Bee Sloan

Bee Sloan

Reading to Change Your Mind

These are my recommendations for books about the Refuge Recovery practice, the intersection of Twelve Steps and Buddhism, and how to meditate. They are not specifically endorsed by Refuge Recovery and are offered in the spirit of generosity to our sangha. Happy reading!

May I be filled with compassion. At least once a week, I meditate upon this phrase, with myself as the one I am offering compassion to.

Blah!

That’s almost as bad as this one: I offer myself forgiveness. Double blah!

I’ve been working with these phrases for over three years now, and while I have come a long way, there are still days when I wonder, how can I possibly have compassion for myself or forgive myself?

Apparently there’s a lot more healing to be done. But I’m having a hard time right now with living in reality – the reality between my ears and the reality out there in the world – and once again, I’m asking, “Is healing really possible?”

Yes. YES. That is, if we do the work of believing that we have the potential to heal, and then find and listen to the teachings that are helpful to us, and put those teachings into practice.

Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I haven’t found many meditations that deal directly with healing the experiences of pain, grief, and trauma…that speak to me in a gentle way, a way that I can hear. So when I opened Stephen Levine’s Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings in a bookstore this summer, read two lines and started to cry with relief, I closed the book, walked to the front of the bookstore and bought the book on the spot.

In this remarkable book, Levine offers a series of guided meditations that starts with establishing a practice with the basics of mindfulness and breathing and then builds on those basics with healing meditations, each one prefaced with an introductory exploration. I found these particularly helpful: The chapters on pain (Softening the Pain, An Exploration of the Emotions around Pain); grief (Converting the Griefpoint to the Touchpoint of the Heart and A Guided Grief Meditation); and healing (Healing into the Body and Healing Shared). Whatever you are working with at this point in your life – forgiveness, physical pain, grief, an eating disorder, trauma from past experiences (including sexual trauma), recovering from substance abuse – there is something here for you.

So just to get you started, as the days grow shorter and the nights lengthen, I offer you the last few lines of the last meditation in the book: Now know the truth as it is and go on, taking refuge in the vastness of your original nature. Know that you are well guided by your compassion and love. You are the essence of all things. You are the light.

Thanks, Stephen.

by Tyler Lewke | September 2018

Author’s preface:

In the aftermath of months of discord within our larger Refuge Recovery community and my local sangha, I have had the opportunity again and again to observe my own behavior and check in on how my practice is really doing under pressure.  It’s been ugly and beautiful.  Things that don’t pair well together seem to dwell within me all the time.  I suspect most addicts have this same reality.  On what is hopefully the other side of some grief, frustration and profound awareness, I’ve determined one thing for sure.  I am responsible for everything. And nothing.

 

All suffering comes from wanting your own happiness. 

Complete awakening arises from the intention to help others.

So, exchange completely your happiness 

for the suffering of others — this is the practice of a bodhisattva. 

I’m obsessed with repetition. Why? Because doing the same few healthy things repetitively saved my life from addiction hell.

Doing something over and over again moves it from my brain into my entire body making the practice part of me.

Every religion, recovery program and therapeutic approach I’ve seen uses repetition and ritual within its teachings to assist in fully integrating wisdom into our fiber.  Mantras. Prayer. Chanting. Singing. Bowing. 12-steps. Inventories. Amends.  Whatever.  At first I love it.  It’s nice to get the hang of something.  Then I hate it.  It feels ridiculous to repeat the same damn thing over and over again.  But if I can stick with it just past the hate, I find this incredible space where the wisdom permeates every ounce of me, and conscious action becomes natural habit.   Studies show we have to do the same thing for 66 days straight before it becomes habit.  I certainly tested that theory with substances, but rarely with noble behavior.

The Ratana Sutta is a Buddhist discourse found in the Pali Canon.  In Pali, the ancient and now dead language of Buddha’s time, the Ratana Sutta is seventeen verses in length explaining the essential characteristics of people who are committed to adding more love to the world.  It’s been chanted for thousands of years as a way to bring health and well-being to the chanters and those they chant for.

