I make space in my life for mindful reflection. A sense of meaning and purpose naturally arises from that.
Discussion of Step 11:
Step 11 is a way to expand into the experience gained throughout the whole process. Here, you are building upon the lesson of Step 10. This time, you are not just paying attention to the causes and effects of your actions. You are mindful in all aspects of your life.
What you have gained throughout this process is not just a better understanding of yourself and the ability to change behaviors, however important that is. Over time, you have started to learn new habits, new ways of living. The new ways of living are not just behaviors. They have to do with the attitude you have toward living life, moment by moment, mindfully experiencing life.
The change is not just in how you act. It is in how you approach life. Mindfulness is not a means to an end, however practical and beneficial it is to accomplish your goals. Being mindful is an end in itself.
Now, of course, the goal of being mindful all the time could be incredibly overwhelming. Besides, it is unrealistic. We are not talking about some perfectionistic notion. What we are talking about is a practical sense of mindfulness. It involves the practice of pausing, moment by moment. We talked about the mindful pause way back, in Step 3.
Now we are circling back to that. We are going back and saying: “OK, you have paid a lot of attention to all kinds of things about your life. You have made changes, but let’s go back and pay attention to that skill that you have developed during that time.”
Taking a mindful pause
You may not have consciously developed the practice of taking a mindful pause. However, you have been practicing it just by doing what you did. You have been paying attention to your behaviors. And you have been noticing what it feels like when you are avoiding what feels painful or challenging.
By paying attention to what it’s like to change a behavior, you have developed your ability to pay attention to your inner sense of self. So, don’t worry, as you approach Step Eleven, even if you feel: “Oh no, I never practiced the pause very much, if at all.” You likely did. You would not be here if you hadn’t. So this step is first an invitation to notice the many ways in which this kind of mindful pause has become more ingrained in you.
Mindfulness is not just something that happens when you stay cross-legged, recite a mantra or count your breath. There are many mindfulness meditation techniques. But mindfulness is not limited to these techniques. There are different ways to be mindful. It helps if you remember that mindfulness essentially means being more able to pay attention to what you’re doing and be present with it. For instance, thoughtfulness is very much part of mindfulness.
With a mindful pause, you give yourself a chance to notice the default mode. You see what you do without thinking. You give yourself a chance to notice that there might be alternatives. It does necessarily mean that the other options are better. You may not even have to act differently. It’s just that you are giving yourself a chance to notice. It’s a way of slowing down. It’s a way of feeling that you have more options. In doing that, there is a calming effect. There is a grounding effect. There is a sense of opening and expansion that happens. Don’t you want more of this in your life?
Under pressure and fear, there is a sense of having no options. Being under pressure feels like you are caught in a vise, and the walls are squeezing you. The opposite of that experience is the ability to extend both arms and to push back against the walls. Then, you feel that the walls are moving back, and you’re gaining more space.
A sense of peace and possibility
Wouldn’t you want to have more of that in your life instead of pressure and fear? Wouldn’t you want to have a sense of space and calm and peace and possibility?
Taking a mindful pause gives you a chance to find more space. Step 11 is about giving that to yourself, moment by moment. It describes facing reality mindfully, moment by moment. The notion of “facing reality” might not feel very appealing if you’re accustomed to hearing about “facing reality” in the context of criticism. That is, you have been repeatedly accused of not facing reality. From that perspective, “facing reality” is a punishment. It is like rubbing your nose into something that smells bad, that you’ve done. So, if that’s what “facing reality” is, you have every reason to avoid it.
But think about what you’ve learned about yourself through this Twelve Steps process. You have found a way to contemplate unpleasant things about yourself in a way that was more gentle and kind. It is more geared to understanding than to harshly criticizing yourself. In so doing, you have found that you were able to change the things you didn’t like about yourself in a way that felt more pleasant, more satisfying, more rewarding.
You have been building a sense of confidence that is replacing the old tapes.
The old database of experience said that facing reality is a punishment, and you’re safe when you avoid reality. Your new database of experience shows that you can face reality mindfully, moment by moment, and it helps you grow. It helps you feel more satisfied and happier. You now have more reason to want that in your everyday life. Not because it’s some abstract idea of what a good person should do, but because you have a growing sense of how much you ultimately like it. This is what it’s like to experience a felt sense of meaning and purpose.
What about conscious contact with God?
The original Twelve Steps of A.A. refer to prayer and conscious contact with God. As in previous occasions where God was mentioned, it is helpful to think about the underlying experience. What Step 11 describes is the experience of feeling a sense of meaning and purpose, i.e., something that is similar to what a religious person might experience as being “in the hand of God.” The words are different, but the experiences have a lot in common.
A similar comment can be made about the notions of prayer and mindful reflection. The cultural context is different, but the underlying experience is similar, a deep connection to something very meaningful.