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On the principle of starting with the most-available, easiest-to-access, demonstrably-effective tool, we usually advise even nonbelievers to try the Step fellowships. If they don’t work, there are other tools. However, the Steps may benefit from a little “re-engineering” to increase the nonbeliever’s chances of success. Here’s the next “Re-Engineered Recovery Tool,” Step Eleven:

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.

Well, here we are, back at the old Imaginary Guy again. It’s easy to get turned off by words like “prayer” and “His will,” but once you open the goddy container and lift out the actual goal of this step, it comes out fairly easily and clearly. Remember back in the first article in this series? We talked about the difference between religion and spirituality.

That’s at the core of this Step: Building spiritual strength. Just as important, and just as possible, for non-believers as for believers. And the language of the Step makes one very good, useful suggestion on how to do it. We aren’t going to be doing much “praying.” But we can meditate. Or undertake other thoughtful, spiritual disciplines that help clarify our feelings and promote inner balance.

Meditation is one of those things everyone seems to agree is helpful, but few actually put in the time and attention to achieve its benefits– and they are many. It can reduce stress, relieve anxiety, even deliver tangible physiological benefits like a slower resting heart rate.

A spiritual practice like meditation can help with:

  • Perceiving and examining feelings, and the thoughts they connect with
  • Achieving a sense of calm and balance
  • Examining points of tension or disturbance, and decreasing or removing their negative impact on our thoughts, decisions, and actions
  • Identifying sources of strength and positive directions

If you’re skeptical about it, maybe you’ve never really thought about how a spiritual practice like meditation actually works. It’s not “magic.” It’s just an extremely effective way to establish a reasoned, rational sense of self that is unaffected by crisis and conflict. This will build strength to carry you through whatever comes your way.

The only way to find out if this will work for you is to give it a try.

Working Step Eleven: Commit yourself to trying this one over a long period–at least 90 days. Try not to miss a day, but don’t make a big deal out of it if you do, just go right back to practicing. Find a quiet place where you can be without distractions for about 20 minutes. Most people find meditation ‘energizing,’ so likely right before bed isn’t a good time.

Start by getting in a comfortable sitting position, on a chair or on the floor with a mat or cushion. Let your eyes close. Place your hands palm up, on your thighs, and start breathing slowly and deeply. Use a pattern that works for you, or try this one: Inhale deeply for a count of three, so you can feel it all the way down to your diaphragm. Hold the breath for a count of one or two, then let it out more slowly, over a count of nine, paying attention to expelling all the air until you feel “empty.” Then repeat, for another ten or fifteen breaths. You may feel warmth or tingling from the oxygenation– that’s good, it means you’re relaxing.

Once you have the rhythm of this deep, abdominal breathing, begin using a null sound, a ‘mantra’– something with two easy, soothing syllables that have no meaning or association. Some suggestions: shurring, ayen, hahnoo. Pick one, or come up with your own. You can recite the sound verbally, subvocally, or silently, letting it fall into the rhythm of your breathing.

Ideas and pictures may flow through your mind. Just let them flow, without stopping to contemplate or focus on any one thought. Some people find it helpful to use a “visual mantra” such as imagining a flickering candle flame or a color wheel, lightly focusing on steadying the flame or slowly turning the wheel.

After what feels like about twenty minutes, open your eyes, stretch, and go back to whatever you were doing.

This post belongs to Recovery Without God