Meet the Man Behind the Curtain

Refuge Recovery Chicago

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-O

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.)

Dan-O

Jean Tuller
Executive Director

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!

Molly R.
Refuge Recovery Oakland
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.

Click here to view the draft document

by Chris Kavanaugh

Throughout my recovery, I have encountered many variations of the question: I know this is an abstinence-based program, but why can’t I take drugs that aren’t really addictive, like marijuana, or mushrooms, or peyote, or acid, or ecstasy, or ayahuasca, or ibogaine, etc. I’ve also seen this question answered in a variety of ways. Most commonly, it is met with a warning like the one found on page 28 of Refuge Recovery:

“Most addicts find that their addictive behaviors continue on with the new substances without a full renunciation of all recreational mood and mind-altering substances. It’s the phenomenon of switching addictions. It is more common than not.”

Okay, fair enough. But what if my intention is to use a substance to advance my spiritual awakening? If I’m trying to be more mindful, doesn’t that make it okay?

I believe that in 2018, this question needs to be taken quite seriously. The use of psychedelics to treat addiction is very much in vogue. Respected physicians like Dr. Gabor Maté can be found running ayahuasca sessions to treat trauma. Others are using ibogaine claiming that it can arrest opiate withdrawal symptoms, while giving some patients a welcome new perspective on their self-defeating patterns. LSD is now the topic of serious scientific research for the first time since the 1970s. Microdosing of hallucinogens (the ingestion of very small doses to bring about minor enhancement of creativity and focus, for example) is now one of the hottest drug fads going. And of course, the legalization of marijuana in many parts of the country has so raised awareness of the drug’s medicinal benefits that for many it has become like a health food.

I have never seen this question handled more skillfully than by Diana Winston in her book “Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens,” published in 2003. For those of you who don’t know, Diana’s a long-time member of the Dharma Punx/ATS community. I spoke with Diana and got her permission to quote from her book in this article.

After introducing this topic in a section titled “Psychedelics,” she acknowledged that taking drugs to find meaning is not the same as partying. She points out that many, especially during the 60’s, had profound and deeply meaningful consciousness-expanding psychedelic drug experiences. Then she says:

“In broad terms, all of these are spiritual experiences, and many who had such experiences were eager to find ways to incorporate them into their ordinary life. A number of downsides made trying to recreate or deepen these experiences through continued drug use impractical. For some, further drug exploration often proved, over time, to be too taxing on their body. Others discovered they had no guarantee of what the next drug experience might be—transcendent or horrifying. There has never been a reliable means to control the experience. Others were eventually frustrated that they could sometimes access seemingly spiritual realms, but the insights did not seem to last. So, quite a few set out to India or other exotic places. They went in search of gurus who could show them how to access the spiritual realm and its true and lasting wisdom without using drugs.

One of my teachers, Ajahn Amaro, has offered us an analogy for how psychedelic drugs can affect our minds. If you want to clear up a plugged sink, he says, you can use a plunger or some Drano and, with some persistence and a little effort, you will ultimately get the dirt and hair-balls out. Or you can take a sledgehammer and smash the whole sink open to get the hairballs out. Drugs are a bit like the sledgehammer. If you want to open your mind, you can do so slowly with meditation. Or you can blow your mind, full blast. It is up to you. You may have to pick up the pieces and glue them back together in order to wash dishes again.

Most spiritual seekers who have used drugs have had similar experiences. They discovered that drugs could give them a glimpse of something extraordinary, but once the drugs stop working, they were back where they started. Personal transformation requires work, and most people will not find it in a pill or tab. Waking up is a lifetime proposal. Waking up takes (and actually develops) persistence, effort, acceptance–all wonderful spiritual qualities. Waking up is joyful work. A daily spiritual practice deepens our wisdom, understanding, ability to connect, and to have compassion and empathy for others. Real spiritual practice is a way of life, and for many, meditation experiences will result in depths of understanding far greater than any ever attained through drug use.

The more we open to our spiritual life, the more we see how valuable our mind and body are. We want to protect and take care of them. They are the means by which we wake up. They are what wakes up.”

