The Big Book Races

I recently changed my morning reading habits a bit. For the past few years I’ve been depending mostly on meditation books that were broken down into relatively small pieces, and reading other inspirational (or whatever) books in larger chunks.

This year I picked out two books in addition to the one I’ve been using for a couple of years–books not laid out in a daily reading format–and determined to treat them the same way, taking them in small, easily digestible chunks and then meditating on those readings, instead of trying to cram my head full as has been my habit for most of my life.

I read a few pages at most, stopping at what seems a reasonable point. Sometimes I read only a few paragraphs; on one occasion, only a couple of sentences. I find that I’m getting far more out of the basic text of one of my fellowships, for example, than I ever got when reading a chapter at a time. Cutting it into small chunks makes it far easier to digest and see how it applies to me. It seems that I do better with less to think about, rather than more; with small ideas, rather than big chunks. (In fact the eating/chewing/digesting analogy seems to fit perfectly, now that I think of it.)

This leads me to a problem that I’ve had with “big book” and similar meetings since back in the Dark Ages. In most groups I’ve attended, the tendency seems to be for successive people to read a couple of paragraphs then pass it on to the next member, who then reads a couple or three paragraphs, and so on. Finally, if there’s any time left, folks share about whatever snippets they have been able to remember from the mass of information. Even one meeting that I attend semi-regularly, where members are encouraged to read and then share about what they’ve read, seems to devolve automatically into the Big Lump format.

I contend that is mostly a waste of time that could be better spent.

The first Big Book meeting I attended, when I’d just gotten sober, was done differently. It was a BIG meeting by the standards of those days: on any given week, from 30-40 people. However, it was also a good mix of old-timers and newcomers like myself, with a wide range in between. The format was simple: read a few sentences–a paragraph at most–and then share about what you read. If the reader had nothing to share, the room was open for sharing on that portion, and sharing continued until the subject was exhausted, at which time the reading continued in the same manner.

As you might imagine, it took forever and a day to get through the book. However, this group had wisely determined that it wasn’t a race to get through one Step a month, or one chapter a week, or whatever. The sharing, learning and insight were allowed to proceed at their own pace, wringing out of the passages whatever the mix of experience, strength and hope in the room came up with.

It was consistently the best meeting of that fellowship that I’ve ever attended.

We keep telling each other that sobriety is a journey, not a destination, and yet we treat much of our program as if it were a race around a paved course instead of a stroll through a meadow of spirituality and growth. We try to get through the steps as quickly as we can, feeling that simply the magic of completion will make us whole. Rather than pausing to appreciate the flowers, we grab a few for the vase on the mantle, to be occasionally admired before they wilt and need replacing.

Thing is, there’s a lot more to learn from strolling through the garden.

I suggest that we consider at our next business and group conscience meetings how these aspects of our journey can be improved to the benefit of everyone–how our formats can be changed (that dread word!) so as to glean every bit of nourishment from that one precious hour.

I especially recommend adopting a format similar to that outlined above for our Basic Text and Step meetings. What’s the hurry? Do we get extra sobriety points for finishing “on time?” Or do we deprive ourselves of a lot of insight and spiritual growth?

Think about it.

6 thoughts on “The Big Book Races

  1. Bill Post author

    I believe meditation is essential to any program of sobriety, but ONLY if combined with a complete program of recovery. The purpose of meditation is to bring clarity. That’s impossible if a person is under the influence of chemicals. It’s in the 11th Step instead of Step 1 for a reason.

    That said, don’t wait until next week. Start now. Can’t hurt. Could help.


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