most important journey you ever take!

How to find a fitting spiritual path

Many happy, successful recovering alcoholics and addicts have gone about the business of forming a personal spiritual practice in the following ways. (These are but a few ideas.)

    • Visiting many different places in the community relating to spiritual practice and religion
    • Asking many different people in the recovery community about their personal journey to a God or higher power that makes sense to them
    • Observing others to see how their actions correspond with their professed beliefs, religion, or spiritual path
    • Reading many different books from many different perspectives on the subject of spirituality, personal development, etc.
    • Carefully, deeply contemplating and meditating upon these things to see where your heart takes you, what your deepest feelings may be, etc.

Endless possibilities: A very broad highway

Remember, your experience as a seeker will be undermined by an attitude of closed-mindedness – thus the importance of exploring spirituality with a mind that’s wide open to the multitude of possibilities.

We may never permanently settle on any one spiritual practice or a particular system of beliefs. In a sense, this can be a positive thing as we are not moving forward unless we continue to grow and evolve. Many longtime AAs adopt what the Narcotics Anonymous basic text calls an eclectic approach to spirituality. In this case, it’s critical to understand that an eclectic or varied approach has worked for countless AAs and will serve the spiritual needs for successful recovery just fine.

Whether an individual chooses to be “spiritual not religious,” to go with Zen, Christianity in the form of Catholicism, Protestantism, or another variety, Taoism, Islam, Buddhism, ecospirituality, or Jainism — or whether one’s higher power consists of AA, an AA group, spiritual principles in general, the Spirit of the Universe, Native American spirituality, or none of the above — recovery still works exactly as it is supposed to as long as spiritual principles are practiced to the best of one’s ability in all facets of life. We have come to learn that AA does not ask that you adopt any particular belief or faith; what AA asks us to do is take the time-tested actions that invariably will lead to a spiritual awakening and eventually enlightenment, salvation (with or without the religious context), etc.

When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you.

Big Book, We Agnostics, p.47

To many newcomers, conscious contact with a God of our own understanding sounds mysterious, corny, childish, scary, primitive, religious, unrealistic, or even impossible. The truth is that conscious contact is extremely, even deceptively simple! It just means that we have a conscious awareness of our link to a higher power; we feel spiritually connected to God, to others, to the earth, to nature, to the universe, to the cosmos, all of the above, and so on.

Many are surprised to learn that deep spiritual growth involves far more unlearning of old things – conventional wisdom, canned belief systems, traditions, societal and cultural norms – than learning new things. I’ve personally found this to be the case.

How do I know if I’m spiritually connected?

Attempting to describe a spiritual connection is in most ways beyond the scope of this article, but we’ll do our best to give a brief, simple answer.

When we are connected with God or our higher power, we can sometimes sense this connection in our body, whether it’s only a slight feeling or a major epiphany. Some describe feeling warm, comforted, fulfilled, or uplifted – the feeling that all is well, or that everything is OK. One may feel relatively free of suffering even with negative feelings or emotions; one may feel there is no need to worry about anything, ever. The outcomes of our worldly pursuits don’t seem to matter as much. It often manifests itself as an ongoing contentedness with the way things are, and the absence of “grass-is-greener-ism” thinking (“Things will be good/I’ll be happy when [fill in the blank]”).

The spiritual journey does not consist of arriving at a new destination where a person gains what he did not have, or becomes what he was not. It consists of the dissipation of one’s own ignorance concerning one’s self and life, and the gradual growth of that understanding which begins the spiritual awakening. The finding of God is a coming to one’s own Self.
Aldous Huxley

Intuitively, being spiritually connected feels like becoming more alive, or a clearing of mental/emotional junk. While praying or meditating, one may get the shivers, goosebumps, or even be moved to tears. One may feel a deep appreciation for life, for nature, for all creatures, etc. One may feel it through the unconditional love of a sponsor, friend, family, or the recovery community. These are only a few of countless examples.

God is not to be found so much as discovered within yourself. The statement I and the Father are one is not just some arcane scripture and is much more than a mere ecclesiastical or theological saying. It is a true statement of your reality. Ego is that which makes us believe that we are separate from others, separate from God/HP. With continued spiritual practice we come to realize that we are NOT our egos. We are the innermost self, the deeper conscious awareness which is capable of observing, recognizing, and halting ego chatter when it occurs.

… deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God… We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It was so with us… If our testimony… encourages you to search diligently within yourself… then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway.

Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, We Agnostics, p.55

Why practice awareness, or mindfulness of the present moment?

To many of us, mindfulness is the big gun in our spiritual toolkit. Right action, avoiding “sin,” connecting with HP/God and others, and virtually anything having to do with Right Living cannot be accomplished without mindfulness. In the present moment, all is well, God is present, and there are no problems. (It’s when our thinking becomes egoic or dwells in the past/future that we are lost.)

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Here are a few of the benefits of mindfulness.

  1. Being present and aware helps you stay focused on what’s happening right now, and thus allows you to do whatever you happen to be doing better, more fully, and more completely.
  2. Mindfulness significantly lessens anxiety and largely removes ego-, instinct-, or habit-driven behavior.
  3. Awareness helps prevent binge eating by your making healthier food choices when you pay attention to what you eat.
  4. Being mindful enhances your social savvy and communication skills because it fosters empathetic listening (as opposed to thinking about what you are going to say next).
  5. Present-moment mindfulness helps you more fully experience and enjoy what you are doing.
  6. Being here now helps you make better decisions since you are more present and have the opportunity to assess the facts more realistically.
  7. Mindfulness bolsters your immune system by allowing you to be more relaxed and deliberate.
  8. Being present reduces stress since you’re in tune with your thoughts and your body.

In Step 11, we carry the spiritual concepts of Steps 2 and 3 into our daily lives. Our spirit is our life force, and our spirituality is expressed in the way we relate to the world through our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Everyone is spiritual. On a daily basis, we must employ basic, universal spiritual principles in all situations, especially when doing so is uncomfortable or difficult. This is one of the primary ways we grow spiritually, thus the daily maintenance of our spiritual condition.

We learn to recognize, accept, and engage the resources that foster that spiritually connected feeling. Step 11 spiritually stimulates us to use our awareness and our resources to:

  1. Grow in abiding strength
  2. Gain wisdom
  3. Enjoy life more and more as time passes

Spiritual awareness is self-awareness

Spiritual awareness is a highly individual, subjective phenomenon. It must be experienced, not merely known on an intellectual level (the level of knowledge). What is spiritually helpful to one person may be totally meaningless to the next guy. Having and experiencing full awareness of what gives us hope, strength, or peace does not mean we can completely deconstruct or “figure out” a spiritual connection. We may not know specifically what gives hope, strength, and peace to others, either. My responsibility is to recognize and utilize those things that specifically help me, which in turn enables me to help others, pay it forward, and live a service-centered life.

There 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 interrelated and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life. Now and then we may be given a glimpse of that ultimate reality…
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step Eleven

Spirituality is increasingly engaged as we psychologically, mentally, and emotionally grow into fully developed, self-actualized people. When we worked Step 4, many of us admitted we didn’t really know who we were or where we were going in life. In Western culture each of us is socialized and “domesticated” (as spiritual teacher Miguel Ruiz describes it) into something far less than we are capable of being. Step 11 reminds us that we have virtually limitless potential and opens up a slew of possibilities!

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