Hi Sangha- this month we’re exploring the Precepts and what it looks like to take them to the streets. We are not monastics so understanding and living the Precepts as householders in recovery can be (at least for me and maybe for you) an ongoing process of discovery and returning again and again to the practice. Just like Tyler, I have “started and fucked up a thousand times.” We are an abstinence-based program; what does that mean to each of us? How do you establish your bottom lines? We’re also looking at recovery and yoga; many thanks to Sarit, one of the founders of Refuge Recovery, for sharing some of her story and insights with us. And, as always, special thanks to Bee for the Book of the Month.
Dan is continuing to take our website to the next level, organizing resources and enhancing our guided meditation offerings. We get about a thousand downloads a day (wow!) and it’s exciting to have new voices coming forward to lead meditations. Many thanks to the folks who are sending us their meditations for posting and please keep ‘em coming.
We have 597 meetings today and our non-profit organization continues to be focused on being of service to sangha. Our infrastructure of regional and inter-sangha groups continues to form. We have now had two regional conferences- Southeast and, just a few weeks ago, New England- both were inspiring and demonstrated how connectivity builds and deepens recovery. Got a suggestion? Please feel free to send any and all ideas to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Much appreciation to all of you. Hope to sit with you soon on the sangha world tour
I got sober on June 13, 1993. I was 21 and there was only AA, so that’s where I went. I will preface this by saying I have rebelled against conformity since early childhood. Since before I could wrap my mind around what “punk rock” was, I was sitting down during the pledge of allegiance in 4th grade, and refusing to adhere to the societal norms. I was the “weird” kid. My first experience with AA was when my maternal grandmother would visit from Montréal. She was in recovery and insisted on going to meetings where a man named Clancy could be found. She would unceremoniously tell him off, and I would ignorantly raise my hand as an alcoholic at 7, thinking that’s what I was supposed to do.
My bizarre relationship with AA led me to getting sober and getting my shit together at 21. By that time, I had accumulated trauma on par with a layered cake from a hell realm. AA was the only place I knew, but it also left me feeling like I was missing something. It wasn’t until I was 12 years sober that I figured out what it was: I was leading this sober life but my trauma was untended and my spirituality was in the pits. I was in an abusive relationship, isolated from my friends, and I was lonely. I slipped back into my self-harming behaviors, my eating disorder, and self-hatred. My glimmer of hope was having the awareness that I had to pull my shit together and parent my son, but any time I was alone, I fell apart. I left the abusive relationship, and I gained a backpack full of trauma, some of which vicariously bled all over my son. We did not get out unscathed. But we were safe.
I am resilient. We are resilient.
I put myself through SMC’s photography program, I started to meditate and I rediscovered my yoga practice. I got back into therapy and I slowly started to find my way to the path I’m on now. I did all of this as a single parent. At 15 years sober, I met Joseph, now my husband and best friend. I was moved by his meditation practice and started practicing with him until my trauma and PTSD slammed into me like a Midwest tornado. Meditation became dangerous. Literally: dangerous. I would slip into a dark, black panic, frozen in time. This led me back to my mat, to movement, to finding my breath and its natural rhythm. I finally wept without judgment or fear. I found my feet. And I ultimately found the space where my meditation could flourish, so I made my way back to the cushion. What kept me on my cushion, however, was metta. I did a year of metta practice focusing on myself and learning to love all of me, the shadow and the light, the parts I thought were broken, and the parts that were merely “there.”
Voices of the Sangha: Sarit
In 2009, Joseph and I were part of the insular group of folks helping begin what is now Refuge Recovery. At the time, it was an experiment, as all good things seem to be. Joseph was helping Noah write the inventory/investigation, and I was in the background giving feedback and support, especially around how the questions were framed, particularly in relation to trauma and accessibility. A group of us met weekly for an inventory workshop, trying it all on for size, becoming the first group who had moved through the Refuge inventory process. Joseph, Enrique, and inadvertently me, started the first meeting on the Westside of Los Angeles on Thursdays. Then Joseph, Corey and I started the next one on Saturdays. Recently, Joseph and I started one on Tuesdays, which is preceded by my Refuge Yoga class. I also teach a Refuge Yoga class at One Down Dog in Silverlake. It’s yoga with the 4 foundations of mindfulness and/or one of the folds of the 8-fold path woven into the practice. In the early days of Refuge, I worked with some of the first women to go through the program. I realized that the high trauma load of these women required a nuanced approach to going through the inventories—the questions have always been “a lot” at once. This idea of sitting in the fire is one thing—but asking someone to sit in the fire when being in the present is unbearable becomes tantamount to re-traumatization. I slowed the process down. A lot. I ask people to answer one or two questions and then pausing and doing a practice, some yoga, metta, something that would bring these new, and most vulnerable beings back to the present. Trauma is so often what drives our addictions; my hope is to facilitate a mentorship process that prevents trauma from taking folks out.