When I first heard it, I was moved by the cadence and rhythm and asked a monk to try and translate.  “Upasaka, that is too hard, but here is the essence:  Pay attention, show kindness to all humans and non-humans. Practice mindfulness. Concentration has no equal. Noble friends and community is a precious jewel to be cherished.”  

In my hurricane addiction pain induced search for sturdy happiness, the elements in this sutta have stood out as essential.

Commonly the Ratana Sutta is chanted repetitively over a period of time, often twenty-four-hour rounds, with each monk taking turns for an hour or two.  Many sanghas’s come together on a full moon day (widely considered a holiday in Buddhist countries) to chant and practice meditation and to be in noble community.

A few years back, a monk challenged our Sangha to chant the Ratana 10,000 times.  I was sure I’d master it after hearing it constantly. We set a rigorous schedule of fifty consecutive days, and we committed to two hours each morning, one hour in the afternoon and several hours each evening.   It felt similar to my good old “90 in 90” days from the 12-step programs that first got me sober.

It was intense and deeply beautiful. I came each day full of ego and ambition… for the first week.  I was so committed that I even Skyped into the chanting while I was traveling.  Then, I skipped a day. Then another. Soon, I was proud of the monks and my diehard friends from a distance and shaming myself for my lack of commitment. I rationalized the differences in their monastic life and my wild and insane everyday life as justification for my failure.

In the final days we recognized we were short of the goal, so we called in monks and sangha members from afar to join us. They set up a twenty-four-hour round with several monks at a time chanting together non-stop. I stayed with them for those last twenty-four hours and my feelings for not being there the entire time were erased when the monk sat me down and reminded me “Upasaka, within meditation time is a delusion. Who cares how many times or how long you did it.”

He said he wasn’t even sure they counted correctly, and nobody cared anyway.

On the last night I slept on the floor in a sleeping bag right in front of the space where the monks were chanting.  I woke up several times and wondered what was happening to the insides of me having this beautiful chant being jammed into my soul in such a profound way. All night, I tried to trade in my selfishness for the qualities they were chanting about.

All suffering comes from wanting your own happiness.

Complete awakening arises from the intention to help others.

So, exchange completely your happiness 

for the suffering of others — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Later, the monk and I talked about how to turn this chant into something more tangible. “I want a practical application,” he always says. “What good is wisdom if it can’t be used to make us and our worlds better?”

Spiritual chanting is central to Buddhist practice.  Chanting is a form of study about the teachings and the nature of this life. Both the musical quality of chanting and the meaning of the words aim to bring peace and stillness to the mind. That’s certainly the result I experienced that night listening to the Ratana Sutta ten thousand times.

I have long desired a chant or prayer or ritual of my own, a commitment that I would make anew, down on my knees, each and every day to align my head and my heart with who I want to be and to ensure that my feet and my mouth would follow suit as best as possible.

Occasionally I tried something of my own—I’d attempt a “ritual” of sorts.  I’d get a few days under me. Then it would fall apart.

I have a couple of prayers I really like and rely upon in critical moments……. The set- aside prayer is one of my longtime faithful companions; “Please help me set aside everything I know and everything I think I know, for an open mind and new experience…”  I couldn’t even document the amount of trouble that’s kept me from. The practice of keeping my mind open is what makes concern for all others possible.

I love the serenity prayer, it’s what first got me sober and its sum’s up just about everything.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to master the last line….: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Our Sangha ends every meditation with My Wish:  “May I become, at times both now and forever, A protector for those without protection, A guide for those who have lost their way, A ship for those with an ocean to cross, A sanctuary for those in danger, A lamp for those without light, A place of refuge for those who lack shelter, And a servant to all in need. By means of this meritorious deed, May I never join with the unwise, only the wise, until the time I attain Nirvana.”.  

This is a powerful intention to leave practice and re-enter the world with.

