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.
The South Florida intersangha as been working together to provide opportunities to turn Dharma into practice, build a strong recovery community, and encourage and support the work in which each individual member is engaged.
During June, Daniel Fishburn from Asheville, NC joined members of our own community to explore specific key practices that, collectively, are parts of the Refuge Path to Recovery. Over 40 members from throughout Florida spent an afternoon exploring addiction, renunciation, inventory and understanding, meditation as investigative practice, mentorship and spiritual friendship, and personal ethical conduct and the precepts as learning opportunities.
Beginning in July, the intersangha is hosting a series focusing on how central finding our authentic voices is to our recovery process. The biweekly series will explore challenges faced by women, members from the LGBTQI community, those recovering from process addictions, persons with both mental and physical disabilities, persons of color, and cys-identified straight men in owning their individual voices during developmental periods, during addiction, and in recovery (both within and outside of Refuge). Our goal is to find ways to make our sangha truly safe and welcoming for each of us.
Throughout 2018 we have met weekly as a group to work through the inventory process, learning how to investigate these central concerns by supporting each other spiritually through the process. Although this meeting began in response to the scarcity of available mentors, it has shown the tremendous value of friendships based on spiritual connection, honesty, and compassionately confronting our truths with others!
We have started taking meetings into two residential treatment centers, and have begun conversations with a number of traditionally 12-step based programs on how we can augment options for their clients.
As a peer-led community, it has been exciting this year to expand upon the ways we are connecting and learning to support each other. We continue to talk about new ways to welcome and embrace those new to Refuge and recovery, increase connections to the large south Florida recovery industry, and focus as a group on being a safe, welcoming, and meaningful part of people’s recovery!
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!
For me, the core of the Refuge Recovery book has always been the chapter “The Process.” There it is, the crack in the sidewalk I stumble over every time I read it, Number 6, Effort/Energy:
“We commit to the daily disciplined practice(s) of meditation…”
and then a few paragraphs later,
“We encourage you to begin with the practice of meditation right away. Meditation is going to be the most important tool in supporting our renunciation.”
This is demonstrably true. I have seen it work miracles in my life and in the lives of dozens of people. And if I know how true and valuable this is, why is it so hard for me to stick with this brief daily commitment? And I’ve noticed that it’s not just me. Newcomers and long-time practitioners alike have their struggles with meditation practice. Restlessness, doubt, attachments to our stories, and self-criticism can all derail a meditation session or even a long-established practice. But the meditation practice is absolutely key to our recovery. How can we overcome these hindrances and establish or continue a practice that is so crucial and beneficial to our developing sense of ease in the world as it is?
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chödrön
In Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, Pema Chödrön seems to speak directly to us in her loving voice about how to accept ourselves and our lives, just as they are. She provides clear instruction in three basic meditation practices: basic sitting meditation, tonglen, and working with lojong, the seven points of mind training.
I found this book to be a real life saver. The lojong slogans serve as exercise for my heart and mind, just as walking does for my heart and body. Tonglen made sense for the first time, too.
But for me, probably the most valuable passage was instruction on becoming mindful of thoughts as just something the mind does. Pema says,
“Labeling your thoughts as ‘thinking’ will help you see the transparency of thoughts, that things are actually very light and illusory. Every time your stream of thoughts solidifies into a heavy storyline…label that ‘thinking.’ Then you will be able to see how all the passion that’s connected with these thoughts, or all the aggression or all the heartbreak, is simply passing memory.”
That was a huge revelation, and the book is full of them. Give it a read! May it help you be at ease with your practice.
Our first meeting was held in June 2015. We have 8 meetings per week, as well as a monthly outdoor meeting, and one meeting we take into detox. We meet in 5 locations around Asheville, including the VA. We have mentors who have worked as is laid on in the book, but more people have worked through the inventories alongside others than formally through a mentor. Fostering fellowship has been a huge area of growth for us this year. Our intersangha engages in weekly activities which include hiking, yoga, service work, tea/coffee house gatherings, service work, and other social events. We have a wide variety of meetings, including topic discussion, book study, fold-focused, and speaker meetings. There is ample opportunity for newcomers to become involved in service positions, social activities, and community outreach. We now offer free yoga specifically for the Refuge Recovery community. We have also recently hosted Noah Levine and Dave Smith for presentations in Asheville, held several half-day retreats, and will have our first daylong in May with Andrew Chapman. We are hoping to offer workshops with Deborah Eden Tull, who now calls Asheville home.
Presenting Dave Smith, November 2017
Our H&I Committee is relatively new, with plans to take meetings into treatment programs, therapeutic boarding schools, and the jails. All of these entities have been asking for us to bring in meetings for years. There is interest in starting RR affinity meetings for young people and the LGBTQA+ community.
