From the Buddhist perspective of attachment, we’re all addicted to something. On some level, we are attached to what we think will make us happy and we have aversion to what will cause us suffering. The 12 Steps (originally from Alcoholics Anonymous) are a powerful set of tools to create recovery from any addiction. The wisdom of the 12 Steps can enlighten anyone—if we understand their essential principles. Check out the following 12 steps as tools to begin the journey to freedom from any addiction.
1. Practice Acceptance
For 30 seconds at a time, practice allowing everything in your world to be exactly as it is. Don’t try to change, grasp, or avoid any circumstance, thought, or emotion. Practice this with everyone you come in contact with. Look them in the eyes and say to yourself, “I accept you exactly as you are.” Try it in the mirror too.
2. Develop Confidence
Our lives can be confusing. The impermanence of money, relationships, jobs, and material possessions can cause us to feel like the world is unstable. We need to develop the skill of having faith or confidence in positive things. Make a list of five positive things that don’t change – like a mother’s love for her only child. Read it daily and add to it often.
3. Create a Place of Refuge
Our day-to-day lives are often stormy with changes and unexpected setbacks. We need to find shelter. Every day, find a quiet place to cultivate a feeling of safety. Set up a shelf in a corner of your home or office. Add flowers, gems, and images of spiritual people. Sit in this space every morning and evening. Take refuge there. Eventually, learn to take your refuge out into the world with you.
4. Make Time for Self-Examination
Instead of negative self-criticism, learn to evaluate objectively your strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of three things you do well, three that you could be better at, and three that definitely need improvement. Take into account feedback from parents, spouses, teachers, and employers over the course of your life. Where were they correct? Learn to ask yourself the question, “How am I doing in this moment?” Be gentle with yourself. Don’t use a hammer.
5. Set Up a Self-Honesty Team
All great people have a sense of self-honesty. In order to achieve it, we need to take the counsel of others. Find at least one, but no more than five people in your life whose advice you are willing to follow. Invite them to be on your spiritual/self-development management team. Read them your list of strengths and weaknesses once a week for a year.
6. Be Willing to Move Past Limitation
What are we really willing to do to move past our limitations? Make a list of everything you’ve ever wanted to achieve in life. Add to it all of the things people you admire have accomplished. Looking at our self-examination list, with input from our management team, evaluate how your strengths and weaknesses contribute to or hold you back from these types of achievements.
7. Cultivate a Sense of Humility
Learning the truth about ourselves is hard work. Staying aware of our truth in light of the constant changes in our lives takes humility and courage. Practice humility by admitting that you are not alone, need help along the path and are willing to follow advice. In your refuge practice, ask the universe for support to stay in this space of awareness and self-knowledge.
8. Have a Forgiveness Practice
We carry the burden of deep resentment on non-verbal levels deep in the core of our beings. Our bodies hold the pain, causing tension, stress, fatigue, and disease. How can we release it? Practice the exchange of self for others. In your meditation, spend a few minutes each day mentally offering all precious things to those whose forgiveness you desire—and especially to those who you have not forgiven. Do it daily—it works.
9. Give Back Where It’s the Hardest
We have all created negative energy with our attachments and aversions. Because of our actions and emotions we’ve caused some harm to others. No one is exempt from this. How can we make it up to the world? Thinking about the biggest problem your limitations have caused, try to make a life practice of giving back in that area. Take a volunteer position, write letters to prisoners, sponsor an animal shelter, join Volunteers of America. Make it a regular part of your week. Don’t skip!
10. Admit When You’re Wrong
On an ongoing basis we can practice all of the preceding principles in our daily lives. One good way to do this is to admit when we’re wrong. Being careful not to work in a self-defeating but in a self and other empowering way, practice the mantra, “I am wrong. I am wrong. I am wrong.” This will deflate the self-centered, fear based ego and open us up to new possibilities. Try it consistently for a month before switching back to, “I am right!”
11. Keep Your Spiritual Life Fresh
The old adage of stay green and grow is true. How can we keep our spiritual life fresh? Try all of these and invent some of your own. On at least a monthly basis, read a spiritual book, attend a seminars or workshop, go on a weekend retreat, listen to spiritual teachings, attend a prayer session, do group meditation, do some yoga—even at the gym. Consider all of this part of spiritual recovery.
12. Practice Unconditional Love Every Day
The Dalai Lama says that if we can’t be kind to others when the stuff hits the fan (I paraphrase) then our spiritual practice is of little value. We need to practice unconditional love every day with those we’re closest to. Working with some of the meditations above, imagine some of these people in our lives and visualize sending them infinite compassion and love in the form of your favorite colored light. Develop that feeling of compassion in meditation, then follow it up with actions based on benefiting others. Keep giving. No matter what.