Hannah is 29 years old from Syracuse, NY and mother of two awesome children. Hannah is a peer specialist at an Outpatient clinic in Syracuse and also facilitates Refuge Recovery meetings.

I am Hannah Mountain. After hitting my rock bottom I found Refuge Recovery. I am a recovering alcoholic and am also in recovery from anorexia and bulimia. When I was court ordered to go to meetings I tried the traditional 12 step meetings and couldn’t relate to the other people there or the higher power step. I knew if I was going to get sober I needed to heal the root issues and learn to deal with life in a better way. So I started reading the Refuge Recovery book and it spoke to me. I started meditating using the mindfulness of breath meditation, which is still the one I turn to the most when I am struggling. After studying and practicing myself for a year, I decided to start Refuge Recovery here in Syracuse NY. It was slow going at first but by six months in we grew to around 12 people at the meetings and started a second meeting, then a third, and fourth, and now we are up to five meetings a week. We have a few different facilitators and we all work together as a team to keep the meetings growing and working. I still hold a leadership role in all the meetings, promoting and doing educational meetings at outpatient facilities in the local area.

The RR meetings in Syracuse may look a little different than some of the other types of meetings (e.g. 12 Step). One way is that no one introduces themselves with anything other than their first name. I believe this helps reduce stigma and helps people realize they are not their addiction. Just as we don’t see people introducing themselves as “Hi, I am Jane and I am a diabetic.” We also read an opening statement, read a part in the book and the facilitators talk about what that part of the book means and we have open discussion. Our meetings normally end in meditation; I do this because sometimes topics bring up some shit we may of buried and it helps to always end the meeting with a way to clear our heads and bring mindfulness to what we talked about, instead of talking and running out the door. I find it helps to leave on a positive note in that way.

Refuge Recovery is a lot of my passion as I have seen the practice work and people recover using the practice. I also take my yoga practice very seriously and that is a huge part of my recovery. It teaches me to connect my breath to my body and mind.

I don’t know if I have a favorite part of the book, just as the we need all eight spokes in the Dharma wheel, the whole Eightfold Path, not just one part of it, so if I had to I would choose all of chapter 14, Breaking the Addiction. As far as what I continue to do for my recovery, I have a Teacher who teaches me the Dharma and meditation instruction, which I use for my own life but also to share with our Refuge Recovery. I am lucky to have found my passion in Refuge Recovery and using the Dharma to heal myself and help others heal themselves.
I believe the Buddha nature is in each and every one of us and we have the ability to heal and recover.

 

UnDude

Jeremy Bixler can be found playing live with UnDude March 22, 2019 at Twilight Café, Portland, OR Facebook/undude2000 and Soundcloud/undude2000

 

 

 

 

I’m sitting in a randomly hip Portland coffee shop trying to not continue procrastinating writing this article, sipping on coconut milk matcha latte, and the lyrics of the song playing overhead sing : “I love music… funky funky music…. It’s the universal language… spoken by every woman, man and child…”

And it’s undeniably true.  Music is magical; a wormhole that can transport us through time and space, reminding us of times forgotten, making us dance like a happy baby, or even move us to tears, somehow communicating with our hearts. Music affects us physically and mentally as well, firing off neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and that’s just from listening. When we play an instrument or sing, especially in a group, oxytocin can make us actually feel high, with no drugs or alcohol. “Free-lapse!” Oxytocin is often called the natural love drug, or the “connection hormone”. We get it from hugs, petting animals, and group meditation too!

I’ve played music all my life—starting first with saxophone in school orchestra, jazz and marching bands, which later evolved into the electric guitar, which had me forming bands off-and-on (depending how strong my depression and/or addiction was at the time) and writing songs. When I was deep in my addiction I continued to play and write, sometimes even suicidal songs; in isolation and sad drunkenness, I found comfort in those songs.  It made me feel less alone.  Maybe the oxytocin kept me from going over the edge and helped me survive. One of the last songs I wrote before getting sober was called “Sick of Being Sick.”

