NA Step 11


“We 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.”

—Step Eleven

Step Eleven says that we already have a conscious contact with the God of our understanding, and that the task before us now is to improve that contact. We began to develop our conscious awareness of a Higher Power in Step Two, learned to trust that Power for guidance in Step Three, and relied on that Power many times for many other reasons in the process of working through the steps. Each time we called upon our Higher Power for help, we improved our relationship with our Higher Power. Step Eleven recognizes that reaching out to the God of our understanding, referred to most simply as prayer, is one of the most effective means for building a relationship with God. The other means put forth in this step is meditation. In this step, we will need to explore our own concepts of prayer and meditation, and make sure they reflect our spiritual path.

Our Own Spiritual Path

The Eleventh Step allows us the opportunity to find our own spiritual path, or further refine our path if we’ve already embarked on one. The steps we take toward finding or refining our path, and the way we walk down it, will depend to a large degree on the culture in which we live, previous experiences with spirituality, and what best suits our personal nature.

Our spirituality has been developing since we first came to NA. We are constantly changing, and so is our spirituality. New territory, new people, and new situations have their effect on us, and our spirituality needs to respond.

Exploring our spirituality in the Eleventh Step is a wonderful and illuminating experience. We will be exposed to many new ideas, and we’ll find that many of these new ideas come directly from our own knowledge of spiritual matters. Because we’ve developed a frame of reference about spirituality in the previous ten steps, we find that our insight has grown along with our capacity to comprehend new information about ourselves and our world. Spiritual exploration is wide open, and we will learn and find personal truths both in our concentrated efforts to understand more and in the most mundane details of our lives.

Many of us find that when we get to NA, we really need to “change Gods.” Some of us believed in something we vaguely referred to as “God,” but we didn’t really understand anything about it except that it seemed to be out to get us. We probably did some work in Steps Two and Three aimed at uncovering unhealthy ideas about our Higher Power, and then we tried to form some new ideas that allowed for a loving, caring Higher Power. For many of us, simply believing that we had a Higher Power that cared about us as individuals was enough to get us through the following steps. We didn’t feel any need to develop our ideas any further.

But our ideas were developing anyway, even without our conscious effort. Each specific experience with working the steps provided us with clues about the nature of our Higher Power. We sensed truths about our Higher Power rather than understanding them intellectually. The moment we sat down with our sponsor to share our Fifth Step, many of us were suddenly filled with a quiet certainty that we could trust our sponsor, trust this process, and go forward; this was a moment in which many of us felt the presence of our Higher Power. This, along with the work we did in Steps Eight and Nine, implanted in many of us a growing awareness of our Higher Power’s will for us.

• What experiences have I had with the previous steps or elsewhere in life that gave me some inkling of what my Higher Power is like? What did I come to understand about my Higher Power from those experiences?
• What qualities does my Higher Power have? Can I use those qualities for myself—can I experience their transformative power in my life?
• How has my understanding of a Higher Power changed since coming to NA?

These clues about the nature of our Higher Power are perhaps the primary factor in determining our spiritual path. Many of us have found that the spiritual path of our childhood doesn’t mesh with the truths we are finding within the steps. For instance, if we sense that God is vast and open, and the spirituality we have been exposed to in the past suggested that God was confined and confining, we’re probably not going to return to our earlier path. If we sense that our Higher Power cares in a very personal and individual way about each one of us, a belief system that presents a distant, unknowable, alien force may not work for us.

While some need to take a new path, others have found that just the opposite is true: that what we are discovering in the steps can be explored in more depth through the spiritual path of our childhood. It’s possible that, through our step work, we’ve healed resentments we may have held against religious institutions, and as a result are able to return to those institutions with an open mind. For others, the religion of our childhood was little more than a place to hang out, a community to which we had a sentimental connection. In recovery, we begin to see how we can use our religion as our personal spiritual path.

It bears emphasizing that we should never confuse religion with spirituality. In NA, they are not the same thing at all. Narcotics Anonymous itself is not a religion. It offers a set of spiritual principles, and uses a concept referred to as “God,” a “Higher Power,” or a “Power greater than ourselves” for members to use as a path out of active addiction. The spiritual principles and the concept of a Higher Power can go along with a member’s personal spiritual path that he or she follows outside of
NA, or those principles and the concept of a Higher Power can serve as a spiritual path all by themselves. It’s up to each member.

