Recovery One Moment at a Time: Using Mindfulness to Connect with a Higher Power
By Tom Catton, as told to Progressive Recovery
I started meditating in 1966; there were many gurus coming to the US in the 60's, so when I found the 12 Step Program in ‘68, the 11th step was something I loved. But the way I truly found the program was because someone that was already a member since 1960 came into my life by following the guidance each day.
Next door to our little two-bedroom home was a four-bedroom beach house that had been vacant for several months. Early one morning I was awakened by a car on our lane and looked out the window to see a woman get out and approach the house next to mine. Later in the day, there was talk in the neighborhood about a strange-looking lady who had moved into the beach house.
The second time I saw this woman later that day (she called herself Flobird), she was standing on the white, sandy beach in front of the house, dressed in a bikini. She had long salt and pepper hair that she always wore in a distinctive style—a bun pinned on top and the rest of her hair fell to her waist. She was tall and skinny, her face wrinkled and her skin weathered from years in the sun. As I approached this woman, with the sun beginning to set into the ocean behind her, I felt something I had not felt in so long. We began to talk, and I felt good inside. I didn’t feel the anxiety in my stomach that I always carried. She told me she was a beachcomber. “I pick up lost souls and lead them to a spiritual life.” Flobird looked directly into my eyes, almost as if she could see through to my soul. I felt so much love from her and knew that she understood me completely—even the pain I carried within. Comfort seemed to emanate from her, and my thoughts seemed to clear away for a wordless message. In that instant, I remembered what I had read in my meditation lesson: When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
Flobird had been living and helping out at a halfway recovery house for alcoholics and addicts in Kaneohe, which was about forty miles from the North Shore of Oahu. That morning, as usual, she had been meditating and writing in her journal. Faith can be a conditional thing, but by now Flobird had learned that if she surrendered fully, the direction would come. She was told to go to the North Shore, where she was spiritually guided to the vacant, fully-furnished four-bedroom house on the beach. She reached above the door and found the key.
Daring to follow her heart, Flobird moved in. When the realtor arrived the next day to show the house, he discovered Flobird and asked what she was doing there. “God told me to come here,” she said. “Can you please have the electricity turned on?” Miraculously, it was turned on, and Flobird lived in this house for about six months. This was my introduction to the modern-day miracle, an event that was to become a common experience over the next ten years that Flobird was in my life. She began a recovery meeting in this house, and I started attending.
My practice of Step 11 is the most important thing I do to continue my recovery. One might read this and think, “What's so different about this from anyone else's recovery?” The answer is simple: what I have seen in my 45 years in recovery is most people don't have a disciplined practice of Step 11. They will tell you that they may thank God when they go to bed at night and in the morning ask God to keep them clean today. They may read a meditation book in the bathroom each morning, and I say that is all groovy stuff to do, but it's not meditation. If you want to form an intimate relationship with your significant other, thanking them for being with you each night, and then in the morning you might say have a great day, this is not going to bring intimacy into your relationship. To do so we spend quality time together, and we communicate with each other what is going on; this honest interaction is the birth of intimacy.
It's the same with God. Our prayer of thanks each night, and our asking to stay clean each morning, is not what I call spending quality time with HP (Higher Power). I suggest to people to start with at least 10 minutes each morning and simply sit and listen to the silence. I practice mindfulness; this is an intentional, nonjudgmental awareness of remaining in the present moment, using your breath as the anchor. This is not about not thinking, it's simply observing what arises by watching your breath. If you find yourself lost in thought, simply come back to the breath. Step 11 says we pray only for God's Will, this is how we receive guidance each day, this quiet time each morning is how we get our guidance, it is how we form intimacy with our God.
In the early 1930's when someone like us went to Carl Jung because he wanted to stop drinking, Carl Jung was honest enough to tell him, “I can't help you, but in a few rare incidents I have seen people go through a profound personality change brought on by a spiritual awakening.” This was the Big Bang of recovery, this was the birth of the 12 steps. It is through the practice of Step 11 that this awakening is nurtured and it must be ongoing. Therefore we work the 12 Steps to encourage the profound personality change to be ongoing.
When I share at conventions, in front of thousands of people, hearts begin to open and I find people want to have a disciplined practice, but no one has taught them or talked about it. If your sponsor doesn't practice, then they aren't going to pass this down to you. It doesn't matter what your religion is or how you view your HP, mindfulness will not interfere. When I first joined the program I learned about “One day at a time,” but sometimes that seems like too much. My program is now one moment at a time. Mindfulness will benefit you in all situations by reminding you to live in the NOW.
Mindfulness meditation explores life as it is occurring in the present moment, without holding on to the pleasant experiences or resisting the unpleasant ones. By paying non-judging attention to all aspects of life that are being experienced, one develops insights into its ever changing, unsatisfactory and impersonal nature. One therefore would face the world, including its ups and downs, with more equanimity, encountering less stress and confusion, more joy and inner peace. Give peace a chance.
Most of us find life stressful at times. This may be particularly true when we are ill or face difficult situations. At times like this, we tend to be impatient. We may find ourselves lost in thoughts about the past or thinking about what the future may hold, rather than being in the present. We might also tend to react by making judgments, rather than accepting and understanding what is happening. These kinds of reactions can, in turn, create more stress. What is taking place right now is the only "real" moment we have. So, being able to observe the present moment is essential to fully experiencing and appreciating one's life.
Tom Catton lives in Hawaii, and has two books: "The Mindful Addict: A Memoir of the Awakening of a Spirit" (This book has many stories about Flobird and learning to listen for our own guidance) and, "May I Sit With You: A Simple Approach to Meditation". His story is also in the Basic Text of NA titled “Mid-Pacific Serenity.”