More than 15 years of self-sabotage and three DUIs on my resume, in late 2015 I was finally ready to admit I had to stop for good. I flew from my parent’s house in LA to a treatment center in Battle Creek, Michigan, and luckily for me they had an acoustic guitar I could use.  I wrote soothing instrumental songs in a new tuning I figured out, and performed one of them, “Good Morning,” as my final speech in front of my peers. It was a CBT-based program, but I chose the aforementioned treatment center because it had a holistic “track” where monks from the local Soto-Zen Temple Monastery, Sokukoji, actually came in and taught those willing to meditate, answer questions, and attend services, including all-day sesshins.  I was finally able to marry my love of music with spirituality—something I definitely wasn’t able to do on my own, getting loaded. It took me drying up, and a compassionate community.

After graduating from the treatment program, I moved into Sokukoji’s converted VA Hall monastery for a couple of weeks, writing songs on my teacher Sokuzan’s ancient guitar, lulling myself to sleep before waking at 5am for a two and a half hour sit every morning. I still have a recording on my phone of “Emptiness” that was written while we were studying Dzogchen.

Rock to Recovery

Wes Geer, founder of Rock To Recovery; Jeremy Bixler, NW Program Administrator; Constance Scharff, PhD, Board of Directors

 

From there I moved to Portland, OR, and found Refuge Recovery, where I also found musician friends and started a grunge band, UnDude (a nod to The Big Lebowski). With the aid of Refuge Recovery, I started exploring career options, in line with right livelihood, taking the eightfold path to heart. Fuck being a barista! My friend and mentor Gary Sanders (who started one of the very first RR meetings in LA) now lived in Portland also. And through him, met someone connected to Rock To Recovery, a company that brings a specialized music therapy into treatment centers. The Program Administrators of this company are genuine rock stars! Had record deals! Toured the world! And, importantly, had found sobriety, spreading the joy of music to those healing from years of self-abuse, just like I was only 3 short years ago. After intense training with the bona fide rock stars that comprise Rock to Recovery down in LA, and my experience playing “mindful grunge” around PDX for a couple years, I’ve now joined the Rock to Recovery family, leading sessions as the flagship NW Program Administrator. The foundation I unknowingly laid way back in elementary school with music allowed me to survive my addiction, propelling me through treatment, stumbling onto the path—and buoyed by the collective strength of my Refuge Recovery sangha—has allowed me to connect to clients with a presence I’d never have been capable of alone.

Although all sessions are unique, the basic flow is similar. We do check-ins at the beginning of groups to establish a feel and theme, often gratitude-based in nature, and I share about my recovery process, always tying music and mindfulness together. We write a brand new song every time, as a group, and divvy up roles and instruments forming a band that’s never existed. Concept to completion takes 90 minutes, during which time we finalize the song and record it to be uploaded online for all perpetuity! It’s an amazing phenomenon being in the moment all together, speaking that universal language, and is truly transformative how anyone just days from being dope-sick can be singing, smiling, laughing, and most importantly, singing their new song! I’m privileged to be a part of that interconnected process.

Refuge in rocking, and rocking in Refuge…. Recovery is possible! 

For more information on Rock to Recovery please visit: www.RockToRecovery.org or email directly: [email protected]

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.
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 [email protected], and if you wish to include any attachments, we ask that you please save them in .doc or .txt format.

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

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

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

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.

Voices from the Sangha - Amy Reed

Amy Reed is a writer, mother, and current Treasurer for the very spirited Refuge community in Asheville, NC. She got sober nine years ago in Oakland, CA, where 12-steps and a little dabbling in Buddhism was just what she needed. After moving to the South in 2014, her recovery and spiritual paths have found a new home in Refuge Recovery.

