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.