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 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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m a 51 year old, anarcho-queer. I am also fully professed Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Sonata Innocent, since 2009. Over the decades, my paid work as alternated between working in human rights (torture, prisons…and all the ‘isms & phobias) and human services (HIV, addiction, severe & persistent mental health issues). I grew up in Indiana and took off at 20 years old to find adventure in Orlando, Atlanta & Seattle before finding myself “back home again in Indiana.” Currently, I work as a Recovery Coach for people with co-occurring disorders. I take refuge in my communities who are connected through and around Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism and Social Justice.

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

I consider myself as being in recovery from acute and chronic mental health disorders sine 2006 (PTSD, generalized anxiety, and clinical depression) I’ve been in recovery for addictive behaviors with several programs: codependency 2012, alcohol 2013, tobacco 2014. I’m still working towards a better life with food, money and video screens.

I’ve been a member of Buddhist Sangha since 2004 (Shambhala 2004-2011, Insight & Dharmata 2011-Present, Refuge Recovery 2014-Present). Though I have not always attended, I have identified as a Unitarian Universalist since 1990. (The question remains: am I a UU Buddhist or a Buddhist UU?)

I found my way to AA in 2013 because I wanted to attend a new meditation meeting in town. I came to understand that I was in a lot of internal pain – so much that it was life threatened from suicidal ideation and self-harm several times in my life. I also realized that I needed help outside of myself. I needed a long term, community of people who were in the same or a similar boat as I was / am. Therapists and psychiatrists are very helpful, some are even spiritual and Buddhist based. But they are not a long term community.

In 2014, I started Googling “Buddhist Recovery” I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, or what was missing in my 12 step community. As it turns out, now that I have been with RR for a few years I realize that two big factors were the prayers and the inventories. For me, rather than offering relief or a sense of letting go, the “Serenity Prayer” and the “Our Father” elicited craving, clinging and contraction (“Gimmie serenity “ Gimmie Forgiveness”).

What part does Refuge Recovery play in your own recovery?

In 2015, I started an online meeting. I have had excellent experiences with online meetings in a variety of programs. Refuge Recovery has followed suit. I have wonderful friends who live thousands of miles away from me. But with technology, they are with me daily. I talk with my sponsor who lives in town as much as I talk with mentor who lives in the Bay Area in Northern California. My phone cannot really tell the difference.

At first, I took the recommendation of committing to 6 months, whether or not someone else showed up. It became a time for me to engage in my own practice. Then someone else committed to showing up with me for 6 months. After that, our meetings grew. I made a commitment to myself that I would not start a meeting in my area until there was at least one other person who was interested in co-leading. After a couple of years, that has finally happened. I love my local meeting. It has not replaced my Online and long distance sangha. Indeed, I don’t think the local meeting would be possible without my having that connection to the larger fellowship through those meetings.

For the first year, those of us on the phone just kind of listened to each other’s inventory questions. That was helpful. And in 2015, I was able to attend the RR National Conference in LA. I found a mentor who is deeply connected to the community and to the practice. My work with the inventory has transformed. Now, it is my main practice. The actual writing is only a few minutes. My engagement with the inventories is an exploration of themes like Understanding, Intention and Wise Action. Sitting with the meditation and then talking about my list and about my experiences with my mentor expands my awareness, my love and my insight even more.

How does Refuge Recovery support your recovery challenges?

My challenge has been dedicating to a daily practice. Even though one part of my brain listened to my teachers and was somewhat accepting about what constituted practice, another part of my mind still held a very narrow, limited view of what was “real practice.” Even though I had my doubts that I really belonged or that I was “really practicing,” I continued to listen to Dharma Talks and with online meetings, expanded the number of times I actually sat in meditation each week. I do not feel relief from sitting by myself, I still often feel an increase in anxiety, so it’s been challenging for me to approach it all on my own without some external structure. But with the book, the Dharma Talks and the Guided meditations, I have the option to connect every day.

This year, I still have experienced hardships and challenges. Yet, I actually feel happy these days. When I start to feel guilt and shame in the morning about some task I failed to complete the day before – instead of grasping for serenity, I spontaneously start to soften my belly, wish myself genuine love and kindness and begin to appreciate the joy I’ve experienced in the past day. The result is both a sense of love for myself (a new feeling!) and I start to see that any challenge is just one aspect of a reality that is limitless. …and then both motivation and creative ideas start to flow….. Okay, so not every day, but many more than before.

What’s your favorite part of the book?

At this time, I have three go-to chapters that seem to apply to every challenge I face: Understanding, Intention and Breaking the Addiction. Every challenge seems to be based in the foundations of clear understanding and a loving intention. The chapter entitled “Breaking the Addiction” seems to be full of promises and hope. I now use readings from those chapters to end any RR meeting I am facilitating.