Diana’s answer is perfect for her audience; teenagers who may be thinking about doing psychedelics. But there are other issues at stake when this question is posed by an addict. We drug addicts have to face the fact that our own minds have tried to kill us. Our very survival requires that we set a crystal-clear boundary of intention (I will not drink or use) and then reinforce that intention in every possible way. The first action our program recommends, The First Truth Inventory, is all about setting our intention to be abstinent. Even though I have been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for many years, I still am constantly making choices that reset that intention. Each time I choose to go to a meeting, or to work with other addicts, or to write this article, for example, I am reinforcing the neural pathways which keep me in recovery.

Refuge Recovery is a culture that is fundamentally about waking up. This philosophy gives us a pretty simple guide for measuring our actions. Will this help me to be more awake, or will it make my awakening more challenging? For me, when I consider that question and look at all the available evidence, I can’t say a drug like ayahuasca won’t benefit me in some way, but I also must acknowledge that it may erode my intention and set me up for relapse. What I can say for sure is that for me, the risks seem to far outweigh any potential reward.

Diana ended her discussion of this topic with these two powerful paragraphs:

“Drug use can be a doorway that gives a small taste of our potential, of our creative or visionary nature, or of the spiritual realm, but ultimately, drugs are limited in their potential for awakening. As the saying goes: “Drugs can get us high but they cannot get us free.” True freedom is not dependent on the use of a substance.

Finally, the proof is in the results. Most of us know friends or classmates who have taken drugs and had profound experiences, but when they returned to normal consciousness they could barely remember any details of their experience. They weren’t changed in any lasting way, and the drug experience is just a vague memory. The proof of real change is in how we live our lives.”

Diana Winston is now the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. She also coauthored the book “Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness.” Several of her Dharma talks can be found on the Against the Stream website.

Tyler Lewke

How long has Refuge Chicago been around?

After a couple of us attended numerous RR meetings in the early days in Santa Cruz and LA, we started our first group in the basement of the Blue Lotus Temple in Woodstock in 2013! 3 of us the first night! 20 the second night. 30 the third night!! 6 months later the Chicago Tribune did an article about recovery models in Chicagoland and they put a giant picture of us on the front page! We got flooded with calls from treatment programs and friends and things took off quickly!

How many meetings per week do you have, currently?

We have a meeting EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE WEEK! WOOT! And we now have a couple meetings a day on a few of those days!

What does mentorship look like in Chicago?

Sangha Spotlight: Refuge Recovery Chicago_mentorship

Mentorship is slow to come in a formal way. A few of us are mentoring, and a few have mentors outside the local area, but many of us actively engaged in noble friendship, which feels similar in how I see it working. We regularly fellowship together, lots of text / phone / in person support, book clubs, inventory work, etc etc.

How do you foster fellowship outside of the meeting?

We have fellowship at a local cafe after our Friday night meeting, we have temple activities at our Wednesday night Blue Lotus meeting and there we even formed a service committee to volunteer together in the community. We’ve brought a few teachers / monastics in to do workshops. We help each other move, find jobs, drink an enormous amount of coffee and lots of walks on the lake.

What’s special about Refuge Chicago?

Sangha Spotlight: Refuge Recovery Chicago_day retreatWe just did our first full day retreat that was AMAZING! Because of the temple we have access to some great dharma teachers who roll through town and we can grab them for ourselves here and there. We started a “therapists and helpers” meeting, providing a more confidential setting for those of us who work in the addictions field in some way and need the anonymity of a closed meeting where clients won’t be present. A second one is starting up this month! This has fostered lots of referrals to the other meetings as the health care professionals have direct experience and feel great referring their clients! We started a dharma book club this year, and are planning for a day retreat once a quarter! We recently started “the Chicago fund” where we can actively fundraise to help new meetings get started, send people to conference, help pay for rent at new meetings, etc etc. This allows for assistance that’s needed and gets ego out of the way by individuals being the donor… it’s all anonymous. Each group sends 10% of their collection to the Chicago fund and so we have this ability to make stuff happen.

Any big plans?

We are in the early stages of planning a Regional Retreat so we can get to know our entire region better! Also, we plan to have our first LGBT meeting starting up in the next couple months so we can provide refuge for those of us who want the safety of a closed environment! We’re eagerly working on how to get to the Chicago’s Southside—- it’s a economically depressed and very diverse part of Chicago that really struggles with addiction and needs Refuge. We’ve been hesitant to open more meetings until we get to the south side. In addition, we’re very focused on getting women in all our leadership positions and trying to be as conscious as we can about diversity, inclusion and equality.

