Best 12-Step Meditation Books
As the title indicates, this is a list of the best 12-Step meditation books. There are a lot of meditation books; few are 12-Step centered. Most are of the self-help variety. Hazelden, the leading recovery publisher, puts out dozens of them. That’s what I read the first 16 years of my recovery, books like The Promise of a New Day, Each Day a New Beginning, Touchstones, Night Light, and The Reflecting Pond.
These books helped a little. I occasionally quote from them in the pages of this site. But they didn’t help enough. They didn’t help me work the Steps. They didn’t help me grow. So I stopped reading them. But that wasn’t until the end of a six-year emotional relapse, when I finally hit bottom and realized I needed something else.
Seven years or so later I started reading Daily Reflections. I had picked it up in 1996 at an AA meeting in Villisca, Iowa (my thanks to Junior K.), but had subsequently put it on the shelf. Feeling a need for more 12-Step based meditations, I started on Twenty-Four Hours a Day. Another four years later I added One-Day at a Time in Al-Anon, followed by Al-Anon’s Courage to Change, and in more recent years NA’s Just for Today. I also started using As Bill Sees It for daily meditations. Though that book had helped to keep me sober my first few months in sobriety, I had also laid it aside afterwards.
I use these six books daily. Daily Reflections and As Bill Sees It help keep me on the AA beam. The books from the other fellowships help me see the 12 Steps from other recovery perspectives, offering me the benefit of the considerable and diverse experience with the Steps which has accrued since AA was founded back in 1935. Those AAs who are dually-addicted or have an alcoholic in their lives will readily appreciate the value of using these other books.
The main purpose of meditation (as of prayer) as explained in Step 11 of the Big Book and the 12&12 is to improve our conscious contact with God so that we may learn of his will for us and find the power to carry it out. Thus the need for meditation texts which are founded on the spiritual principles of the 12 Steps, which are substantive enough to allow for deep and sustained reflection, and which can continue to inspire and yield insights day in and day out over the years.
To varying degrees, the books meet these standards. However, they are far from perfect. Perhaps better ones will come along. But for now they are, for me, the best we have.
A note on indexing: though the books all have indexes, repeated readings will reveal that these are not necessarily accurate or comprehensive. I have often had to supplement them with my own entries.
Paperback, 384 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (1990)
Subtitled “a book of reflections by A.A. members for A.A. members,” Daily Reflections is AA’s “official” book of meditation. Each dated page starts with a quote from the Big Book, the 12&12, As Bill Sees It, A.A. Comes of Age, Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, and other approved works. This is followed by a reflection by an AA member. Generally, each month's quotes and reflections revolve around the Step and Tradition which coincide numerically with that month (e.g., April is Step and Tradition 4). The reflections are based on the AA member’s experience. Sometimes they shed light on the quote, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they reflect the program, sometimes the member’s personal opinions or beliefs. Being able to reflect and discern which is which forms part of the meditation process, and as such can be of benefit to us. Sometimes it will force us to examine our own understanding of the quote; sometimes to go back and look at the quote in context and see exactly what its message is. This is time well spent. Though “official,” it should be clear that only the book’s introductory quotes reflect the AA program. The meditations themselves reflect the personal experience or opinions of the individual AA member.
Twenty-four Hours a Day
Hardcover, 400 pages, Hazelden (1975) [ISBN-10: 0894860127; ISBN-13: 978-0894860126]
Paperback, 400 pages, Hazelden (1992) [ISBN-13: 978-0894868344; ISBN-10: 0894868349]
Initially published in 1948, Twenty-Four Hours a Day is the original recovery meditations book, the first based on the 12 Steps of AA. It launched Hazelden into the publishing business in 1956, and remains a best seller today. Organizationally, the book is a model of simplicity. Each page has three sections: AA Thought for the Day, Meditation for the Day, and Prayer for the Day. The three sections generally form a thematic whole. The first introduces a theme and concludes with a question which refocuses the reader’s attention on a main idea within that theme. The second moves one or more ideas in the theme to the level of sustained meditation. The third prays that an ideal or aspiration contained in the thought or meditation may become a practical reality in one’s own person and life. Thought, meditation, and prayer form a harmonious spiritual continuum which engages head, heart, and imagination, and allows for deep spiritual reflection and contemplation. The classic model is found in the St. Francis Prayer in Step 11 of AA’s 12&12, published seven years later. Warning: there are a number of books with the same title, so pay attention to the above ISBNs. See “The Little Black Book,” in Ray’s Book Reviews, on this site.
