We have busy lives. This is a blessing of our recovery. And many of us have experienced the spiritual awakening promised in Step 12. But what do we do after the 12 Steps to expand this awakening so it brings greater meaning and joy to our busy lives?
This question is so important to me—and maybe to you too—that I decided 10 months ago to launch my blogging website with the title After the 12 Steps. In my blog posts, I address ways we can awaken more and more from our initial spiritual awakening.
I have a passion for spirituality and psychology. And it drove me to undergo an intense 18-month certification process to become a spiritual life coach. As a spiritual life coach, I get to share with my clients—some of whom are in recovery—many of the insights I have learned over the past decade reading widely the work of awakened masters.
I particularly admire the work of the author Adyashanti. He has a deep and profound understanding of both Christianity and Zen. His approach to awakening can be applied to your own life regardless of your spiritual leanings. And applying the three core practices that he presents in his book The Way of Liberation have worked in profound ways to further awaken me—and my clients.
These core practices are inquiry, contemplation, and meditation. As with anything you practice, these practices become more and more intuitive as you use them. Let’s take a look at each.
This is going to sound paradoxical at first. But inquiry is more about discovering who you are not than who you are. It is about fearlessly looking at the ideas, beliefs, and opinions that you have adopted, often unknowingly, into your life. It is not about answering your questions but questioning your answers. And it requires the same fearlessness that you used in your courageous 4th Step work. Basically, it’s about challenging your own bullshit.
The question that we ask in practicing inquiry is simple. Yet, it requires willingness and great courage: “Do I know with absolute certainty that this current thought, belief, opinion, interpretation, or judgment is true?”
Adyashanti’s question is about Truth. As survivors of our own addictive shipwrecks, we know the power of honesty. After all, it was the tool we used in our stepwork that revealed to us just how insane our lives had become. It is also the means by which God performed the greatest miracle in our lives—and that is saving it.
So it is with that same honesty that we ask the question: “Do I know with absolute certainty that this current thought, belief, opinion, interpretation, or judgment is true?”
But when do we ask it? As I tell my clients, it’s the moment when you feel yourself tightening—when you suffer a disturbance as the BB says. It’s in that exact moment that you stop and drop the question.
By doing this, you can begin stripping away your old, repetitive, negative patterns and open yourself to what is often a new perspective. Look at your own life and see if you can identify painful experiences that happen to you again and again even when they involve a different cast of people. Then drop the question into the pain.
We can also use inquiry about statements. For example, a popular one is “The only constant is change.” So I begin by asking myself if I can be absolutely certain that idea is true.
When I challenge the statement with the question, I can see it is true as it relates to outward appearances. In nature, rivers change landscapes. In my home town, new businesses have changed its character, and in my life, time has caused my hair to gray. But is it absolutely true for me inwardly? Have I changed how I respond to life? And to that I would have to say, “Not entirely.” Inquiry helps me identify the beliefs and behaviors that are carryovers from my drinking days that still cause me suffering.
Whether I’m working with clients or with my own issues, the results of inquiry can then become the subject of another of the three core practices: contemplation.
According to Adyashanti, contemplation is the art of holding a word, phrase, idea, or belief in the silence and stillness of your awareness until “it begins to disclose deeper and deeper meanings and understandings.”
Inquiry is about actively challenging things whereas contemplation is more about passively reflecting on things.
You can take the subject of change from the inquiry work above and use contemplation to reflect on an inner change that you want to make. When first practicing contemplation, it is suggested that you begin small by focusing on words and phrases. For example, if you wanted to use the Serenity Prayer to contemplate change, you may choose to just focus on the phrase “the courage to change the things I can.” Hold that phrase in the silence and stillness of your awareness and let the wisdom flow from it like tea from a steeping teabag. This is contemplation.
According to Adyashanti, meditation is the art of allowing everything to simply be in the deepest possible way” by letting go “of the effort to control and manipulate our experience.”
To me, meditation is like bathing in being. It is my spirit immersed in God’s spirit. It is about surrendering, about effortlessness, and about openness.
So we can take the wisdom that we have learned from our contemplation of the Serenity Prayer and sit with it in meditation. Adyashanti says, “In meditation, you are not trying to change your experience; you are changing your relationship to your experience.”
When meditating, it is recommended that you use a chair or cushion in a place that is free of distractions. Relax, let go of the concerns of the day, and “just be” with the wisdom revealed to you in contemplation.
In your daily schedule, try setting aside time for these core practices. All three could be done in one sitting or spread over three days. Regardless of how you implement them, they are powerful tools in stripping away your old patterns and social conditioning and opening yourself to Truth.
Soon you will discover that the spiritual awakening that you began with your 12-Step work has expanded into more and more facets of your life. And with that expansion comes a new level of joy, peace, and understanding.
Spiritual Life Coach