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.

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.

Bee's Books

Bee’s Books – Reading to Change Your Mind

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.

Bee's Books - August 2018But 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. 

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!

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.

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

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.

by 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!

I remember sitting in my rehab group, holding the diagnosis my doctor had just handed me. On it was written, “Alcoholism, severe. Severe chronic depression with suicidal ideation. Anxiety disorder, severe.” I looked up and said, “I’m broken and I don’t think I can be fixed.” All around the circle, people nodded. They knew how that felt.

I believed that the cravings and obsession would never go away, the crushing depression would never leave me, the disabling chest pain and dizziness and feelings of panic and helplessness would last forever. That I would always be stuck in one of three mind states, rage, numbness, and self-loathing. That was just the way I would always feel.

A lot of us feel this way. But the good news is that in the last fifteen years, what we know about the brain to transform has changed radically. You may have heard the term “neuroplasticity,” the ability of the brain to change and heal. As Norman Doidge says in his book The Brain that Changes Itself, “…the damaged brain can often reorganize itself.” And, “…I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and traumas.” In the last two and a half years working the Refuge Recovery practice, I have tested these emerging practices on myself and gained confidence that yes, this stuff works. As Dave Smith says, when he recommends the lovingkindness meditation to help regulate critical and bullying self-talk, “This stuff works. It can’t not work.”

These are four of my favorite books about neuroplasticity and the ability of the brain to heal from many forms of brain trauma. They are not written with addiction specifically in mind, but I found them to be informative and helpful.

We are not just stuck with the brain we have now. We have the power, each one of us, to literally change our brains physiologically, by changing our thoughts.

 

Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson PH.D

This book explains why Dave is right that this stuff works, combining neuroscience, mindfulness, and the Four Noble Truths, and then following up with practical exercises on how to develop ease, loving kindness, forgiveness, and compassion, and the ability to self-regulate.

The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D

I found Chapter 3, “The Stages of Neuroplastic Healing: How and Why It Works,” to be especially interesting and optimistic. Dr. Doidge is a compelling storyteller, and those who want to read more about the brain’s ability to “re-wire” will find this book enjoyable.

Train Your Mind Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley

In 2004, a group of neuroscientists met with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala to discuss and inquire into the possibilities of neuroplasticity. “Like sand on a beach, the brain bears footprints of the decisions we have made, the skills we have learned, the actions we have taken. But there are also hints that brain sculpting can occur with no output from the outside world. That is, the brain can change as a result of the thoughts we have thought.”

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D

This book, Dr. Doidge’s first on neuroplasticity, refutes the idea that our problems are “deeply ‘hardwired’ into an unchangeable brain,” with a series of stories from scientists, doctors and patients about what was, at the time, “the revolutionary discovery that the human brain can change itself.”

Many thanks to Kara Haney at Refuge Santa Cruz for bringing forward this intentions worksheet, adapted from a kindred Recovery spirit. We hope you find it helpful in considering your intentions for the New Year. This worksheet could be used as a part of your personal practice, or as part of a sangha workshop.

New Year Intention Reflection 2018

New Year Intention Reflection 2018