Previously, I’ve written about taking on a collection of prayers like Always We Begin Again as a meditative tool for developing that all-important conscious contact with God. Today’s entry aims at something more basic, something more fundamental: a crash course in how to mediate the AA way.
A teensy, tiny bit of background:
There are three great methods of meditation, practiced by spiritual teachers and traditions all over the world:
- Reflective (passage-oriented, analytic)
- Insight (focused, creative, mantric)
- Awareness (mindful, heart-centered)
In this post, I’m diving into the first of these, the only meditation technique spelled out clearly in the AA literature, Reflective or Passage meditation.
In the Twelve and Twelve, Bill Wilson suggests using passage mediation to improve our conscious contact with God. In our literature, the Prayer of St Francis is described as a jumping-off point:
As beginners in meditation, we might now reread this prayer several times very slowly, savoring every word and trying to take in the deep meaning of each phrase and idea. It will help if we can drop all resistance to what our friend says. For in meditation, debate has no place. We rest quietly with the thoughts of someone who knows, so that we may experience and learn.
As though lying upon a sunlit beach, let us relax and breathe deeply of the spiritual atmosphere with which the grace of this prayer surrounds us. Let us become willing to partake and be strengthened and lifted up by the sheer spiritual power, beauty, and love of which these magni – cent words are the carriers. Let us look now upon the sea and ponder what its mystery is; and let us lift our eyes to the far horizon, beyond which we shall seek all those wonders still unseen.
“Okay,” I thought when first reading this section. “That sounds nice. But how exactly do I do it?”
Here’s what I’ve learned since then and what I suggest to anyone who’d like to practice meditation as described in our literature and as outlined by Bill Wilson:
First choose a spiritual text or passage that embodies your highest ideals. Memorize it, then each morning, go through the words slowly, silently, and with as much concentration as possible. Throughout the day, pause for a moment or two and let a single phrase cycle through your mind (this is a variation on mantric meditation intended to bring your spirit back to your morning ritual and remind you of your spiritual aspirations for the day).
This brings two important benefits.
- We begin to resemble and actually become whatever we give our attention to. As the inspired words from the great spiritual traditions of the world slowly come to life in us, they bring with them quiet joy, the capacity to face challenges squarely, and a deep sense of fulfillment.
- By training our mind to stay on the words of the passage, we gradually build the precious capacity to place our attention wherever we choose – as the great mystic Easwaran would say:
Reflective meditation is the key to moving in the direction of love and loyalty as well as genius.
How to Begin
First, just like Bill says, read the Prayer of St. Francis a few times, very, VERY slowly.
The Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
Next up, MEMORIZE THE WHOLE PRAYER.
(I know it’s a pain in the ass — Do it anyway.)
After you’ve memorized the prayer, sit with it each morning.
Go somewhere you will be undisturbed. Take a few calming breaths. Then recite the prayer ALOUD. It takes about one minute to recite the prayer fairly slowly. If you’re shooting for ten minutes, that’s ten recitations.
Do this for twenty-one days.
While you are reciting the prayer, don’t try to analyze the words, don’t go on an interpretive spiral of self-congagulatory exegesis, just let the ideas cycle through your mind. Allow your imagination work while you focus on the task; your spirit will naturally expand while you focus on the simple discipline.
Finally, pick one of the phrases to repeat as a mantra throughout the day, something to repeat whenever you are disturbed or upset or worried or angry.
After you’ve done this for three weeks… Hooray!
You get to pick a new prayer and start all over, doing the same thing. Expand your passage meditation from ten minutes to twenty. Try for more difficult, more “heavy” prayers or passages to meditate on. There are a collection of resources at the bottom of this page that will be helpful.
For those of you who’ve got a big issue with Catholic saints and whatnot, remember what Bill said:
Its author was a man who for several hundred years now has been rated as a saint. We won’t be biased or scared off by that fact, because although he was not an alcoholic he did, like us, go through the emotional wringer.
If that’s not enough for you, read this:
The prayer is attributed to Francis Bernadone, born in Assisi, Italy, in 1181 or 1182. At the age of twenty-two, after a sudden illness that brought him to the point of death, he left his home and inheritance to follow an injunction he felt he’d received from God: “Francis, go and rebuild my Church.” Three great Franciscan orders quickly grew around the monks, nuns, and lay disciples who responded to his joyful example of universal love and selfless service.
He was amazing, and wrote a great number of prayers an mediations… But he didn’t write THIS particular prayer.
His living testimony to a spiritual way of life inspired some unknown French national around 1910 to jot the prayer on the back of a random Meditation Card, one that had St. Francis’s likeness on the reverse side.
Ever since, even though the actual author is unknown, the saint and the prayer have been linked. He is anonymous.
For more on the background of the prayer, click here
For more on passage meditation and a wonderful collection of resources, click here