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Center for Action and Contemplation
Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One
Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One: Weekly Summary

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One

Summary: Sunday, December 8—Friday, December 13, 2019

Twelve-Step spirituality rediscovered the real transformative power that is the core of the Gospel. (Sunday)

I believe that Jesus and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are saying the same thing but with different vocabulary: We suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it away to keep it. (Monday)

[In Alcoholics Anonymous] you are just open to the possibility that God is not the way you think God is from your particular cultural background or human experience thus far. —Thomas Keating (Tuesday)

When Jesus taught, “If anyone wants to follow me, let them renounce themselves!” (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23), I am pretty sure that Jesus meant exactly what Bill W. means in Step Three: a radical surrendering of our will to Another whom we trust more than ourselves. (Wednesday)

This program is a truth-telling program. That’s how it turns us into free people. —Pepe (Thursday)

As long as there is accountability and forgiveness as part of the process, healing will almost inevitably follow. (Friday)


Practice: Mindfulness

As we grow in wisdom, we realize that everything belongs and everything can be received. We see that life and death are not opposites. They do not cancel one another out; neither do goodness and badness. There is now room for everything to belong. A radical, almost nonsensical “okayness” characterizes mature believers, which is why they are often called “holy fools.” We don’t have to deny, dismiss, defy, or ignore reality anymore. What is, is gradually okay. What is, is the greatest of teachers. At the bottom of all reality is always a deep goodness, or what Thomas Merton called “a hidden wholeness.” [1]

This week’s practice is really an encouragement to find or continue with a regular practice to deepen your experience of everything belonging. It is taken from Doctor Gabor Maté’s book In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.

At a recent meditation retreat, however, I had a breakthrough: I realized that my expectations for meditation practice had been too harsh—on myself. I wanted to be “good” at it, I wanted spiritually uplifting things to happen, I wanted deep insights to arise. I now know it’s a gentle process. One doesn’t have to be good at meditation, achieve anything, or look for any particular result. As with any skill, only practice leads to improvement—and improvement is not even the point. The only point is the practice. What I have found is that when I do practice meditation, I find more ease in my life. I’m calmer, more emotionally present, more compassionate to others, and far less reactive to external triggers. In other words, I’m more of a self-regulating adult and am less prone to self-soothing, addictive behaviors.

Mindfulness practice will not by itself cool the addiction-heated mind, but, addicted or not, it is an invaluable adjunct to whatever else we do. It’s a way of working with the most immediate environment, the internal one. “Mindfulness changes the brain,” psychiatrist and brain researcher Daniel Siegel points out: “Why would the way you pay attention in the present moment change your brain? How we pay attention promotes neural plasticity, the change of neural connections in response to experience.” [2]

Mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day, not only on the meditation cushion. There are many techniques for this, but they all come down to paying close attention to one’s experience of each moment, without seeking distraction. When I go for walks now, I no longer have earphones piping music into my head. I try to stay present to the physical, aural, and visual sensations I experience, as well as noticing my mental processes and reactions. Sometimes I can keep this up for as long as thirty seconds at a time before my mind scurries off into la-la land. I call that progress. [3]

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 55-56, 61; and

How Do We Get Everything to Belong?, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, MP3 download.

[2] Daniel J. Siegel, The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being (W. W. Norton: 2007), 25.

[3] Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (North Atlantic Books: 2010), 372-373.

For Further Study:
“J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996)

Thomas Keating with Tom S., Divine Therapy and Addiction: Centering Prayer and the Twelve Steps (Lantern Books: 2009)

Timothy McMahan King, Addiction Nation: What the Opioid Crisis Reveals About Us (Herald Press: 2019)

Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011)

Richard Rohr, The Little Way: A Spirituality of Imperfection (CAC: 2007), MP3 download

Image credit: Femme Assise (Melancholy Woman) (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902-1903, Detroit Museum of Art, Detroit, Michigan.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: I cannot understand my own behavior. I fail to carry out the very things I want to do and find myself doing the very things I hate . . . for although the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not. —Romans 7:15, 18
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