Keep Coming Back

People new in recovery via 12-Step programs are exposed to a lot of new material: the steps and traditions of their fellowships, books, pamphlets, prayers and so on. They also are exposed to slogans: usually short statements that focus on an important point of sober living. Some of these have found their way into folk wisdom and some have been borrowed: “One Day at a Time,” “Easy Does It,” “Live and Let Live,” and “This Too Shall Pass.”

One of the earliest slogans a 12-Stepper hears – and hopefully follows – is “Keep Coming Back.” It’s intended to encourage recovering people to continue to attend meetings. At meetings is where they meet others whose experience can be help, where they learn more about their addiction and better choices they can make, where they find a sponsor and friends who will rally around them when things get rough, and learn how steps can be practiced in all their affairs. Attempts at recovery without “Coming Back” to meetings are likely to be failures, so “Keep Coming Back” is a very important slogan.

As they progress in their recoveries, 12-Steppers are encouraged to develop the disciplines of prayer and meditation. Meditation, it turns out, is another place to apply “Keep Coming Back;” however, in this case, the slogan is focused on how to meditate, not turn up at meetings.

In insight meditation, the goal is to grow in wisdom by understanding how the world really is. We do this by being mindful, or aware, of what goes on in and around us. We do this by formal practices, such as sitting and paying attention to the rise and fall of the feeling of the abdomen. We also do this by less formal practices such as being mindful of washing dishes, taking a shower, doing our work and walking. In all practices, we are interested in observing that all things are transient, unsatisfactory, and non-self.

However, and this is particularly true for new meditators, our mind has other ideas when we want to be mindful. It wants to daydream, worry, resent, replay a song heard earlier on the radio, and a lot of other things that don’t qualify as mindfulness of what we are doing. How can we address this?

What we do is apply that slogan “Keep Coming Back” as a meditation tool. When the mind wanders off, and we notice it, we gently turn the attention back to what it was we were supposed to be doing and carry on. When it wanders off again, and this can happen many times, we turn it back again. The important thing is not that the mind stays where we put it. What’s important is that we turn it back to where it belongs when it wanders.

The idea that one has to have still and tranquil meditation sessions to make progress simply isn’t true. The practice of “Keep Coming Back” in one’s meditation does set the stage for more calm. However, it also helps us to see early on in our practice that transience can apply to many things in mind and body – including concentration and mindfulness themselves.

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