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Exercise, not accomplishment

A friend in Program says:

Steps 10 and 11 offer, among other things, complementary ways of engaging ourselves in identical tasks -- tasks which are undertaken, not because they can be done perfectly, but because they can by their nature never be done perfectly.

On the face of it, Step 10 -- the process of monitoring our thoughts, feelings, and actions -- is done so that we will ultimately get to the point of never thinking, feeling, or saying things that are judgmental, negative, or hurtful. But a moment's reflection will show us that this cannot possibly be the goal of working Step 10, simply because it will never happen. We can never reach a point where our selfish thoughts, feelings, and actions will cease. The entire reason for doing Step 10 is not that it can be done perfectly but that it can never be done perfectly. It's a spiritual exercise, not a spiritual accomplishment.

Interestingly, Step 11 works exactly the same way. On the face of it, meditation is about calming our thoughts to the point where we can focus on one and only one thing -- our breath, or that mark on the wall, or that verse of the Bible, or loving-kindness to all. But that can never actually be achieved. In fact, one of the "breakthroughs" we can make in practicing Step 11 is that it is not about prayerful or meditative focus on one point, but precisely on the movement of our concentration between that point and some irrelevant thought or feeling about yesterday and tomorrow. It's about our engagement in the process of losing our focus and re-gaining it -- not about being lost in 100% contemplation.

A local priest was asked about the role of ritual in her faith. She replied, "Oh, we don't do it because we do it well. We do it as a reminder to ourselves that we can never do it or anything else completely right, no matter how hard we try."

"The spiritual life is never one of achievement:
it is always one of letting go."

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