What’s something Chicago sangha would like the rest of the RR community to know about their sangha?

We love you all and the entire RR community is saving lives every single day! What we know for sure: If you let dharma run the place, success will come.

This month we bring you Tanya’s story, one of our members from the London sangha.

Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m a mish mash of cultures: born in London but brought up in Italy, Africa and the Middle East. My parents are a mix of Italian (father) and South African (mother), raised in two, sometimes three, languages.

I’ve been living in London for the past 20 years even though I initially intended to stay here for one! I’ve worked (or tried to ;-)) as a make-up artist for most of my adult life but I’m still searching for my ‘fit’. I’ve recently rekindled my love of horses. Who knows, this may be a possible new direction, the owner/director of the stables I belong to also works with horses in a therapeutic/ recovery work context. I may look into applying for a volunteer post to begin with….

Could you share a little about your recovery process and what led you to Refuge?

I found my way into the rooms of 12-step meetings over 20 years ago, while I was living in South Africa. My life was incredibly chaotic: Crazy relationship, constantly in and out of food, drugs and alcohol (or anything I could use to feel good/high/soothed/numb, etc), I’m not always sure in what order. Compulsive/disordered eating is what brought me in, even though I couldn’t control any of these other compulsions. At the time, what I thought was killing me was my inability to keep my relationship with food, sugar in particular, under control – sugar was a powerful gateway into other substances although they also served to free me from the relentless torment of body/food/weight obsession.

I became more of an active participant in recovery once I left the relationship and changed country, which brings me to my arrival here in the UK. Of course, I discovered other underlying factors such as career and finance related issues, co-dependency and unresolved childhood trauma…

I initially heard about Noah Levine and Refuge Recovery through Tommy Rosen’s Recovery 2.0 program, after taking part in his coaching program in 2014. At the time I’m not sure if there were any meetings here in the UK, perhaps there were, but at the time the idea of applying Buddhist principles to food addiction seemed too remote and certainly not something I felt ready to embark on…I’ve relapsed so many times in this area and with a lot of support, too. Trying to recover without peer-to-peer, in-person support seemed impossible, so I just pushed the idea to one side. What I discovered through Tommy’s Facebook group was a more compassionate and affirming approach to recovery, more holistic and healing. I liked the body-based yoga approach as an added resource since I was exploring Bioenergetics and body based therapy. I can’t remember exactly how but I found my way onto the Refuge Recovery Facebook page which then led me to the Sunday evening group here in London!

What part does Refuge Recovery play in your own recovery?

It’s still growing, from within…although there’s still so much to work through, there are times I can sense my feelings of shame diminishing…

Refuge has given me the ability to offer myself kindness, compassion and eventually forgiveness – I never thought I’d have the capacity to acknowledge these needs within myself. I don’t think I even knew these were genuine needs. You were one of the first people I spoke to in RR (so glad you were!). I remember nearly falling off my chair when you suggested I practice the Metta and offer myself loving kindness – I don’t think anyone had ever suggested that to me in an initial recovery practice.

How does Refuge Recovery support your recovery challenges?

I find the inventory questions address the underlying factors that led to addiction very early on, which helps take my focus off the substance and points me to the heart of the matter. I still need the support of other recovery groups to address my ongoing struggles with food and weight obsession, but my hope is to gradually move towards a more mindfulness approach in this area. Let’s see where it all leads me…

What’s your favorite part of the book?

I can’t say there’s one thing that stands out more than the rest. I like the stories because they shed light into my own. In the Wednesday group we’re reading through Chapter Eight: Action/Engagement. The section on honesty was a good reminder that guilt, shame and remorse will easily lead me to acting out one way or another – I’m still easily led into thinking that I can “get away” with things…

If I attend a Refuge Recovery meeting in your area, what can I expect?

A friendly warm welcome! The Sunday group at the Jamyang Buddhist Centre is our largest meeting, whilst our mid-week gathering in Westminster fluctuates from week to week. It’s ideal if you like a smaller more intimate setting. 😉

Can you give us some examples of what you’re working on within your sangha?