As Bill Sees It
Hardcover, 345 pages, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (1967)
As Bill Sees It is a collection of brief excerpts taken mostly from the Big Book, the 12&12, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Bill’s letters, and articles he published in the Grapevine. Excerpts are organized by topic in a handy “Discussion and Reading Guide”: Acceptance, Guilt, Humility, Surrender, Tolerance, and so on. In the rooms, the book is used for topic meetings. A volunteer usually chooses a reading and that becomes the topic for discussion. We can also use it for individual reflection, zeroing in on a particular issue we are having trouble with (e.g., fear or anger) or a particular principle we want to reflect on (e.g., gratitude or willingness). I did that for many years and still do it today. For some years now I’ve also been using as a book of daily meditations, having dated the pages starting with January 1 on page 1 and ending with November 28 on page 332.
One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
Hardcover, 367 pages, Al Anon Family Group Headquarters (1987)
First printed in 1973, One Day at a Time in Al-Anon (ODAT), is the first meditations book published by a 12-Step fellowship, antedating AA’s Daily Reflections by some 17 years. Each page starts with a reflection, followed by “Today’s Reminder” and a quote. The reflections are written mostly in the first person plural (“we”) and reflect group experience. Sometimes they reflect a particular member’s experience and are written in the first person singular(“I”). In either case, they are consistently based on 12 Step principles and illustrate how we can practice those principles in various types of situations. They are typically fairly well thought out and expressed. “Today’s Reminder” is invariably written in the first person and provides a more specific application of the reflection’s main idea. The concluding quote generally sums up that main idea, drawing from a variety of sources, both ancient and contemporary. The book is intended for those who have an alcoholic in their lives, whether active or recovering. That of course includes many of us who are in recovery. Even when it doesn’t, however, the material can help us reflect on the role that we play on other people’s lives from their perspective, a necessary angle from which to look at ourselves. It can also give us a broader view of the 12 Steps.
Courage to Change
Hardcover, 380 pages, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters (1992)
Published 19 years after One Day at a Time in Al-Anon (ODAT), Courage to Change was intended to reflect the changing membership of the fellowship. The format remains the same as in the ODAT: a reflection, “Today’s Reminder,” and a quote. However, the book has a more contemporary tone and idiom. Unlike its predecessor, most of the selections are written in the first person singular (“I”), reflecting individual member experience. That remains the pattern with “Today’s Reminder.” The quotes are drawn from a greater variety of sources, both ancient and modern, also reflecting the fellowship's changing composition. Nevertheless, the principles remain the same, as does the spiritual perspective they reflect. This makes the book a worthy accompaniment to the ODAT.
Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts
Paperback, 389 pages, Narcotics Anonymous (Revised edition, 1992)
Just for Today is the official daily meditation book of Narcotics Anonymous (NA). It draws on the contributions of hundreds of NA members over the course of five years. The book is intended for group as well as individual use, with some groups reading the day’s meditation at their meetings or making it the topic of discussion. The entries are organized by the month but do not coincide numerically with the Step for that month. Each page is headed by a title for the day’s main theme (“Eyeglasses and Attitudes,” October 11), followed by a quote from NA’s Basic Text (its equivalent of the Big Book) which introduces the theme, a “we” reflection written which develops it, and a Just for Today concluding statement in the first person singular (“I”) which makes it personal and practical.
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