Yoga is integral to my recovery. It is where I am most connected to my heart and my ability to heal. It is empowering, grounding, liberating. It is a moving meditation. I can practice for 90 minutes weaving in metta, or one of the 4 Foundations. I teach this way too. My teaching is trauma informed, healing centered, grounded, spiritual, embodied, playful, silly (why be so serious, right?), encouraging, and compassionate. It’s a way back in to the sacred part of ourselves lost to our mental health and addictive patterns. I see the world through the lens of compassion and trauma awareness—inadvertently taking a bodhisattva path.
Additionally, I am an Intermediate Somatic Experiencing student, scheduled to complete my Somatic Experiencing Practitioner training in September 2018. I integrate this trauma-healing modality into my yoga and meditation practices. I teach to incarcerated peoples within a Buddhist, trauma-informed framework. I work with adolescents and adults in treatment facilities in the same way. When we look at the statistics around trauma, it is unwise to act as though trauma-informed practices are a “special need.” Instead, I believe that when we make all spaces accessible and trauma-informed, all beings can be at ease. All of us have a right to have access to meditation and yoga and we all have a right to be in a community of like-minded folks who are healing from the wounds of addiction and mental health, regardless of color, age, ability, size, gender, or sexual preference. To be awake might mean for us to set down the staff of privilege and sit beside those we forget to see.
When we think of gathering in community, how many of the visions that arise have to do with food? That iconic Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving dinner; pizza and a movie on Friday night; waffles at Sunday brunch. That’s the sunlit side of eating. Not many of us would want to do without it. But then there’s the shadow side: the family-sized bag of cookies downed in fifteen minutes when the divorce decree comes in the mail – scrabbling in the bottom of the bag of Kettle chips and realizing that I just ate the whole thing without noticing it – eating dessert after a huge dinner, because “I had a hard week, I deserve this.” And I don’t have a diagnosed eating disorder. Like most of us, I have the garden-variety version of what Jon Kabat-Zinn has called “our disordered relationship with food and eating.” It’s caused me to gain extra weight. It’s cost me a few unnecessary stomach aches. But so far, that’s all.
However, for many, the relationship with food has tipped over into a true eating disorder, just as dangerous to health as a disordered relationship with alcohol or a drug addiction. The spiritual, emotional and physical agony that eating disorders cause can be devastating.
An alcoholic can renounce alcohol. A drug addict can abstain from drugs. The Refuge Recovery practice is based on renunciation and abstinence. It’s made clear that renunciation is the price of admission to start on the path to true recovery. And as difficult and excruciating as that path can be, especially in the beginning, drug and alcohol addicts have the advantage of being addicted to something you can renounce. What if you have a process addiction that involves food? You can’t renounce eating.
But our practice does include a path to recovery, even so. Remember the equanimity meditation? “Suffering or happiness is created through one’s relationship to experience, not by the experience itself.” It is possible to change your relationship to food. In her book, Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, Jan Chozen Bays, MD, offers insight into how to satisfy the many kinds of hunger. What kind of hunger are you experiencing, she asks? And how can you truly satisfy that particular of hunger? Practice (both written and in the form of guided exercises on an accompanying CD) is provided.
Dr. Bays, also known as Chozen Roshi, is a pediatrician specializing in child abuse, a meditation teacher, and a teacher of mindful eating. She is also the co-abbott of Great Vow Zen monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. As you might expect from her background, her writing voice is gentle, kindly, and accessible.
Her videos on mindful eating have been uploaded to YouTube by both Great Vow and Shambhala Publications.
Dr. Bays concludes her book with this Dedication of Merit, and I pass it on to you:
May we all become free from anxiety and fear about eating. May we all be at ease. May we all be content as we nourish this precious human body and mind. May our hearts be happy and satisfied as we walk the path of awakening.