We’re still working on spreading the word about Refuge Recovery and the fellowship here in London and encouraging people to work with each other through the inventory questions (if they can’t find mentors).

Tanya, thank you so much for your time and honesty. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think that’s it!

Jean Tuller
Executive Director

 

Hi Sangha- lots to report this month! The Regional Representatives have had their first meeting and divided their work into three parts- drafting the RR regional infrastructure, developing the draft job description for RR Regional Reps and assisting with planning the annual RR Conference, scheduled for June 8-10, 2018 in Los Angeles.

Props to Molly Rice and Gary Sanders for helping guide the infrastructure effort and Avi Asher for getting everyone’s job description ideas into a usable format. We’ll be looking at both of these at RefCon to get community input and move towards finalizing these documents. Thanks much to our great team of Reps for jumping right in and getting the work off to a solid start.

Speaking of RefCon4, it’s on, people!!! The planning crew is getting organized and it should be quite an event. As usual, we’ll have a combination of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in more or less equal measure. Our logistics will be different this year as we won’t have the small rooms available to us, so we’ll have lots of cozy togetherness. The recent Southeast Regional Conference in Nashville was mostly held in one room and it seemed to work fine so no reason it can’t work in L.A.! We have reserved 20 beds at the Melrose Hostel to help make this affordable for everyone; you can find the hostel at https://melrosehostel.com/. Just make sure you let them know you’re a part of Refuge. Oh, and one other thing, some of the dharma will be coming by way of Josh Korda from Dharma Punx NYC. He’ll be giving a teaching on early attachment and addictive behaviors- using the Refuge tools to heal early emotional wounds.

We’re launching our new website soon and deep bows to Sanja Rogers, Dan Oliverio and Josh Reisner for their beautiful work. Registration for the Conference will happen on the new site (any day now!).

Finally, our theme this month is renunciation. In pondering that, I bumped across a forum in Lion’s Roar from April 2017 that I’m sharing here for folks who haven’t yet read it: https://www.lionsroar.com/forum-the-beauty-of-renunciation/. The introduction to the forum talks about renunciation as “the beautiful realization that you already have everything you need.” May all of us have everything we need as we turn away from greed, hatred and delusion.

Hope to sit with you soon on the Sangha World Tour,

Jean

Bee Sloan

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!

Well, it’s February, which is famous for…Groundhog’s Day!

(Just kidding. Although it is nice that here in Oregon, where I live, usually the groundhog does not see his shadow, because, well, it’s Oregon. And it’s raining. So Groundhog’s Day is always a day where we can enjoy anticipating an early spring, whether we actually get it or not.)

No, usually in February we think about Valentine’s Day, and that makes us think about love, and do we have it, and are we going to have it, and why don’t we have it now, in the form we want it in, and what exactly is it anyway?

Those of us in recovery are lucky, because we are connected to a group of people who understand that we can only heal as a community. I love recovery people. Where else in life are you going to meet people who are painstakingly truthful and authentic? People who will walk up to you and give you their number and say, “Text or call me. I understand. I’m happy to talk to you.” When I had just learned that my husband wanted a divorce, it was my recovery friends who told me I was worth more than a $5 airport mimosa and stayed on the phone with me until I could deal with reality on my own, at least for that time. I need my spiritual friends to remind me that all conditions and mind states pass, that clinging to the good things and pushing away the unwanted things only leads to suffering. My closest friends are my recovery friends. We share the pain and joy we experience, meditate, laugh, cry, eat dinner, and sing karaoke. I spent a lot of years lonely in my drinking years, and I’m unutterably grateful for it, for this life of the sangha.

Loving-kindness and compassion, in the form of service, is built into the fabric of all recovery programs, but I especially love Refuge Recovery because in it, we train our minds to another level of intention, that of loving kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and appreciative joy. Here is a whole community of people who, to quote Noah Levine (Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction), are working to “… cultivate generous, kind, and compassionate wishes for all living beings. We practice honesty and humility and live with integrity.”

