The twelfth step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests we "practice these principles in all our affairs." In prayer and meditation, our work with others, and meetings we are able to be present and work our spiritual program. However, the majority of our days are spent in the real world. It is much more difficult for us to work our programs in daily life, and we must remain vigilant.
A fundamental tool we have for practicing the principles in our lives is to remain mindful. When we are truly present, focused on what we are doing in the moment, we are able to see more clearly our own actions and thoughts. With mindfulness, we are able to be conscious of our spiritual practice. Whether we are meditating, walking, or working, we always have the potential to be mindful. People hear the word meditation, and most commonly think of a formal sitting meditation. Meditation means, "To focus one's thoughts." Recognizing where we currently are physically, emotionally, and mentally is focusing one's thoughts.
One of the first thing we often notice when practicing this mindfulness is the arising of thoughts and emotions. We begin to notice more frequently anxiety, fear, resentment, etc. This can be painful, but leads to great insight. As we recognize our emotions and thoughts, we take some of their power away. Sometimes we feel that we are suffering but not exactly sure why. This is because the emotions and thoughts are being pushed down and eventually build up. When we are mindful and recognize them, we are able to prevent them from controlling us so much. Simply recognizing to ourselves, "I feel anxious" has tremendous power. Speaking about it with somebody else is even more powerful.
The Quality of Our Actions
Our thoughts and emotions drive our actions. When we become aware of the feelings and thoughts, we see the actions that follow them. We must ask ourselves many times throughout the day where our actions are coming from. Are they coming from a place of love? Of fear? Of anger? Of compassion? When we recognize where our actions are coming from, we gain insight into our true nature. The principles we are working to practice become more visibile to us, and we gain judgement in our actions.
A big part of looking at the quality of our actions is how we speak. Speaking accounts for the majority of our communication with others, not just what we say, but how we say it. Remaining mindful of our speech, we often say things and are able to see where in the heart or mind they came from. With this knowledge, we are able to work on these thoughts and feelings, or at least on not acting (speaking) on them. We check if our words are helpful, true, and loving or if they are vengeful, jealous, or harsh.
Along with the actual quality of our actions, we also must investigate our true intentions. Sometimes we do "good" things with bad intentions, or we make mistakes when our intentions are pure. When we notice resentful, selfish, or averting intentions arise, we must recognize them, for if we don't we will act on them. When we perform a good deed, we also must gently praise ourselves for keeping pure intentions.
Being Gentle with Ourselves
When we find ourselves making a mistake or acting in an unwholesome manner, we must be accountable. We cannot afford to let ourselves get away with everything; we must deal with our mistakes before they deal with us. However, there is a gentle way to go about this. We must practice the principle of compassion with ourselves in these cases. Everyone makes mistakes, and they truly are opportunities to learn. If we hurt others, we must make amends promptly. We also must make amends to ourselves by diligently working to change the behavior.
It truly is not easy to practice these principles in the fast-paced world where not everyone is working a spiritual program. However, this is not an excuse to behave poorly. It is a true test of our abilities and growth.