What is higher power?
Often people who are in recovery can wrestle with the twelve-steps in the various programs of recovery. So before I outline the steps in Buddhism that my co-author and I have coined for my book Eight Step Recovery: Using the Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction, published in 2014. I want to reflect over the next few months how many of the concepts in the twelve steps tradition can be of great use in our lives.
Step Two. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Many people struggle with this step, because they are looking for some God, some divine external rescuer that will deal with all their issues. And some people just do not want to have anything with religion; and so if that is the case what can they do about higher power? Others deal with this by using nature, or even the 12 step group as their higher power, which is creative and helpful. But higher power does not have to be some almighty thing. If we stop and pause higher power will be with us everywhere we go, if we allow ourselves to be with our direct experience, if we allow ourselves to fully experience all feelings whether pleasant or unpleasant.
One of my teachers says: ‘Any feeling fully felt is blissful’, just imagine that? The writer Joan Tollifson says “being aware” or “being here Now,” fully present, paying attention, waking up from the entrancement in thought-stories and being awake to the bare actuality of Here / Now.” I believe this is all we need to do if we want to connect to higher power in our lives. Huh! Simple but not easy. Simply, it is higher power in action, restoring us to sanity in a Buddhist frame work by moving from a place of confusion and discontent to a place of calm, content and simplicity.
So higher power is simply being with all our feelings. When we begin to pay kind attention to ourselves – we naturally soften, open up and change. We become calmer, more relaxed and happier. And meditation is one of the ways to begin to be with all of our experience.
When we come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity we begin to recognize the changes in our lives. For example if we have had a regular meditation practice for a year it is likely the practices of mindfulness and loving kindness have brought about some calm, peace and positive emotion in our lives.
Reflect on the next two questions
- Remember what your mental states were like before you began meditating?
- What was your life like before meditation came into your life?
It is important to mark the changes in our lives, otherwise your life today may just seem normal. And perhaps it is? But was it always this way? So by recognizing change, we see how the higher power of impermanence can also restore our life to sanity. We let go of the old stories of who we are, and recognize how we have changed.
We may well have had a lot of change on our road to recovery, and are quite happy with how our life is. Higher Power may be doing wonderful things in our lives.
- Do we want to settle for what we have now?
- Or do we want to take our practice of change with us until we meet our demise?
- Are we clinging on to what we have?
- Attached to our new way of life?
Becoming attached to our new life is of course inevitable, especially if we are someone who has had an addiction that has overwhelmed us, and now that we are on the road of recovery, Higher Power is working more in our life. Our life going well is not the issue, or indeed having pleasurable experience is not the issue. In fact we need to fully embrace and lean into pleasurable experience. The issue is when we begin to cling on to our good life, when we begin to fear losing what we have, when we begin to push away the difficult things that arise in our life. When this happens, higher power is no longer working in our lives. We will be floundering in confusion and insanity.
Here is a short exercise to begin sitting with direct experience.
- What is it like when we pay attention to our breath?
- Is it rough, smooth, pleasant, unpleasant?
- What’s your feeling response?
Can you just sit and enjoy the experience that is happening right now?
And once the experience has passed away can you sit contentedly with the new experience?