Some of us get to this point, and we just don’t know. The institutions we’ve been involved with in the past hold no answers, but we can’t think of anything that sounds like a better idea. For those with this experience, this is the point at which we embark on one of the most important journeys in our lives: the search for a way to understand a Higher Power. In this process, we are likely to visit every place that has anything to do with spirituality that’s available in our community. We’re also likely to read a great number of books concerned with spirituality and personal growth, and talk to a great number of people. We may commit for a time to any number of practices before settling on one—or we may never really settle on any one practice permanently. It Works mentions that many of our members adopt an “eclectic approach” to spirituality. If this applies to us, it’s important to know that doing this is okay and will serve the spiritual needs of recovery just fine.

• Do I have a specific spiritual path?
• What are the differences between religion and spirituality?
• What have I done to explore my own spirituality?

As we explore our spiritual path, and perhaps pick up and discard various spiritual practices, some of us are troubled by what seems to be an inherent bias in NA’s steps and traditions when God is referred to as having a male gender. Even more painful, some of us may feel that we don’t have much support within our local NA community for our spiritual choices and exploration. It’s important for us to understand that the language of NA’s recovery literature is not meant to determine a member’s spirituality. It’s also important for us to understand that we as addicts have character defects, and sometimes some of our members will act on theirs by ridiculing someone else’s spiritual path. They may even quote NA recovery literature to “support” such ridicule. Again, NA itself has no “official” or “approved” spiritual path, and any member who claims otherwise is, quite simply, wrong. We mention this here because we believe it’s very important for all of our members to know what’s true and not true about NA when working the Eleventh Step. It can be a dangerous time. If members follow a spiritual path, and feel unwelcome in NA because of it, their recovery can be in jeopardy. We as members have a duty to encourage the spiritual explorations of other members, and we who are exploring need to know that we can look wherever we want for our spirituality without threatening our membership in NA.

• Have I encountered any prejudice in Narcotics Anonymous while exploring my spirituality? How did that make me feel? What have I done to adhere to my beliefs?

It’s essential that we don’t let our spiritual path take us away from the fellowship. Our Basic Text reminds us that “it is easy to float back out the door on a cloud of religious zeal and forget that we are addicts with an incurable disease.” We need to always remember that we need Narcotics Anonymous in order to deal with our addiction. Anything else we add to our lives can enhance their quality, but nothing can take the place of NA recovery. As long as we continue practicing the basics of recovery—such as going to meetings regularly, staying in contact with our sponsor, and working with newcomers—we shouldn’t have to worry about drifting away.

• No matter what spiritual path I am following, am I still keeping up my involvement with NA?
• How does my involvement in NA complement my spiritual journey?
• How does my spiritual path contribute to my recovery?

Prayer and Meditation

Members of NA often describe prayer as talking to God, and meditation as listening to God. This description has been part of the collective wisdom of NA for a long time because it captures the distinct meanings of prayer and meditation so well. We are building a relationship with our Higher Power, and we need to have a dialogue with that Power, not merely a monologue aimed in its direction.

Prayer is talking to our Higher Power, though not always in the form of actual speech. We worked on developing a form of prayer that felt right to us in the Second Step. We may find by now that we’ve further refined our approach to prayer to fit with our spiritual path. One of the forms of prayer in which virtually every NA member engages is the closing or opening prayer said at most NA meetings. Ultimately, the manner in which we pray is up to us as individuals.

How often should we pray? Many of us set aside a specific time in our day—the beginning is fairly common—to pray. These prayers usually involve asking our Higher Power for another day clean or, as we will explore more fully later in this chapter, knowledge of God’s will for us. When we communicate with our Higher Power at the end of our day, it is usually to express gratitude. Many of us try to incorporate prayer throughout our day. It is very good practice to pray regularly. It helps us form a habit of communicating with our Higher Power that may save our recovery some day.

• How do I pray?
• How do I feel about praying?
• When do I usually pray? When I am hurting? When I want something? Regularly?
• How is it helpful to use spontaneous prayer throughout the day?
• How does prayer help me put things in perspective?

If this is our first experience with the Eleventh Step, we may be surprised to learn we’ve already been meditating, and doing so on a regular basis. Each time we stand as a community at a meeting and observe a moment of silence, we are meditating.

