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The 12 Steps and Mindful Parenting: Step 12

Spiritual awakenings are simpler and more available than you may think.

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The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. —Mahatma Gandhi

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of recognizing and celebrating beauty in broken things. Broken ceramics (bowls, cups, vases) are put back together with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. Rather than trying to hide it, practitioners visibly incorporate the repair into the object’s restoration, honoring and revering the damage rather than using it as an excuse to discard and replace the object. The process frequently results in something more extraordinary and precious than the original.

The process of 12-step recovery has much in common with Kintsugi in both intent and effect. Twelve-step recovery helps people who dedicate themselves to the process become strong in the places where they have been damaged. The 12 Steps create a framework for practicing new ways of relating to thoughts and emotions; generate healthier behaviors; support the application of spiritual principles such as acceptance, tolerance, open-mindedness, perseverance, humility, and gratitude; and prompt additional opportunities for conscious contact with that which is beyond oneself—of belonging to a greater whole, of connection to others, as well as to the world. All these benefits have spillover benefits for the quality of one’s parenting.

Step 12

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The 12 Steps provide a pathway to a gradual and progressive awakening of the spirit. In recovery, your spirit slowly awakens to new perspectives and possibilities each time you respond differently than you have in the past.

People tend to think of spiritual awakenings as spectacular instantaneously life-altering events, as sometimes seen in movies or described in books: a flash of lightning, the voice of God, or something along those lines. There may be times when a new conscious awareness comes upon you, or suddenly you understand something in a way you didn’t before. Although spiritual awakenings occasionally happen in a momentous, all-at-once sort of way, more often than not they occur subtly and incrementally over time.

Think of spiritual awakenings as growing to the point where you can see beyond the scope of your previously limited perspective—effectively “waking up” in areas where you previously were asleep or unconscious. They can be as simple as the realization that by accepting life as it unfolds rather than attaching to what you want and striving to avoid what you don’t, you can experience much more contentment. They can be as profound as recognizing that all people—in fact, all living things—are inextricably interconnected with one another and, therefore, deserve nothing less than compassion and empathy. They can also be as “ordinary” (though there’s really nothing ordinary about it) as noticing with greater conscious clarity the sound of the wind rustling through the trees, the magnificence of a sunrise, or the more quiet moments of connection with your children.

Every experience, no matter how mundane (think washing dishes or vacuuming), has spiritual potential. This potential is actualized when you slow down, anchor your conscious awareness in the present moment, and pay attention with intention. In fact, each time you wake up from a state of unconscious autopilot and become mindfully aware of your internal and external experience, you have an awakening of spirit. When you come to an understanding that your kids need and deserve your compassion and empathy, no matter how difficult and upsetting their attitude and behavior, it is a spiritual awakening.

Step 12 teaches that the most effective way to keep the quality of recovery you have and continue to build on it is to share it with others, to be of service by carrying on the message of recovery to others within your 12-step program. This emphasis on service is part of the bedrock of 12-step recovery as well as a cornerstone of spiritual growth. Service is any action that contributes directly or indirectly to the welfare of others. Its ethos is a connection with and responsibility to something beyond oneself. The emphasis on service forms part of the bedrock of 12-step recovery and is a cornerstone of spiritual growth. In giving to others what has been given to us, service allows us to pay back as well as pay forward.

Outside 12-step recovery, people can be of service to their families, friends, neighborhoods, community organizations, and social causes. Many people find greater meaning through being of service. This concept has been part of many spiritual traditions for centuries. In service, we discover an intriguing paradox: Through the act of giving, we receive, especially in parenting, one of the ultimate forms of service.

Step 12 asks you to strive to practice the principles of recovery in every area of life. The more difficult the situation, however, the more challenging it can be to do this. In the heat of stressful, emotionally charged circumstances, it can be hard to maintain an awareness that you don’t have to react immediately and impulsively, as if on auto-pilot. Mindfulness practices can create a space—however small—between the experience of what happens to you in the unfolding moments of your life and what you do with that experience. This brief pause in action and intensity can give you the flexibility to respond intentionally, so you can be more conscious and skillful, no matter what the circumstances.

Copyright 2020 Dan Mager, MSW

Dan Mager is the author of Roots and Wings: Mindful Parenting in Recovery and Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain.

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