As my practice and recovery have deepened and matured, a craving for something that resonated with the Refuge I know today kept growing.  I was at a loss for a long time, writing and re-writing and asking and seeking all the wisdom I could find.  I searched through scripture and texts.  I sat quietly in meditation expecting an answer that never came.  Then, unexpectedly, I come across a statement that came not from the exotic and sexy place or some awesome guru teacher but instead from a rather common meditation group in Louisiana I bumped into online.  I can’t imagine anything more perfect:

“I am responsible for the growth and maintenance of mindfulness in my own life. Each day is an opportunity for me to discover deeper truths about myself. Every moment is an invitation for me to grant others the space they need to be themselves. Within me exists a world of awe and splendor, and every morning is a reminder of my innate obligation to participate in my own majesty. This life is my inheritance as a human being and I will claim it by living as fully as I possibly can through mindful and compassionate participation. May any reward I receive be recycled through my service to others.”

Keeping it simple

Sturdy happiness field notes

  • Repetition of healthy thought and behavior creates a safety net you can rely upon.
  • Wisdom is only helpful if we use it.  Learn, do.
  • Set aside everything you know, and everything you think you know, for an open mind and new experience
  • We alone are responsible for our inner growth and outer action.
Bee's Books

Bee’s Books – Reading to Change Your Mind

FREEDOM! God, I love Aretha Franklin. Who will ever forget her belting that out?

Freedom was what I craved, and what was always impossibly out of reach. Freedom from depression, self-loathing and despair. Freedom from that four o’clock drink that ended in blackout night after night. I waited until the afternoon because I knew that “real” alcoholics drank all day. So if I could hang on until then, I wasn’t an alcoholic. I say this now, but really, if I didn’t think I had a problem, why did I spend so many years agonizing about my drinking and trying to stop? There were years when I white-knuckled it and didn’t drink – because I was pregnant or because my husband was in inpatient and the counselors told the spouses to stop drinking. There were other years where I only had about four really functional hours a day. I don’t remember the last six months very well. Somehow I managed to stay sober for 72 hours, which cleared my mind enough that I could get into a treatment center, which got me to the point where I could really commit to a sobriety program, whatever that meant.

Always before, I had tried to get my drinking under control with a weekly AA meeting, or by drinking in moderation, or with nutrition and exercise. A one note solution to a rock opera problem. I wanted to do it with my fingertips and I wanted it to be fast. Needless to say, it never worked, and my conclusion was, “See? I can’t quit.”

Finally, I decided to throw EVERYTHING at this disease that was about to kill me, and found a book that walked me through a lot of that “everything.”

 

Bee's Books - September 2018The Recovery Book: Answers to All Your Questions About Addiction and Alcoholism and Finding Health and Happiness in Sobriety by Al J. Mooney, M.D., gave me a good overview of what I was getting into. Dr. Mooney has divided sobriety into three “zones,” Red, Yellow, and Green. The first two phases last a couple of years apiece, and the Green Zone, the rest of your life. In other words, this isn’t a fast process. How do you stay clean and sober while your body heals and your brain rewires? He’s got answers for it all, addressing detox, professional treatment, support groups, healing your brain and body, restoring relationships, rebuilding your career and financial health, and dealing with emotional trauma from the past.

This book pre-dates the Refuge Recovery movement, so he leans heavily on 12-step programs, although he does say that there are other support groups that work better for some people. I would have liked more information about medication and meditation. Probably the most valuable take-away for me from Dr. Mooney’s book was really understanding the scope and sequence of a truly effective recovery program – its life-long nature and what is required in terms of daily work and attention.

And don’t forget the actual name of that song – RESPECT. Respect the long process of healing and transformation. Respect yourself. You are worthy of this work.

Denver Metro area Refuge Recovery turned one year old on June 2nd! We started with one meeting in Westminster. The story is told here anonymously by the person who started it:

“A Colorado dad who nearly lost his child to a heroin overdose three years earlier, thought he had lost his child forever when the psychosis began. After discovering the psychosis was amphetamine induced, the parents successfully got the kid to enter a 90 day 12 step residential program.

A decade earlier, the parents ended their 20 year relationship with 12 step programs. The father had become a practicing Buddhist after the overdose and found the Refuge Recovery book while his kid was in treatment. After reading the book the dad searched for meetings, but surprisingly couldn’t find one in Colorado. He wanted to start a meeting in Denver and decided to visit Los Angeles to learn more.