Most of us have read Noah’s books Dharma Punx and Refuge Recovery. Not everyone has read The Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha’s Radical Teachings on Forgiveness, Compassion, and Kindness. In this book, Noah takes his message of how to recover from addiction a step further. In Jack Kornfield’s words, he “offers the Buddha’s wise and systematic practices to quiet your mind and heal and liberate your heart.”

 The Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha’s Radical Teachings on Forgiveness, Compassion, and Kindness

The Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha’s Radical Teachings on Forgiveness, Compassion, and Kindness
Noah Levine | Foreword by Jack Kornfield

In this book, Noah walks us through the Buddha’s teachings in mercy, compassion, forgiveness, loving (personal and romantic love), and loving-kindness (an awakened heart that feels love for all living beings). He delves deeply into what it takes to cultivate a state of mind that includes “humility, integrity, forgiveness, kindness, generosity, love, acceptance, altruism and honesty.” In other words, how to become the most excellent human beings we can be.

For me, the heart of the book is his chapter on the Metta Sutta, how to cultivate loving-kindness. To give you a little motivation to read it, here are the eleven promises the Buddha made if you practice metta:

  1. You will sleep easily.
  2. You will wake easily.
  3. You will have pleasant dreams.
  4. People will love you.
  5. Animals and unseen beings will love you.
  6. Unseen beings will protect you.
  7. External dangers will not harm you.
  8. Your face will be radiant.
  9. Your mind will be serene.
  10. You will die unconfused.
  11. You will be reborn in happy realms.

(I don’t know about numbers 6, 7, and 11, except maybe metaphorically, but I can really get behind the rest of those promises.)

Happy Valentine’s Month. May you be happy, may you be at ease, may you be free from suffering.

Kaelyn S.
Portland Intersangha Mentorship Coordinator, Women’s Meeting Mentorship Coordinator, Inventory Group Leader

Mentoring In Portland, Oregon

It hasn’t been that long since the birth of Refuge Recovery took place so, of course, there has been a shortage of people “qualified” to be Mentors. As our membership grows, so does our number of Mentors. To bridge the gap in the ratio of Mentors to newcomers, we in Portland, encourage people to Mentor each other.

The “qualifications” to be a Mentor can be up to the people in the relationship.

Do you need a Mentor who has 10 years of sobriety and lives as a Buddhist Monk or do you feel comfortable starting the work with someone a few months ahead of you in the process? These are a questions we ask to cultivate a positive feeling tone around mentorship in our Sangha, and to start the hard work of recovery.

The following are some practices of how to support mentoring relationships in your sangha.

Spiritual Friends

Sangha members of similar time in Refuge who hold each other accountable and do inventory work together.

Inventory Groups

Setting times before/after meetings to work together on Inventories, to hold space for each other to do the work, and to share with each other. These also pop up at Sangha member’s houses from time to time.

Accountability Groups

Text threads between Sangha members to encourage daily meditation, gratitude, ride sharing to meetings, and check ins.

Women’s Group

The “Team Captain” in the Women’s group reaches out to newcomers and people on phone list who have been out of touch/not showing up to meetings. They check in on people to let them know they are welcome.

Socializing

In Portland we try to have lots of different opportunities for people to get to know each other outside of meetings. Connecting during a roller skating party, a potluck, or a day at the park really helps us lighten up and enjoy each other’s company, as well as make deeper connections to find people to do the work with.

Mentor Workshops

I am currently planning a workshop for people who want to know the details of what mentoring looks like, and who need a little encouragement to start the process.

Mentoring people in Refuge is a wonderful experience and has enriched my life in a way I cannot describe. It is a truly beautiful thing to have someone trust you with their story, and to watch them become the person they want to be. I hope every member of Refuge may get to have the life changing experience of being a Mentor. Michael Preston and I both held Mentor Coordinator positions for the Portland InterSangha. He taught me about service, community, and truly helping others. Michael will be missed dearly, but his spirit will always inspire us to live with compassion, in each breath.

Tell me a little about yourself? (age, location, occupation, hobbies, etc..)

