Recovering the Heart: Twelve Steps from Self-Compassion to Living Compassion

Sobriety is about God. We find him there.

Reaching for the ultimate freedom from the bondage of addiction — a rigorous transition from near death to a life cultivated — keeps recovering addicts in the Steps. Becoming aware is our beginning, while the constant action of reaching keeps us in the process; meaning in recovery is limitless. Our life cycle might end but our spiritual evolution continues. We break free of devastating pain in addiction to arrive at our path. God is clever. He brings us home.

Understanding the 12 Steps is a simple necessity. Make it right with God in Steps One, Two and Three. Make it right with ourselves in Steps Four, Five and Six, and, finally, make it right with others in Steps Seven, Eight and Nine. Living compassion guarantees us freedom from a death-spin that had evolved from a biopsychosocial history of influences on what ultimately becomes our true, Genuine Self. Only God stops the “slow-motion suicide” called addiction.

When working with others, I focus on action. Even in the deepest world of despair, degradation and demoralization — so perfect for the Disease of Addiction — the light of Recovery warms us through understanding and keeps us safe through action. Our actions bring us to the source: our Higher Power, the Light. Without a transformative program of action, our spiritual journey is not possible. The simplest prayer is action. Our simple prayers connect us so that living compassion becomes our blissful state.

We value what we do and do what we value. Self-discipline is practice and training. We were experts at destroying our body, mind and emotions. What I discovered in Recovery, to my surprise, is that the spirit endures and it will never die. If only the Disease of Addiction knew this. Suffering is a spiritual torture, a tug-of-war between self-will and His will. No more rope-burns here. I finally let go. Suffering becomes merely an option to even the most resistant addict if Self Compassion is learned in the Steps. As we connect, perhaps again for some, to a God of our understanding in the Third Step, suffering begins to evaporate and gives way to an energy flow that is promised in Recovery. A restful state of mind and body develops that can only be interrupted by relapse. In this state, I practice the Self Compassion so skillfully described by Michael Ortiz Hill.

In my last book, Hug Me, My Daddy’s Not a Drug Addict, I give to others delicate, personal messages learned from my journey in Recovery and fatherhood. For our readers, I’m hopeful that we can all discover what “loving our fate” means, stay true to Self through action, teach others about being teachable and evolve through the 12 Steps of Living Compassion. Then, our spirits can wander almost like children playing, dreaming…living.

Freedom. ~By Brandon Beckman

God is Love, and whosoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in her. ~ 1 John 4:16

“Love is God, God Love”
That is all ye need to know on earth,
And all ye need to know. ~Homage to John Keats

Yet, it’s precisely within the contour of our shame that we are summoned to wholeness. “Even there, even there,” Psalm 39 tells u s— even in the darkest place we are known — yes, even there. ~Gregory Boyle

Love as much as you can from wherever you are with what you’ve got. That’s the best you can ever do. Remember it’s the process, not the content that counts. ~Zen teacher Cheri Huber

No creature ever falls short of its own completion,
Wherever it stands it never fails to cover the ground. ~Dogen Zenji, founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism

The Twelve Steps of Recovering the Heart

Step One
We admitted we were toxic with self-centeredness and our lives had become unmanageable.

Step Two
Came to believe that loving and being beloved could restore us to sanity.

Step Three
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to loving and being beloved as we understand it.

Step Four
Examined fearlessly all that has stood between us and the heart of compassion.

Step Five
Admitted to Love, to ourselves and to another human being, the exact nature of our heartlessness.

Step Six
Were entirely ready to have Love remove all of our resistances to loving.

Step Seven
Humbly asked Love to remove our shortcomings.

Step Eight
Made a list of all those we had harmed by heartlessness and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step Nine
Made direct amends to such beings whenever possible.

Step Ten
Continued fearlessly to examine our moment-to-moment failures of love, and when we missed the mark promptly admitted it.

Step Eleven
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with Love as we understand it, praying only for knowledge of Love’s will for us and the power to live it out.

Step Twelve
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to the loveless, and to live compassion with all that we meet.