The support he received in Los Angeles was amazing! The people at Refuge Recovery had a deep understanding of addiction and recovery and were very understanding of his issues with 12 step programs. Several people encouraged him to start a meeting and offered to help Colorado in any way they could.

Two weeks after he returned, on June 2, 2017, we had a Refuge Recovery meeting in Colorado.“

Shortly after the first meeting started, the Phoenix Gym started hosting a Sunday night meeting. This meeting has a consistent attendance of 30 to 40 folks and has introduced many people from the nearby treatment centers to Refuge. From there we spread to Golden, two meetings at a treatment center in Wheat Ridge Colorado, and another one in a treatment center in downtown Denver.

Our mentorship right now is peer to peer. We are mostly doing this thing together for the first time, and some of us have found more experienced mentors through the online meetings. We have an awesome fellowship chair that organizes monthly get-togethers. These include hikes, dinners, coffee shops, and tacos. The coolest thing about RR Denver is our presence in treatment centers. We currently have two at West Pines, one at Denver Health. Because of the location of The Phoenix gym, we have several treatment centers that attend that meeting as one of their required outside meetings. This means that Refuge Recovery is being introduced to people at the beginning of their recovery journey which is outstanding.

We have started an annual anniversary picnic tradition and would also like to have an annual meditation retreat with a new retreat center in Boulder. This is a long range plan. We have an amazing community that is growing fast and we love visitors.

Please come check us out!

Submission Request

The Refuge Recovery Literature Committee is requesting submissions. We are looking for personal stories from the community to help inspire, encourage, support, and guide newcomers in completing their own inventories. Tell us how you did it, who you did it with, what worked for you (and didn’t), and any other reflections you may have. In particular, if you adapted or edited the inventory questions or created your own, we would love to see those if you are willing to share.

Deadline:  November 9, 2018
Submission format:   Email literature@refugerecovery.org, and if you wish to include any attachments, we ask that you please save them in .doc or .txt format.

Please let us know if you would like your submission to be anonymous, or how you would want to be identified if it is okay to use your name.

To be clear in the event of questions or concerns, this is an opportunity to grow our literature, not to replace the book Refuge Recovery. The Committee is starting with the topic of inventories and they are looking forward to receiving your submissions. The Regional Representatives and the Board of Directors will get first look after the Committee vets and edits the submissions, to ensure that we have a collaborative process to develop material that will benefit our entire sangha. 

Image Courtesy of Jim Zisa
Jean Tuller
Executive Director

Hi Sangha,
The Sangha World Tour took me to Wilmington, NC this past week and it was a beautiful reminder of the power of our Refuge. You probably know that parts of the U.S. Southeast were hard hit  by Hurricane Florence last month, with parts of North Carolina especially devastated. Prior to the start of the meeting, the facilitator asked how everyone was doing and did anyone need any support. A few folks shared their experiences and how they’re getting along. Some of our sangha in Wilmington were forced to evacuate for two weeks and have only recently returned home. Sangha members took each other in, chosen families got bigger. Because of the 24-hour news cycle, these events can seem like they happen and then disappear but the reality, the damage and the rebuilding go on long after the video images have moved on to something else.  Please send some extra metta to our Wilmington Sangha in the coming months.  And if you’re down that way, find your way over to the Morning Glory Coffeehouse for a really good meeting!

Our web crew, Avi and Dan, is busy developing the Meeting Resources section of the Refuge website. Dan has posted some new material for meetings and Avi’s been working on pamphlets, posters and fliers. Our Meditation audio files continue to grow and we’re now on Insight Timer. You can find all of that and more at https://refugerecovery.org/resources.

Finally, you’ll see an announcement in this Newsletter that we have a Literature Committee and they are asking for your submissions. To be clear in the event of questions or concerns, this is an opportunity to grow our literature, not to replace the book Refuge Recovery. The Committee is starting with the topic of inventories and they are looking forward to receiving your submissions. The Regional Representatives and the Board of Directors will get first look after the Committee vets and edits the submissions, to ensure that we have a collaborative process to develop material that will benefit our entire sangha.

Thanks for all you do for our 625 sanghas and hope to sit with you soon on the Sangha World Tour.
Jean

Image courtesy of Jim Zisa.