What is higher power?

ray of light shining down from behind a cloud, onto a lake

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?

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8 Comments. Leave new

  • Meditation is for the now. It gives us the power to deal comfortably with intimidating thoughts about handling future temptations.

  • 8 or 12 steps is just a practice of idiot compassion for people addicted to pleasure. Telling me its a disease is idiot compassion that takes away my power and Personal responsability and gives me an excuse to relapse. Quitting drugs and alcohol takes just one step: a decision to quit.
    Please google AVRT.

  • if 12 steps work for people then that’s great, if its meditation, mindfulness, Buddhism or whatever if it leads them out of a life of suffering then surely that’s a good thing. Quitting drugs and alcohol does just take the decision to stop, and when stopped sometimes a little bit of work is needed on oneself to stay stopped. Too many people are too ready to have an opinion on what works best and what is the best way….if its a disease or not a disease….jees if people get a way out of addiction using any of the ways…12 step…Buddhism…Christianity….nature….earth wind or fire blah blah blah……then surely its the persons choice and if it works for them then fan fucking tastic way hay.

  • Hi Will thanks for your comments. I have checked the who piece and I can not find anywhere, where I am telling you addiction is a disease…. I will admit – I do believe addiction is a dis-ease of the mind – which is different from the word disease – but I don’t even mention that either. I did look up AVRT — and interestingly it has taken ideas from Buddhism and created a path to recovery – which is great. I am do something similar – and choose to put the Buddhist teachings in the frame work of steps – as Buddhism is full of many lists. In the end of the day different things will work for different people. Which is why it is important there is something more than the 12 step tradition. with kindness Vimalasara

  • what is the difference Between meditation and chanting. it is known the universe is permeated by sound that is why all things but humans move in rythm. Meditation is quiet so, how does it permiate the universe ?

  • I know this is a late reply @will, but id still like to submit the below info for his consideration. As an alcoholic addict in recovery, I have some experience in this domain. And thank you Vilmalasara for the service you’re offering!

    “The American Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Medical Association both maintain extensive policy regarding alcoholism. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes the existence of “alcoholism” as the equivalent of alcohol dependence. The American Hospital Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American College of Physicians classify “alcoholism” as a disease.”

  • I can assure you Will no addiction is “pleasurable”. I agree you need to decide to quit. But it’s not that simple for most addicts. It’s what they have lived with for years…
    “seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”
    If meditation, religion, rehab, AA, cold turkey or standing on your head helps an addict then who are you to judge?
    You don’t know what that person has been through and how much they have struggled. Alot people lack compassion

  • […] for is given to you unquestionably and abundantly without cost. So, it’s important to choose your Higher Power carefully. You ask with every thought you generate. Understand that we ask on a series of levels […]


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