The focus in these first years has been to create a safe space. Whether or not RR is your primary path, no matter your opinion about 12-Step recovery, how much/little you know about meditation, we want you to feel safe and at home to express yourself in a community of support. A member adds, “Walking into a meeting where people share their struggles and their solutions allows others to do the same. That the sangha is the one place we don’t have to know it all and that that allows others to not know it all either. And when challenged about something, we understand people are hurting and seek to understand our part and their perspective before we seek to make them wrong.”
Hey Refuge! You know all that cool stuff happening everyday behind the scenes? No? Of course you don’t! That’s the goal! And yet, SO MUCH work vital to our noble mission gets done quietly and we want to take a moment and give a shout out to our amazing tech genius DANO who has used his super powers to design, build and run our amazing new website, https://refugerecovery.org (and lots of related cool stuff for us that we could never quantify!)
Dan is from NYC, and you’ll know it the second you meet him. He’s as honest and straightforward as they come, as reliable as NYC itself. Dan recently relocated to Chicago, and he fell into fast friendship with everyone, building communities and allies, leading meetings and making everything more beautiful (the people and the place). Dan is design OBSESSED. No, seriously, you don’t understand. He literally can’t stop. He obsesses over every detail and that’s why everything we have now is so AMAZING. He sees things before anyone else, he future thinks how to make shit better before people even know they need it better. He’s constantly saying “How do we make this better? How do we help more people?” He works on himself, his practice, fellow Refuge members and the website constantly— he lives, uses and creates all the tools we use everyday— because he knows that the path of practice and selfless service is how he stays sober. DANO’s service to refuge is just his side gig—- he’s a full fledged freelance design artist, making cool shit pop and helping companies get their product the exposure it deserves. DANO is also a handygenious, he can fix anything—- give this boy a hammer and he’ll build you a stand up desk, replace your plumbing or hang your art. The list is long, the skills real— and we’re the recipients of this guy’s full heart and spirit. Let’s all thank him together by giving him the shout out he deserves (and sending him pictures of pink elephants whenever possible.)
Hi Sangha- hope this Newsletter finds all of you well and, for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, enjoying the summer. I’m pleased to report that our annual conference, referred to as RefCon, went beautifully this year.
Major props to our Planning Committee, which was composed of Regional Representatives from around the US and Canada, and local arrangements, managed beautifully by the Los Angeles team. They all did an incredible job, both in the planning stages and supporting the conference participants throughout the weekend. RefCon4 was a celebration of sangha, with speakers who helped start Refuge Recovery all those years ago as well as folks who are newer to our community. A whole lot of spirited folks in one place lifting the building off the ground. This was our first year live-streaming and I want to acknowledge one of our crew in Canberra, Australia for suggesting we give it a try. We’re posting a link to each session on the Refuge Recovery website so you can check them out if you were unable to attend or catch the live streams.
We workshopped the draft Regional Representative job description and infrastructure design at RefCon too and you can find those docs on our website as well. The Regional Reps are socializing those now with local sanghas and inter-sanghas so more to come on that front. We’re getting organized, people!
Our first Annual Report was summarized at RefCon and that is now posted on the website as well as our 2017 tax return. Many thanks to Board Treasurer Chris Kavanaugh for his work in getting those docs prepared. The Refuge Board of Directors is well aware that sorting through the various entities tagged as Refuge Recovery can be confusing. Just to be clear,
the Refuge Recovery non-profit organization is not affiliated with, or funded by, the Refuge Recovery Treatment Centers, sales of the book Refuge Recovery, retreats, or teacher and facilitator trainings. Our organization exists to support all of you who are attending Refuge Recovery meetings. We are solely funded by your generous donations.
Thanks so much for everything you do to make our turbulent world a refuge. I look forward to seeing you soon on the Sangha World Tour; next stop is Dover, NH for the first-ever Region IX Conference!
Infrastructure is about creating pathways. As an organization, Refuge Recovery began with a bunch of meetings popping up all over. Those meetings connected into local areas, and intersanghas, which sometimes are in a single geographic area, and sometimes span several states.
This plan is to help construct clearer lines of communication between meetings within a defined region (such as Region 1: roughly Alaska down to the southern tip of California). This way when a new meeting is started, regional reps will know and then reach out to local intersanghas to make the connect. The intention of this is not to force collaboration, rather to make sure that if you want support, you know where to get it. None of this is carved in stone.
In the great tradition of punk touring routes; we’ve gotten by with the record stores we know, the folks we’ve met locally, folks we have met at the shows (Refcons 1, 2 and 3)…Now we need to make a map of how all of these things are connected so that any one of us can “go on tour” without missing a meeting. We don’t want to change your local structure. Not one iota. We just want to better connect you to each other in a meaningful way.
Refuge Recovery is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is our mission to build an extensive and comprehensive network of Refuge Recovery groups, meetings, and communities that practice, educate, and provide Buddhist teachings and meditations for anyone seeking recovery from addiction.