“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Maya Angelou
When I started attending Al-Anon meetings last month the group was focused on Step 7. Tuesday we will discuss Step 11. Why does this matter? Well, Tuesday it’s my turn to lead the meeting. I’m still a newcomer. I haven’t led a meeting. In truth, I’m quite comfortable in the audience.
At first glance, Step 11 appears a monumental one. It will require a few days of writing. Please indulge me as I work this out. Writing is to thinking for me, as thinking is to thinking for others. As I contemplated Step 11’s meaning, I thought of the steps that it is sandwiched between and the words of the serenity prayer.
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong to promptly admit it.
Step 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principals in all of our affairs.
I should preface my short dissertation on Step 11, with the fact that I took the advice from who I do not recall, that however you choose to proceed with the steps, is the right way. When I started Al-Anon in December on Step 7, I left that day thanking God for leading me there. I felt that the year that preceded my arrival at that meeting, was a year filled with steps 1 through 6. And yes there were plenty of days, just like Springsteen writes, of one step forward and three steps back. Over the last almost two years, every day and every step there was the constant presence of God, whose manifestations varied as much as the weather, but whose existence I never questioned.
The discussion of God, faith, religion, Higher Power, and or whatever we understand him or her or it to be, is a personal and complicated one. Without judgment of you, I ask that you refrain from judgment of me, and I offer you what Step 11 means to me.
It starts with my belief in God, which is the most important, fulfilling, yet difficult relationship of my life. Sometimes, I feel like the battered wife, always coming home for more, but I have the role wrong. I should not identify with the one being battered, I should identify with the batterer. How many times I have questioned fate, and blamed God for the present and past.; decisions I made, yet wanted to distance myself from. Seeking God’s presence has never been the difficult part because He is omnipresent. It is the nakedness required in this relationship that is its greatest challenge; a required vulnerability that is not unique to my relationship with God.
To be vulnerable is, to be honest. And to be honest is to be truthful. To start a conversation with God requires an admission of fault, and a willingness to forgive. For me, that means being honest with myself and living in my truth. It took several years of therapy, peeling off the layers of the onion, attempting to live a truthful life, until the only layer left to address was my marriage. That layer was my step 11. As such, I don’t believe this journey’s mission – the one we share through Al-Anon – is centered on those we’ve battered and injured. It’s centered on forgiving ourselves, and to stop beating. We have to stop blaming ourselves for all of our past transgressions. Which by no means is an easy step. For me, that’s Step 10, and happens every day, in fact, countless times throughout the day, both in my waking and sleeping hours I am constantly working to right the wrongs and to chart the right course.
No doubt, that each of us has had a journey whose path traversed others challenges’ that made our lives much more difficult. It’s what led us here today. Did we choose to turn the other cheek, to enable, to punish, to persecute? None of that matters. At least in my mind. Because once we start that conversation with God, once we consciously invite him in, and ask for his guidance, for the serenity to know the right direction, then we can forgive. I’m not foolish to think that this is the most important step because they all have equal weight. I do believe the actions in Step 11 are greater and more present in our lives than we probably care to recognize.
In the physical world, yoga is the obvious place where I carve out the mental space for spiritual growth and reflection. It is accompanied by walks with my dogs, who I often feel are three guardian angels, reminding me to keep moving, to keep listening, to keep going. My God is found in the gentle breeze and fierce wind, His presence comes to me in the morning sun, at dusk, and through the glorious moonbeams in the midnight sky pickled with stars so far, yet so close I feel I can touch them. I feel his warmth when my hands embrace my cup of coffee in the morning or my cup of tea in the afternoon. I know the days when I drank alongside my alcoholic, denying the problems in front of us, were the days when I pushed Him away.
Step 11 is about finding peace in knowing that I am part of something greater. Yes, this world is surely built on sound science, but its mystery and miracles are grounded in spirit and faith. From the totem animals of the Native Americans to the saints of the Catholic church, our world is united in the breath. The breath of life is what we all share, and is what Step 11 means to me. On the inhale we let God in. And the exhale, is our physical recognition of His presence in our lives. The spirit inside of us is the presence of God guiding us, loving us, and forgiving us, constantly nudging us toward serenity.
My earliest image of God and the Holy Spirit is glued together in the mosaic that stands before you in St. Thomas More Church. In my 46th year of life, my father’s demand that we sit in the front row so that no one would come between God and us now makes sense. Step 11 is that conscious effort to sit in the front row, speaking and welcoming God into our lives. It’s no wonder that the front row is the best seat in the house. My cup is full, overflowing with the joy and abundance of His love. What a powerful step, Step 11 is; its bounty is the wisdom gained through our relationship with God.
Step 11 is us accepting serenity.