When I was teaching the Craft of Compassion to doctors and nurses, it occurred to me that that this radiant and exacting path could be translated into the Twelve Steps.

Although I bottomed out as a homeless teenager, I have spent my life learning that the process of becoming clean and sober involves giving up one addiction after another, letting go of attachment after attachment – whether it be to substance or process – and shedding layer after layer of defenses that preserve the illusion of separation from Spirit, from others, from love. Sobriety is an ever-deepening process of letting go of the old life of dissociation and disconnection, and with the help of the Twelve Steps, moving into an unfamiliar and unknown new life of association and connection. In this journey, we come to understand that the ultimate addiction is not to any given substance or process, but to separateness, to a separate “me, myself, and I,” an entity that, ultimately, does not even exist.

To settle into this new life is to rest in the heart of compassion. The Twelve Steps are a guide to yielding to the Pervasive Presence of what is.

Step One is awakening to find ourselves in the prison of self-centeredness, which some enact in addiction. Steps Eleven and Twelve are the fulfillment of being Love-centered, the way of living compassion.

Living compassion is, in fact, freedom.

The intelligence of Love flows through the Twelve Steps.

“Nothing is as soft and yielding as water. Yet for dissolving the hard and the inflexible, nothing can surpass it,” says Lao tze. Dissolving is intermittently terrifying and liberating.

The following steps proceed through bearing witness to, and seeing through, the apparitions that try to solidify a self that no longer is. In this “twelve step book of the dead,” we proceed with rigorous honesty and heart to understand, and let go of, the distortions of our commitment to “me, myself and I.”

In Steps Two through Nine, we gather seeds for the upcoming harvest. The heart softens as we learn Self-Compassion, and through Self-Compassion, compassion for others.

The Buddha defines compassion with such clarity. Compassion, he says, is sympathetic joy and sympathetic sorrow — sorrow over another’s sorrow and delight over another’s delight.

In these steps your story is no longer a prison, but the school of transition where compassion is learned for real.

Steps Nine, Ten and Eleven are about becoming, for a new life of freedom and an unimpeded compassion beckons.

In Step Nine we make amends to those whom we harmed in our previous life of selfishness.

In Step Ten we step into radical empathy – seeing through another’s eyes.

In Step Eleven we refine our moment-by-moment practice of refining our conscious contact with Love.

In Step Twelve, we step across the threshold toward living compassion – the intent of extending compassion to ourselves and all that we meet. Here we see that we are not, nor have we ever been, the Source of compassion.

Compassion is a gift, pure and simple, and these Twelve Steps have well prepared us to receive the gift and pass it on.

“Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to…practice these principles in all of our affairs,” says Step Twelve, and we live compassion for all who suffer lovelessness.

English likes to nail things down with nouns. “Awakening” and “compassion” are verbs. Neither are possessions and both are the activity of gift-giving.

This path is the moment-by-moment practice of learning what compassion is — for ourselves and the world of suffering. We will fail, and forgive our failures, but in truth, “success” and “failure” don’t describe the practice we are in.

Everything instructs the heart.

A few notes on language and perspective in Recovering the Heart are in order.

I do not speak of a Higher Power, but of a Pervasive Presence — higher and lower, hither and thither and yon. Beneath every stone, in the flight of every bird, every word you read, every breath you take.

Not “Lord” — that feudal projection. And not “Father in Heaven” that makes “Him” so far away and unapproachable

The edifice of hierarchical language has bones in its basement. How many thousands of years can we presume that men are superior to women, humans to animals, God the Father altogether superior to everything? I much prefer to invoke, like the Sioux, mitakuye oyasin, “all my relations.”

Or at least bless the wild plurality of sacred ways.

Alpha and Omega yes — the snake does swallow its tale.

Right here and now is eternity.

And this nowness, this Pervasive Presence, is Love.

Love is the Pervasive Presence of the Infinite. This is not about reducing God to a Divine aspect. God is whole and intact in every gesture of love.

Throughout this book Love — italicized, capitalized — means simultaneously God.

My renditions of the Twelve Steps are about turning our wills and our lives over to Love.

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