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

I am one of the facilitators for online meetings. You can expect much the same as you would any other RR meeting with a few additions: The format is basically the same: Opening readings, meditation followed by a reading from the book and a discussion of a topic. The difference is that we get to connect with others in recovery from around the US, and sometimes the World. Participants have had experience ranging from early recovery to decades of abstinence and sobriety. Participants have been from every major region in the US and a few countries around the world (Bali and Australia are the furthest).

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

Noble Truth Inventory Meeting

I’m not sure if my intention was to just wrap my brain around the inventory or to delay starting it. Either way, with the support of my mentor and others, I have created a study guide for the first truth inventory. Now that it is somewhat settled, I have found it very helpful….but maybe that’s because it’s wired for my brain. If you’re looking for any kind of extra support (not homework – support) around working with inventory questions, feel free to check it out. It’s linked here: https://sites.google.com/view/refugerecoverylive/noble-truth-inventory

I’m also active with the Refuge Recovery Live District of the Region XII. Previously, we were simply focused on ensuring that our meetings were covered for facilitation and making sure we had an online presence. Now, we are looking towards supporting one of our members to attend the annual meeting.

Anything else you’d like to add?

What I love about this community, about how this whole RR thing has been set up – is that is expansive – not too expansive – but enough – so that the person living in an area that is actively hostile towards Buddhism, or a treatment center, or like me just wants to get in more than one meeting per week – has a real and meaningful option to engage through online meetings. I was thrilled to hear from our fellow sangha member that the online meetings would be Region XII.

by Hannah Joan, Syracuse, NY

We started in May 2017. The story of how we started began in September 2016 when I woke up in my car; not an unusual thing to happen to me seeing as I had an alcohol problem, but because I also had an eating disorder I was often drinking instead of eating.

That morning I woke up and said, “This is it.”

I wasn’t sure how to get better but I started practicing yoga every day and reading “Dharma Punx”. So much of Noah’s life was like mine, except I was raised in an abusive Baptist church household. The start of healing seemed to really happen when I connected my breath to my yoga poses. This turned into practicing my breath and feeling my body tone in meditation. I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew I felt better and started to accept and sit with the fact that I was an alcoholic and needed to get control of my eating disorder or I would die.

September 2016 was the last time I drank. I went to an outpatient clinic for six months. The whole time I felt a call to share the experience I felt from staying aware of my breath and body tone. I could tell when I would get a craving or when I wanted to run away from what I was feeling, before the thought came to my mind.

I soon ordered “Refuge Recovery”, and was so overwhelmed with the need to share this crazy secret that had changed my life. I searched for places to start a meeting, stayed patient and continued growing in my practice. One day I got a message from a woman named Ashley, who was working at Prevention Network. She wanted to ask me about this Buddhist Path to Recovery I was living. We met, she loved it, and offered me space for free to start a meeting!

May 2017 was our first meeting. I never had expectations. I thought, “Even if it is just me sitting alone, I will do that.” However, this didn’t happen. That first meeting had six people in it and today we are now at 15 people every Sunday morning. I do not pride myself that these beautiful people are finding their true selves. I am just loving them along the way.

The practice of mindfulness and non-attachment has transformed my life and I love seeing the light in others faces when they experience this freedom too. I was a punk drunk, anorexic, angry, suicidal, fighter most of my life. I truly am thankful for the whole community around the world involved in Refuge Recovery. Syracuse has a very bad heroin scene and it’s not getting better, so I am blessed to be able to offer something else. I couldn’t go to church for AA because I shut down when I went inside one, ptsd and anxiety blocked any sort of positivity that aa could have brought me.

So, we meet every Sunday morning at 10am, at 906 Spencer St, Syracuse, NY. I am also planning on starting a second meeting very soon. It’s truly amazing how all of this happened and it’s humbling to be able to share after years of anger.

An interview with the creator of the Refuge Recovery Starter Kit

Cassie Lee is the creator of the Refuge Recovery New Meeting Starter Kits. She agreed to sit down with Sangha Spotlight to discuss recovery, kits, and the appropriate weather for dinosaurs.

Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m 35, I currently live in Las Vegas but originally from Detroit. I’ve been a vegetarian for 24 years. I’m happiest on a scenic drive somewhere remote with the windows down and a mixtape on blast. I love animals- especially my 10-year-old woof named Luca. I do photo gigs for families and businesses as a side hustle. Currently, I have the pleasure living with my older brother, his wife, and their son Andrew- who is 3 years old and my best friend. Living with them has allowed me to see exactly what kind of family I would love to have of my own in the future. Read more

An interview with a Detroit mover and shaker

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

As I start to answer I recognize a familiar story, about how my story doesn’t fit, how I don’t fit, how as an old timer in recovery I’m barely relevant to the younger people who are finding refuge in Refuge Recovery. The good news is that because of Refuge and a meditation practice I move from the virtual reality that lives in my head to a real reality that lives somewhere in the heart/mind/gut of my life.

Read more