It is from such beginnings that we go on to build a pattern of regular meditation. There are many different ways we can go about meditating, but its usual goal is to quiet the mind so that we can gain understanding and knowledge from our Higher Power. We try to minimize distractions so that we can concentrate on knowledge arising from our own spiritual connection. We try to be open to receiving this knowledge. It’s essential that we understand that such knowledge is not necessarily, or even usually, immediate. It builds in us gradually as we continue to practice regular prayer and meditation. It comes to us as a quiet sureness of our decisions and a lessening of the chaos that used to accompany all our thoughts.

• How do I meditate?
• When do I meditate?
• How do I feel about meditating?
• If I have been meditating consistently for some time, in what ways have I seen changes in myself or my life as a result of meditating?

Conscious Contact

To many of us, “conscious contact” sounds like something very mysterious, implying some kind of cosmic union with God. But it’s really very simple. It just means that we have a conscious awareness of our link to a Higher Power. We notice the presence of that Power, and see some of the ways it works in our life. There are so many ways our members have experienced the presence of a loving God: when we experience something in nature, such as a forest or an ocean; through the unconditional love of our sponsor or other NA members; through the feeling of being anchored during difficult times; through feelings of peace and warmth; through a coincidence that later on we see as having led to some great good; through the simple fact of our recovery in NA; through our ability to listen to others at a meeting; and countless other means. The point is that we are looking, and we are willing to acknowledge that our Higher Power is active in our lives.

• In what circumstances do I notice the presence of my Higher Power? What do I feel?
• What am I doing to improve my conscious contact with the God of my understanding?

God’s Will

The knowledge that has been building in us as we’ve prayed and meditated is the essence of God’s will for us. The whole purpose of praying and meditating is to seek knowledge of a Higher Power’s will for us and, of course, the power to carry it out. But the first thing to do is to identify God’s purpose for our lives.

It takes a large amount of open-mindedness to begin to understand God’s will for us. Many of us find that it is easier to identify what is not God’s will for us than what is. This is absolutely fine; in fact, this is a great starting point that can lead us to more specific knowledge of God’s will for us. First of all, and obviously, it is not God’s will for us to relapse. We can extend this simple fact to conclude that acting in ways that might lead us to relapse are also not God’s will for us. We don’t need to become overly analytical about this and start questioning whether our daily routines could possibly lead to us relapsing; it’s really much easier than that. We use all of the knowledge about ourselves and our patterns that we gained from the work we did in Steps Four through Nine, and we try our very best to avoid destructive patterns. We’ll discover that we no longer have the luxury of consciously acting out. We can’t deal with a situation by thinking, “Oh, I’ll just be manipulative this one time, and then I’ll write about it later, work with my sponsor, and make amends.” If we do such a thing, we’re not only on very dangerous ground, we’re making a conscious and deliberate decision to go against God’s will. There will be many, many times when we act on defects unconsciously. It is our consciousness and willingness to be deliberately destructive in this situation that are the real cause for concern.

In the Third Step, we explored the fine line that divides humble and honest pursuit of our goals from subtle manipulation and forced results. Now, with the experience we have gained in the intervening steps, we are much better equipped to spot that line and stay on the right side of it. As we go after the things we want, we need to continuously gauge our distance from that line. For instance, we may decide we want to be in a romantic relationship. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided we are spiritually motivated and keep track of the line between God’s will and self-will. If we lie to make ourselves seem more attractive, or become chameleons, we’re acting on self-will. If we honestly express who we are, we’re more likely to be pursuing God’s will. If we’re trying to change our potential partner in a relationship into something he or she is not, we’re acting on self-will. If, on the other hand, we’ve already determined what we want in a partner and the person we’re seeing seems to be matching that vision without our intervention, we’re probably living in God’s will. That’s how we tell whether a relationship is God’s will for us or not. Or say we want a college education. Are we willing to cheat on a test to get it? Doing such a thing would turn an otherwise worthy goal into an act of self-will. The avoidance of acting on self-will is the primary reason we pray only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

• What are some situations I can identify from my own life where I acted on self-will? What were the results?
• What are some situations I can identify from my own life where I tried to align my will with God’s will? What were the results?

As it says in It Works: How and Why, “God’s will for us is the ability to live with dignity, to love ourselves and others, to laugh, and to find great joy and beauty in our surroundings. Our most heartfelt longings and dreams for our lives are coming true. These priceless gifts are no longer beyond our reach. They are, in fact, the very essence of God’s will for us.” Our personal vision of God’s will for us is revealed in how our lives might be if we were consistently living with purpose and dignity. For instance, it is a good expression of purpose to help others stay clean and find recovery. The individual ways we go about doing that—sponsorship, sharing with newcomers at meetings, carrying the message into institutions, working with professionals to develop programs that will lead addicts to NA—are our choice.