Some Thoughts on Activism and Buddhism

by Amy Reed

I am by no means an expert on Buddhism, but one thing I have come to understand is that the Buddha was a revolutionary, both spiritually and politically. At a time when it was unthinkable, he welcomed the untouchable caste into his sangha. He ordained women as monks (but only after they shaved their heads and marched a hundred miles on bloody bare feet in protest, because those original bikkhunis were badass). His teachings were about questioning dogma and the establishment, yet his sangha did not isolate and tune out, did not close themselves off from the suffering of the world–they were in the streets; they were teaching the way of compassion to anyone who would listen; they were advising kings. They were involved.

Compassion is not only something I do when I’m meditating. I can cultivate wise intentions and wholesome thoughts while I sit, I can send metta to abstract strangers around the world, but that is only part of my practice. There is also right action. There is the action of compassion. What does it mean to act wisely in this world that is experiencing so much suffering? How do I show up for others, and also for myself?

I can start by looking deeply at myself. I can use the practices of mindfulness to investigate, with mercy and without judgment, how I may be contributing to the greed, hatred, and delusion of the world. I can investigate my prejudices and implicit bias, the programming I received from my family and culture, and I can work to heal and see clearly. I can practice gratitude and unattached appreciation for my privileges, and I can practice generosity to use those privileges to help others. I can know when to be humble and listen when people say they’re hurting. I can vote for people who will do the most good, or at the very least do the least amount of harm, even if the people I am given the choice to vote for are not perfect. Because not voting, not participating, is far from neutral; it grants power to those who are doing the most harm, and it makes me complicit.

Addicts and alcoholics have seen more than our fair share of suffering, and yet we persist, we still hope and believe in the power of transformation. We see it in meetings every day—the human capacity for change, the ability of even the most broken of us to turn our lives around and become someone new and whole, and to be of service to help others. Apathy is not an option for people in recovery, and hope is a requirement. I have seen countless people transformed amidst seemingly impossible conditions, including myself, so I have to believe institutions can transform too. And I know, like all the most meaningful transformations in my own life, all change requires hard work and persistence.

I often joke that I am co-dependent with America. In the last two years, I have felt an almost constant pulse of anxiety and fear, an inability to find peace, to settle, to feel safe. This country is not okay, so I cannot be okay. My wellbeing feels dependent on external circumstances I cannot control. So I worry. It is what I have always done. I have been worrying for as long as I can remember. When I worry, I feel like I’m being vigilant, that I am somehow controlling the situation. But of course, I am not controlling anything. I am just reacting. I am letting my fear take control.  

I am beginning to realize that worrying is not compassion. Like resentment, though seemingly directed at other people, it only really affects myself. I do not help anyone by worrying about them. I do not help anyone by obsessively scrolling through Twitter and Facebook and getting more and more triggered and enraged by headline after click-bait headline. I am not helping anyone by believing I cannot be okay unless everyone else is okay. And this is where equanimity comes in. This is when I need to let go of what I cannot control. Right now, it’s like this. For me, this is a good time for the Serenity Prayer (perhaps replacing “God, grant me–” with a more Buddhist-friendly “May I have–”).  

In all my passion to help, I sometimes forget one essential thing: do no harm. And that includes myself. So if I am getting compassion fatigue, if I am inching toward my tendency to feel co-dependent with the whole world, if I am obsessing about how much I hate people who disagree with me, I have to pause and ask myself: “What is off here? How can I be kind and gentle with myself and others? How can I practice equanimity?”

Equanimity tells me that all beings are the source of their own spiritual liberation, but compassion and right action tell me I cannot sit idly by while people’s rights and lives are in danger. I have incredible power to use my voice to help ease suffering in this world–in my community, in my family, in my sangha, and in the interactions I have with strangers throughout my day–but that power has a limit, and I must accept that limit if I am going to find any peace within myself.

Activism is an essential part of my Buddhist practice. For me, it is how compassion and right action intersect, with equanimity there to keep me humble and in a place of acceptance for what I cannot control. This is how I go against the stream. This is how I try to be a Buddha. Because in this world full of greed, hatred, and delusion, any act of kindness, compassion, and generosity is a revolutionary act.  

If you want more info about Buddhism and activism, check out the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and the book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, by Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah.

 

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

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.