The 11th step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “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”. When I first heard this step in the rooms of AA, I was 21 years old and fresh off of a DUI arrest. I was going to meetings to get my court card signed and rarely paid attention to the speakers. At this point in life I was still convinced that I didn’t have a problem with drugs and alcohol but nevertheless the seed of sobriety was planted. I was familiar with the words God and prayer, but the word meditation stuck out to me. It was a foreign word that I had little experience with. I pictured monks in orange robes sitting around eating rice in silence. I couldn’t understand how sitting cross-legged and saying the word “Om” could help me with anything. My preconceived notions seemed silly to me so I quickly dismissed any thought of trying to meditate. Life went on and I continued to use.
As the years passed my addiction progressed. At age 24 I found myself at day one of a 35-day rehab sentence in Wickenburg, Arizona; a sentence that seemed more like an eternity. My anxiety was through the roof. I tried arguing with the staff to let me have my iPod because like any other addict, I always looked to outside sources for the solution to my problems. I no longer had drugs and alcohol to take me out of my head. I was too weak and sick to go to the gym and too stubborn to talk to anybody about my issues. I was stuck in my head and plagued by insomnia every night. With a blank look on my face I better resembled a zombie, dragging my feet throughout my day. I was desperate for a solution. One of the staff members told me about a book called The Power of Now written by Eckhart Tolle. He said for me to start reading it at night before I go to sleep so that I could calm my racing thoughts and hopefully be able to rest. What I didn’t realize was that in the text of this book I would find my solution. I began reading and again I saw this word meditation, still foreign as ever. The book tells the story of a man just as sick and desperate as I, who found peace and happiness in the midst of his own personal Hell. He experienced what addicts like to call a “spiritual awakening”. I would read every night and I was finally able to sleep. By the time I began to really understand what exactly I was reading, my time in rehab was up. My new routine, which had started out so uncomfortable, had now become the daily norm, but it was time to shake things up again. I was headed back to Los Angeles, my very own city of sin.
I was extremely nervous about getting sober in Los Angeles. I had moved down from Northern California for college in 2005 and coming from a small town, I was captivated by the city. Freshmen year felt as if I had arrived to a giant playground where every night was a new adventure. 18 with a fake ID, I took to the streets. Bar after bar and club after club I tore through the city. What I failed to realize was that this city and the behavior that ensued would unleash an addiction so violent that it would nearly lead to my death. You can imagine that returning to my old stomping ground would create some fears. The beautiful thing about Los Angeles is that even though drugs and alcohol are everywhere, so is sobriety. And with sobriety comes spirituality. They go hand in hand and one cannot exist without the other. I never thought of Los Angeles as a spiritual place but I was soon convinced otherwise.
I was introduced to two forms of meditation my first week back in Los Angles; guided meditation, which is kind of like hypnosis, and silent meditation. The ability to meditate doesn’t just come naturally. You need to practice every day, much like the way we practice the AA principals in all of our affairs. This was frustrating because I wanted a quick easy fix to my anxiety, but I kept on meditating and my experience started to change. Within a few weeks a new routine had emerged and I was beginning and ending every day with a meditation. I love starting out my day with a morning meditation meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s run like a normal meeting consisting of twenty minutes of meditation followed by open sharing, and ending with a short three-minute meditation. Afterwards, I always feel clear headed and focused, ready to take on any challenge life might throw my way. Meditating allows me to think rationally and approach certain negative situations in a calm and collected manner.
Guided meditation is equally as powerful and sometimes resonates with people more than silent because you have somebody helping you through it. There’s often soothing music being played that helps block out any distracting background noises. The guide will take you through a story, making you visualize your body relaxing and losing all of its tension. This method proved to be much easier when I first started to meditate because I hadn’t yet grasped the concept on my own. I found that guided meditation felt much like when I was in rehab, reading my book alone in my room. In both cases my mind was guided away from all of the shame I felt about the past and all of the worry I felt about the future. I truly had found my solution.
To me, sobriety isn’t just abstaining from drugs and alcohol; it’s about peace of mind. Meditation has been practiced for a very long time dating back as far as 15th century B.C. Buddhists philosophy on meditation says that without inner peace, outer peace is impossible. If we want to be truly happy and free of suffering we must improve our understanding of the mind. If we train in meditation, our mind will eventually become more and more peaceful, and we will experience a purer form of happiness. This happiness and contentment arises from within, only after the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides. By training our mind to recognize the spiritual lessons in all our experiences, we can come to view everyone and everything as our spiritual teacher and we can turn any and every situation to our advantage.