Whenever the topic of Step 11 comes up, invariably someone will share about how they meditate. Their description often includes sitting upright, closing their eyes and focusing on their breathing to quiet their mind.
While this sounds great and may be a great personal practice, it is not the type of meditation the Big Book writers were advocating when it was published April 10, 1939. What I hear folks talking about more closely resembles TM, Transcendental Meditation. TM was made famous by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s. The Beatles created a buzz about him (and TM) traveling to India to learn how to meditate themselves.
TM does involve reciting a mantra, sitting still, and quieting the mind. Apparently, there are benefits to this practice that have been documented scientifically. It is estimated that many millions of people today practice TM around the world.
But practicing a version of TM is hardly a requirement in AA and part of the steps. Many talk about this TM-type meditation as if it the same as Step 11. Well-intentioned as they are, these folks are showing some well-meaning ignorance. Without the super old-timers straightening them out, this is the type of confusion that is becoming more and more common. Repeated over and over until it becomes accepted as “correct.”
Long before TM, the practice of meditation more closely resembled that of “conscious reflection” – often following a reading of something inspirational.
Here is what Bill says about in the 12 + 12;
“There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life.” (p. 98 Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions)
The key point here is that this type of meditation involves deep thought. In contrast, thinking and thought are the what modern-day TM-like meditation seeks to arrest.
In the 12 + 12 passage on Step 11, Bill describes “how to meditate” by reading the St. Francis prayer and taking some time to think about it. This is very different from what I hear in meetings today.
So if TM or some other version of quieting the mind through breathing is what you are after, that’s great. It’s just not the 11th step of AA.
The 11th step involves reflection and thought.
And thought, especially in today’s AA, does not get the respect it deserves.