• What are some examples of how I live with purpose and dignity?
• What is my vision of God’s will for me?

The Power to Carry That Out

In addition to praying for knowledge of God’s will for us, we’re also asking for the power to carry out that will. In this context, power doesn’t refer only to forceful qualities. There are many different qualities we may need to carry out our Higher Power’s will: humility, a sense of compassion, honesty, integrity, or an ability to persevere and the patience to wait for results over a long period. A strong sense of justice and an ability to be assertive might be what’s called for in a certain situation. Sometimes eagerness is required, and other times only a sense of caution will do. Courage and fortitude are qualities that we will often be called upon to display. Sometimes the best quality to promote God’s will is a sense of humor.

Most likely we will need all of these qualities at various times in our lives. When we pray for the power to carry out God’s will for us, we probably won’t know exactly what qualities we need. We have to trust that the ones we need will be provided. It may be tempting for us to demand from our Higher Power the things we think we need, but we usually can’t see the “big picture” or the long-term effects of something that seems very reasonable at the moment.

• Why do we pray only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out?
• How does humility apply to this?

Spiritual Principles

In the Eleventh Step, we will focus on commitment, humility, courage, and faith. We need to make a commitment to the practice of regular prayer and meditation. Many of us find that our first experiences with prayer and meditation have us feeling kind of silly. We glance around the room to see if anyone is looking, and wonder just what we’re supposed to be feeling, anyway. As we continue with our commitment, this feeling will pass, as will the ensuing feelings of frustration when the results aren’t what we expect, and the boredom that sets in when the things we’re doing become routine. The point is that we need to continue, no matter how we feel about it. The long-term results of peace of mind and a deeper relationship with our Higher Power are worth waiting for.

• How do I show my commitment to working the Eleventh Step and to my recovery?
• Have I prayed and meditated today?

The often-heard warning to “Be careful what you pray for!” captures the kind of humility we need to practice in this step. We simply need to acknowledge that we don’t always know what’s best for us—or for anyone else. That’s why we ask for knowledge of God’s will for us.

• Have I ever prayed for a specific thing and then wished I didn’t have it after all? Expand on this.

There’s nothing that requires as much courage as trying to live according to our Higher Power’s will when there’s frequent pressure not to. Not everyone in our lives will be delighted that we’ve chosen to live our lives in a spiritual way. We may have family members who are used to us living according to their will and want us to continue. Our growth threatens them.

Or say we’re with some friends who are gossiping. Our efforts to live the program have resulted in us becoming uncomfortable with participating in gossip, yet we don’t want to be self-righteous and start moralizing with our friends. Merely refraining from participating in something like this requires courage. We may lose some friends as we grow spiritually.

Almost all of us face some situation in life where we are either being asked to participate in something that is morally reprehensible or just keep quiet about it and allow it to happen. It may be that the truly courageous course of action is to protest loudly, and doing so may have severe consequences for us. What we do at such a time is a defining moment, and may very well affect the choices we make for the rest of our lives.

• Have I ever been faced with a situation that required me to stand up for my beliefs at some personal cost? How did I respond? What were the results?

The principle of faith will help us to practice the principle of courage and live our lives with integrity. We need not be so afraid of losing friends or having relationships change or even having our lives profoundly affected because we know that we’re being cared for. We have faith that if we have to let go of old friends because what they’re doing is unhealthy for our spiritual development, we’ll form new relationships with people whose values we share. Basically, we need to have faith that we’ll be given the power to carry out our Higher Power’s will.

• Have I, so far, been given what I need? What have I received?

Moving on

Our practices in this step show up in every area of our lives. From the regular practice of meditation, we may notice that we are able to listen more attentively to what others have to say in meetings. We have some experience with quieting our minds and so are able to do so in many places. We no longer find ourselves so consumed with planning what we’ll say when it’s our turn that we are unable to listen to others.

We begin to be satisfied with our lives. We no longer feel such an urgency to control things. We’re focused on a higher purpose instead of on ourselves. Our regrets begin to disappear. Our active addiction no longer seems like such a tragedy and a waste as we see how we can use that experience to serve a higher purpose: carrying the message to the addict who still suffers. In Step Twelve, we will explore some ways of doing that, and see how practicing the principles of recovery is essential to such an effort.