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!
When I got sober almost four years ago, the challenges were pretty basic. How do I stay sober another hour? How do I deal with panic attacks and depression without self-medicating? After a few weeks, the challenges of sobriety got a little more nuanced. If I can’t hang out with my drinking friends without wanting to drink with them, who’ll I hang out with? I might stay sober long enough to want to rebuild my health. What does that look like? After awhile, I started hearing, “Don’t change anything for a year.” Well, nobody told the universe about that, because in that first year, my husband filed for divorce, which meant I had to move, change jobs, and deal with crushing grief while getting used to a whole new personality after getting sober and establishing a Buddhist practice. In other words, everything changed that first year. Everything. And here I was, with no experience of being able to deal with change or strong emotions, and with no skill in treating myself kindly.
Yeah, I went to meetings and meditated the hell out of everything. But that wasn’t not enough to help me live with my hurricane of reactions to the world-as-it-is. I needed instruction.
So I took direction in the wisdom of old-timers and my meditation teachers. And in a collection of talks Pema Chodron gave during a one-month practice period in 1989, published as The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness. These talks were intended to encourage the participants to remain awake to their lives, and to use daily life as their primary teacher and guide. It is basic instruction on how to love yourself and the world you find yourself living in.
I don’t think I can overstate how helpful I find this book, and how strongly I recommend it. It’s a short book but it is absolutely packed with wisdom. While I would like to quote the whole thing, it will save space in the newsletter if you just go get a copy and read it yourself. In the meantime, here a few choice bits to entice you:
“If we’re committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing…Life is a whole journey of meeting your edge again and again.”
“Our emotions capture and blind us. When we start getting angry or denigrating ourselves or craving things in a way that makes us miserable, we begin to shut down, shut out, as if we were sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon but we had put a big black bag over our heads.”
“The first noble truth says simply that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. We don’t even have to call it suffering anymore…It’s simply coming to know the fieriness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water…as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes…sometimes they manifest in one form and sometimes in another. If we resist it, the reality and vitality of life become misery, a hell. Hell is just resistance to life.”
“Renunciation is realizing that our nostalgia for wanting to stay in a protected, limited, petty world is insane.”
And, to me, perhaps the most challenging and promising statement, “You can connect with the joy in your heart.”
Like I said, the book is packed. It helps, when reading it, to realize that she would give one of these talks and then the listeners would have a full day to meditate on what she’d said. Take your time. Read and reflect.
And as always, may you be happy. May you be at ease. May you be free from suffering.