Deepening Our Connection with Our Higher Power—Part 1
A basic tenet of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Alanon and other 12-step programs is turning our lives over to a higher power and seeking their guidance in all of our affairs. As you and other readers are well aware, this does not necessarily mean subscribing to any particular belief system: the important thing is to humbly place our trust in whatever we can identify as a beneficent force or influence in our lives that is greater than ourselves.
I was first introduced to this generic concept of a higher power 30 years ago by a recovering alcoholic named Jay, who spoke for a substance abuse class I was teaching. Like many people in and out of recovery, I felt alienated by the rather harsh concept of a higher power I had internalized as a result of my upbringing and early life experience. As my curiosity was aroused I bought and read a copy of the Twelve and Twelve and also began reading the Daily Word, published by Unity. I also began to gradually reintroduce prayer into my life, start my mornings with a daily gratitude list and recite positive affirmations during my drive to work.
Eight years ago I went through an extremely difficult personal crisis when my wife and I retired from our day jobs, cashed out on our home in southern California and moved to a rather isolated community on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. While I had just published my first book and was looking forward to launching a new career as a writer and speaker, the shock of leaving behind everything I was familiar with left me feeling totally unsettled and ungrounded. Realizing that we could not just turn around and move back to California, I sank into a deep state of despair. I tried seeing a local therapist but did not find that these sessions were particularly helpful.
Out of sheer desperation, I began the practice of getting down on my knees before my morning meditation, and praying to my higher power for guidance to find the strength and courage I needed to get my life back on track. Slowly but surely my morning prayer ritual began to bear fruit. I got back into my writing while beginning to regain my confidence as a speaker, and I consciously began to focus on the positive aspects of our new environment. My wife and I were eventually guided to relocate to Tucson, Arizona, where we are totally in love with both our beautiful desert home and the surrounding community.
Ways of Deepening Our Connection
Over the years I have found the following to be of help in deepening my connection with my higher power.
Prayer and Meditation
As part of my morning routine I’ve gotten into the habit of reading a brief inspirational passage, followed by listing five things that I am grateful for that day. I then spend several minutes in prayer before beginning my meditation.
If we’re not careful it is easy to fall into rote recitation of our prayers. My own experience has been that I feel the deepest sense of connection with my higher power when I say my prayers extemporaneously from the heart. It seems to work best to pray for guidance concerning whatever I deeply believe that I need help with. For example, if I am experiencing disharmony in communicating with my wife, rather than asking my higher power to bring harmony to our marriage, I ask for guidance concerning what steps I can take that day to fully nurture the bonds of love, trust and harmony in our relationship.
I am also learning that, for me, the most important part of prayer lies in listening to my higher power. As I say my prayers directly before my meditation, which is essentially a mind quieting and centering process, I often receive the guidance I am seeking during this period of quietude. I also attempt to follow the practice of learning to create spaces of quiet throughout the day that enable me to tune into that still, small voice within.
Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude
If I am learning anything as I grow older, it’s that we cannot truly appreciate anything that we take for gratitude. Let’s say, for example, that I begin my daily commute to work with the assumption that my drive will be free from any major traffic jams or other freeway hassles. Then when a morning comes along where I do encounter inclement weather and a major traffic jam, I most likely will become highly irritable. Furthermore, if I am not careful I will still be out of sorts when I reach my destination. Far better to be consciously grateful for those days when my drive to work is smooth sailing, and when I do run into a traffic snarl, to turn the radio to some relaxing music and appreciate that diversion.
Likewise, when I take my morning walk through the desert I can either keep checking my watch to determine how much more time I “should” be walking, or I can slow down and fully appreciate the sun rising over the mountains, the cacti that are coming into bloom, and the birds, jackrabbits and coyotes I pass along the way. Same destination, but a much more joyful journey.
I firmly believe that whenever we find ourselves getting upset or irritated, we should take a deep breath and consciously turn our attention to those aspects of the current situation that we can be genuinely grateful for. One of my favorite affirmations is: “My heart is filled with love and gratitude.”
Participating in a Community of Faith
Many people in recovery derive tremendous strength and support through the fellowship afforded by the meetings they attend. Many also choose to augment this through active participation in some form of organized spiritual community.
Three years ago when we moved to Arizona, my wife chose to return to her Catholic roots. While I do not closely identify myself with any particular form of organized religion, I decided to start attending mass to support her in re-embracing her chosen faith. Fortunately we linked up with a parish that has been blessed with four outstanding priests and a wonderful deacon who are truly coming from the heart. While I am not a Catholic and most likely will never officially identify myself with Catholicism (or any other form of organized religion), I look forward to the Sunday morning services as I draw tremendous strength and inspiration from them. I also welcome the opportunity to cultivate more deeply the qualities of gratitude, humility and loving service. Our church is also blessed with an outstanding choir and I will probably join them at some point in the near future.
In this column I have attempted to share with you some things that are working for me in deepening my relationship with my higher power. In the second and final installment I will share some practices that I find to be particularly helpful at those times when I experience a particularly acute need for guidance and protection from my higher power. Until next time—to your health!