My name is George, but most of my friends call me Geo. The confusing thing is that I used to have a blog, called Mondo-Samu which accidentally became a

nickname. So if you see a friend request on Social Media from this rando named Mondo Samu…it’s me. Otherwise, I’m an Atlanta Georgia GenX child of the eighties. A lifelong geek who’s always been grateful and proud to have been born in the time I was. I grew up with D&D, Star Wars, & 80’s Hip-Hop/Metal/Rock. Commodore computers and comic books. Lots of comic books. A lifelong computer geek, my right livelihood is as a software trainer and tech support guy in the life safety business. My three greatest interests are my spending time with my amazing daughter, the Dharma, and boardgames. Typically I mix the first and the last. Sometimes all three.

Share a little about your recovery process and what led you to Refuge.

In 2010 I was routinely thinking about my own death and what would happen to my family when I died. I had come to accept that I was dying a slow death from being overweight. It wasn’t a morose thing, it just felt like the only option. I didn’t think I could slow down that speeding train. I had sort of mentally accepted I didn’t likely have much longer. I was sick often, in pain, and uncomfortable in my body. On a trip to Canada I had some experiences that made me feel even worse. I was in a bookstore, at my lowest feeling, when I passed by the book “Savor” by Thich Nhat Hanh & Dr. Lilian Cheung. It caught my eye and I sat down to read it while I drank my 500 calorie mocha frap. I read half of it that day, and half the next. When I read about the four noble truths and the eightfold path I remember thinking “I’ve been a Buddhist all my life and didn’t know it!!” I started mindful eating and living that day and dove head first into exploring Buddhism. Eleven months later I’d lost 110 pounds and felt like a new person!

Somewhere in there I met Gary Sanders (among others) in an online meditation group through which I also learned about ATS. In my travels, I would attend Refuge meetings in L.A. mostly to meditate with ATS people and to visit with Gary. One day I mentioned I felt like a fraud because I wasn’t an alcoholic or drug addict in that room. He pointed out that everyone is addicted to something! I started noticing that if you swapped the words “drugs” and “alcohol” with “food” my feelings and stories weren’t any different than anyone else in the room. I came to use Refuge Recovery as a way to maintain my newfound health, mentally. I also felt, having recovered through Buddhism, that this was something I wanted to help other people find.

What part does Refuge Recovery play in your own recovery?

Well, like I said, I had already recovered my life and was stable in my practice but I saw the program as both a way to spread the dharma to people suffering as I had and as a way to support my own mindful life and recovery ongoing.

How does Refuge Recovery support your recovery challenges?

I guess I’d say Refuge Recovery involvement supports my recovery in the same way that my Sangha supports my Dharma study. By helping with Sangha, I feel a sense of urgency about studying and practicing. It makes it in to a win-win. I’m both spreading the dharma and giving myself a great excuse to immerse myself in it.

What’s your favorite part of the book?

I think that’s kind of impossible to answer, really, but if I pick one right now in this moment, I would pick the First Foundation a page and a half into Chapter 11 Mindfulness and Meditations. We just read this one last night at a meeting and what struck me and blew my mind a little is how much there is to practice and unpack in that simple page and a half. It directs you to the pages for each practice it references, and I was struck that you could VERY easily spend weeks and months on any one sentence in that page and a half. But I would have to say that any thoughts on what my favorite part is would be pretty impermanent. 🙂

If I attend a Refuge Recovery meeting in your area, what can I expect?

A warm welcome, a familiar format, and probably a good bit of laughter! Our groups are all unique, but the one thing they have in common most is laughter I think. At least that’s what I see when I’m there. I love the fun and the sense of relief that people seem to repeatedly experience when they attend (any meeting, not just ours).

Give us some examples of what you’re working on within your sangha (fellowship, service, organizational structure practice, etc.)

I think that fellowship, service positions, and mentoring are all things that we are working on strengthening in our groups. A couple of our groups have started trying to organize outside fellowship events such as dinner together before or after a meeting. All of them are trying to grow service positions and mentoring. We’ve had a lot of interest from people who want mentors but not enough interest in people wanting to be mentors. It’s a slow process, but one we are becoming more confident with. I’m grateful that the regions are focused on this as well.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to express my gratitude and love for literally everyone involved in this program. I am constantly blown away by the people I meet through Refuge and I mean everyone. There’s a quality of life that I think people in recovery have and it’s beautiful. I was extremely honored to be elected as one of the Regional Reps for the Southeast, and our recent Conference in Nashville at Against The Stream was absolutely, positively, AMAZING!