We welcome guest blogger Richard Rohr, author of the newly released book, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Breathing Under Water is available with a free online study guide. Here Fr. Richard writes about Step 11 of the Twelve Steps.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood [God], praying only for knowledge of [God’s] will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 11 very wisely says that we must develop a practice of prayer or meditation to sustain our sobriety. Meditation or contemplation is not first of all about being religious, introverted, or pious—it is about being emotionally and mentally honest!
Contemplation is an alternative consciousness that refuses to identify with or feed what are only passing shows. It is the absolute opposite of addiction, consumerism, or any egoic consciousness.
Egoic consciousness is the one we all normally operate with, until we are told there is something else! Every culture teaches egoic consciousness, but in different ways. At that level it is all about me—my preferences, my choices, my needs, my desires, and me and my group as the central reference point.
Most people do not even know there is another way of thinking or feeling. It was religion’s job to tell us about a different kind of software, and the original word for it was simply prayer. But even the concept and practice of prayer became captive to the voracious needs of the ego. Even prayer became a way to get God to do what we wanted. We know that is true!
So a lot of us started using the word contemplation so people might know we are talking about a totally different operating system, different software where the private self is not the center of attention and interpretation. Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, used the word meditation in the 1930s when few Americans were even familiar with the term. Such a form of prayer reveals our small and fragile self for what it is. This is the “grain of wheat” that Jesus says must die “or it remains just a grain of wheat.” But if it dies, “it bears much fruit” (John 12:24)! Mature and contemplative religion has always known that we need a whole new operating system, which St. Paul called “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) or a “spiritual revolution of the mind” (Ephesians 4:23).
Only with this new mind can we also develop a new heart too, and a new emotional response to the moment. When it is not all about me, we can see from a new, much deeper, and broader set of eyes. Very soon our responses are much less knee-jerk, predictable, and self-centered.
Only contemplative prayer touches the deep unconscious, where all of our real hurts, motivations, and deepest visions lie. Without it, we have what is even worse—religious egoic consciousness, which is even more defensive and offensive than usual! Now it has God on its side and is surely what Jesus means by the unforgiveable “sin against the Holy Spirit.” It cannot be forgiven because this small self would never imagine it needs forgiveness. It is smug and self-satisfied.
If we are to free ourselves from the universal and primary addiction—which is to our own way of thinking—we need to learn and practice this new mind or there will be no real change, no authentic encounter with ourself, God, or anybody else. Each of us must find our own practice and learn a new mind.
Contemplation really is the change that changes everything.
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr is founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He considers the proclamation of the gospel to be his primary call, and some related themes he addresses include eco-spirituality, Scripture as liberation, non-dual thought, the integration of action and contemplation, peace and justice issues, and male spirituality. Author of numerous books, including Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, Preparing for Christmas With Richard Rohr: Daily Meditations for Advent, and Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, he gives retreats and lectures internationally. He is a regular contributing writer for Sojourners and Tikkun magazines.
Feature photo © Velora/PhotoXpress