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What is Step 11 of AA?

“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.”

In step 11, you discover the plan of your higher power. You also seek to better understand it and carry it out. 

AA is a spiritual organization that encourages participants to find their higher purpose. Whether this is through their relationship with God, another higher power, or AA itself, it is up to the individual participant.

All people with a desire to remain sober are welcomed and encouraged to participate. It doesn’t matter if they practice a particular religion, are inactive in religion, or are agnostic or atheist.

What is the Eleventh Step Prayer? 

“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace--that where there is hatred, I may bring love--that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness--that where there is discord, I may bring harmony--that where there is error, I may bring truth--that where there is doubt, I may bring faith--that where there is despair, I may bring hope--that where there are shadows, I may bring light--that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted--to understand, than to be understood--to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. Amen”

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The Purpose of Step 11 in AA (Prayer and Meditation) 

Prayer, meditation, and quiet reflection are all part of step 11. Instead of seeking peace or solace in alcohol or other substances, you turn to AA or your higher power.

Many AA participants have achieved some degree of spirituality by the time they reach this step. However, if this is not the case, step 11 is when you begin to gain a true understanding of your higher power through prayer and meditation. Some describe it as a spiritual awakening.

The approach to prayer and meditation varies from person to person, but the goal is always the same: to connect with a higher power.

Through participation in AA meetings, you learn that a power greater than yourself exists and is at work. You learn that nothing happens by mistake and that there is a plan for your life. 

Prayer and meditation help you raise the consciousness of your higher power and continue on your recovery journey.

Can I Pray or Meditate If I’m Agnostic or Atheist?

Yes.

Although these practices might seem foreign or impossible to those who do not believe in or are unsure of their belief in God, it is possible to be still, quiet, and reflective. Listen to your thoughts, seek the right answers throughout the day, and ask for guidance when times are challenging. That guidance can come from an inner voice or something outside yourself.

Regardless of whether you approach step 11 as asking God for guidance each day or by self-reflecting, the result is almost always the same.

What Prayer and Meditation Means

Meditation practitioners say to practice, they need:

  • Quiet location without any distractions
  • Comfortable posture
  • Focus
  • Open-mindedness

People who pray believe the same is needed. Prayer and meditation help you focus your attention on a given task, whether that’s being open to receiving a message or relaxing. If you struggle with the process of meditation or prayer, you can use audio or video recordings to help you focus.

Prayer and meditation help minimize issues that lead to depression, anxiety, and other triggers that in the past, triggered a desire to drink. 

How Do You Enact Prayer and Meditation?

Knowing how to pray or meditate, and implementing these practices into everyday life, can vary from person to person. For some, the struggle is understanding how to pray or meditate. For others, it’s making these practices a part of their recovery.

If you’re trying to make meditation a part of your daily life, try the following:

  • Schedule time every day to pray or meditate. Intend to listen to your higher power and let it strengthen you.
  • Ask other people in your life to respect your prayer and meditation time. You must be able to focus and not be distracted during this time.
  • Consider rewarding yourself when you’ve implemented meditation or prayer for a set period. For example, you might plan a coffee date with a friend. You can also plan some time reading a favorite book or watching a TV show after a week of daily prayer or meditation sessions.
  • Start a journal where you record thoughts you have during your prayer and meditation sessions. Make this recording part of your practice. For instance, you might spend five minutes preparing your prayer or meditation space, spend 15 minutes praying or meditating, and then another five minutes recording your thoughts.

How to Work Step Eleven in AA 

AA members who do not have a habit of meditating or praying might find the following tips for working step 11 helpful:

  • Avoiding getting hung up on the terms God or higher power. This is not about practicing a particular religion. Your goal is to find peace and acknowledge the plan for your life.
  • Don’t worry about your posture or position. There is no “right” way to pray or meditate. The important thing is that you be comfortable and not distracted by your body and other physical issues. Some people prefer traditional meditation or prayer postures, which is fine too.
  • Make sure you are actively listening. Many people assume prayer is about asking God for things (and it can be). However, it’s also important to listen. Meditation is nearly completely about listening. For some people, this simple distinction is the difference between prayer and meditation. Prayer is speaking to God, meditation is listening.
  • Be patient. Understand that, even if it feels uncomfortable at first to pray or meditate, it will eventually become more comfortable.

If you are praying or meditating for the first time, try the following:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable environment
  • Plan to sit comfortably for 5 minutes
  • Allow thoughts to enter into your mind
  • Let the thoughts that enter your mind flow in and flow out without holding onto anything
  • Observe your breathing or concentrate on the flame of a candle, which lets you release your thoughts

Questions to Ask Yourself During Step 11 in AA

Questions to ask during step 11 include:

  • Is there a time in my life when I was heading in the wrong direction? What brought me back?
  • How would I describe my higher power or God to a child? Can this description help me connect better?
  • What are my favorite sources of information about healthy values?
  • Is there anything that I’ve ever read or seen that convinced me to change deeply?
  • If I were stranded on a desert island, what one book would I want with me?
  • If I only had one week to live, who would I spend time with? 
  • What would I do if money or other resources weren’t an issue?
  • What do I want my obituary to say?
  • What is my belief about what happens when someone dies? What do I think it will be like to be dead for me?

Why is the 11th Step Important for Recovery?

Step 11 is important in your addiction treatment and recovery from substance abuse because it provides such a significant change in how you view yourself and the world. 

You are experiencing deep personal change and connecting with something that did not have an active role in your life when you weren’t sober. 

If you struggle with step 11, including the concept of a higher power or any aspect of your spiritual practice, your sponsor or your fellow AA participants can help.

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Resources

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“Eleventh Step Prayer.” Intergroup | Central Office Serving SF & Marin, https://aasfmarin.org/eleventh-step-prayer.

“Why Is Spirituality an Essential Part of a Recovery Program?” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-craving-brain/201706/why-is-spirituality-essential-part-recovery-program.

“What Makes AA Work?” Harvard Gazette, 12 Sept. 2011, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/09/what-makes-aa-work/.

Schneider, Kathleen M., et al. “Evaluating Multiple Outcomes and Gender Differences in Alcoholism Treatment.” Addictive Behaviors, vol. 20, no. 1, Jan. 1995, pp. 1–21, 10.1016/0306-4603(94)00037-y. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1530-0277.1981.tb05352.x.

Stone, David A., et al. “Therapeutic Factors and Psychological Concepts in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Journal of Counselor Practice, 1 Jan. 2011, 10.22229/nav074629. https://journalofcounselorpractice.com/uploads/6/8/9/4/68949193/stone_et_al_vol8_iss2.pdf.

Suire, Jared G., and Robert K. Bothwell. “The Psychosocial Benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous.” American Journal on Addictions, vol. 15, no. 3, Jan. 2006, pp. 252–255, 10.1080/10550490600626622. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16923673/.

Tonigan, J, and Susanne Sturmhöfel. Alcoholics Anonymous: Who Benefits?. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/ahrw18-4/308-312.pdf.  

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