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Bee Sloan

Bee Sloan

Reading to Change Your Mind

These are my recommendations for books about the Refuge Recovery practice, the intersection of Twelve Steps and Buddhism, and how to meditate. They are not specifically endorsed by Refuge Recovery and are offered in the spirit of generosity to our sangha. Happy reading!

I got sober in a Hazelden facility, and they were pretty heavy into AA. You had to show that you went to meetings. I got in trouble because I wouldn’t go. I was fine with the first three steps. Yeah, I think I’ve proven I’m powerless over alcohol! And obviously I need a power greater than myself to get sober, because even though I was told that drinking was going to kill me pretty soon, I couldn’t stop. I was finally ready to accept that I wasn’t the one who knew better.

But there I got stuck. I had to believe in some kind of God. And they kept referring to a personal, anthropomorphic God, who apparently is of the male gender. And I didn’t like the Fourth Step and its successors. I was already drowning in shame and the words “character flaws” made me feel worse.  I liked the word “meditation” in the Eleventh Step, but then they started that God talk again.

My doctor recommended Refuge Recovery as an option. Oh wow, what a relief! Meditation! Renunciation and abstinence instead of a daily 24-hour-a-day struggle! Uncovering my Buddha nature and practicing an ethical life instead of cataloging my flaws. I loved it, but there were only two meetings in Portland then, and once I was discharged from Hazelden, I needed at least a meeting each day, which left AA. I started going to a daily 6:00 a.m. meeting, where I became part of a great support group, and gritted my teeth through meetings, trying to translate what I was hearing into something I could use.

Then my doctor gave me Kevin Griffith’s book, A Burning Desire, at our last meeting. I opened the book at random and read this:

“I’ve been sober long enough to have seen a lot of suffering around the six Steps that refer to God – people who are angry with God, people who are confused about God, people who rebel against the very idea of God…and, sadly, even people who drink and use in response to the demand that they believe. This, to me, is a tragedy. 

Well. That described me.

As I continued to read, I realized that this book explores aspects of spirituality that made sense to me: One, understanding that happiness doesn’t come primarily through the material world; two, recognizing our interconnectedness with other people and nature; and three, realizing the limits of our control over both our external and internal experience, and accepting those limits.

I was just about to say, “Yeah, but…” when I got to this part:

“…It isn’t easy to look inside for happiness – it can get pretty messy in there; interconnection puts some challenging demands on us as we suddenly have to start thinking about something other than our own self-interest; living morally can be inconvenient; letting go is rarely as pretty as it sounds; and fear often trumps faith in our stressful lives.”

Luckily for us, Kevin doesn’t leave you there. The rest of the book is an exploration of the Higher Powers of Karma, Mindfulness, Wisdom, Love, The Eight-fold Path, Faith, Presence, Spiritual Awakening, and the Group, followed by looking at the Steps through a Buddhist lens.

If, like me, you struggle with the idea of a Higher Power, this book may be just what you need. Enjoy, and may you be at ease.

Bee Sloan

Bee Sloan

Reading to Change Your Mind

These are my recommendations for books about the Refuge Recovery practice, the intersection of Twelve Steps and Buddhism, and how to meditate. They are not specifically endorsed by Refuge Recovery and are offered in the spirit of generosity to our sangha. Happy reading!

May I be filled with compassion. At least once a week, I meditate upon this phrase, with myself as the one I am offering compassion to.

Blah!

That’s almost as bad as this one: I offer myself forgiveness. Double blah!

I’ve been working with these phrases for over three years now, and while I have come a long way, there are still days when I wonder, how can I possibly have compassion for myself or forgive myself?

Apparently there’s a lot more healing to be done. But I’m having a hard time right now with living in reality – the reality between my ears and the reality out there in the world – and once again, I’m asking, “Is healing really possible?”

Yes. YES. That is, if we do the work of believing that we have the potential to heal, and then find and listen to the teachings that are helpful to us, and put those teachings into practice.

Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I haven’t found many meditations that deal directly with healing the experiences of pain, grief, and trauma…that speak to me in a gentle way, a way that I can hear. So when I opened Stephen Levine’s Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings in a bookstore this summer, read two lines and started to cry with relief, I closed the book, walked to the front of the bookstore and bought the book on the spot.

In this remarkable book, Levine offers a series of guided meditations that starts with establishing a practice with the basics of mindfulness and breathing and then builds on those basics with healing meditations, each one prefaced with an introductory exploration. I found these particularly helpful: The chapters on pain (Softening the Pain, An Exploration of the Emotions around Pain); grief (Converting the Griefpoint to the Touchpoint of the Heart and A Guided Grief Meditation); and healing (Healing into the Body and Healing Shared). Whatever you are working with at this point in your life – forgiveness, physical pain, grief, an eating disorder, trauma from past experiences (including sexual trauma), recovering from substance abuse – there is something here for you.

So just to get you started, as the days grow shorter and the nights lengthen, I offer you the last few lines of the last meditation in the book: Now know the truth as it is and go on, taking refuge in the vastness of your original nature. Know that you are well guided by your compassion and love. You are the essence of all things. You are the light.

Thanks, Stephen.

Bee's Books

Bee’s Books – Reading to Change Your Mind

FREEDOM! God, I love Aretha Franklin. Who will ever forget her belting that out?

Freedom was what I craved, and what was always impossibly out of reach. Freedom from depression, self-loathing and despair. Freedom from that four o’clock drink that ended in blackout night after night. I waited until the afternoon because I knew that “real” alcoholics drank all day. So if I could hang on until then, I wasn’t an alcoholic. I say this now, but really, if I didn’t think I had a problem, why did I spend so many years agonizing about my drinking and trying to stop? There were years when I white-knuckled it and didn’t drink – because I was pregnant or because my husband was in inpatient and the counselors told the spouses to stop drinking. There were other years where I only had about four really functional hours a day. I don’t remember the last six months very well. Somehow I managed to stay sober for 72 hours, which cleared my mind enough that I could get into a treatment center, which got me to the point where I could really commit to a sobriety program, whatever that meant.

Always before, I had tried to get my drinking under control with a weekly AA meeting, or by drinking in moderation, or with nutrition and exercise. A one note solution to a rock opera problem. I wanted to do it with my fingertips and I wanted it to be fast. Needless to say, it never worked, and my conclusion was, “See? I can’t quit.”

Finally, I decided to throw EVERYTHING at this disease that was about to kill me, and found a book that walked me through a lot of that “everything.”

 

Bee's Books - September 2018The Recovery Book: Answers to All Your Questions About Addiction and Alcoholism and Finding Health and Happiness in Sobriety by Al J. Mooney, M.D., gave me a good overview of what I was getting into. Dr. Mooney has divided sobriety into three “zones,” Red, Yellow, and Green. The first two phases last a couple of years apiece, and the Green Zone, the rest of your life. In other words, this isn’t a fast process. How do you stay clean and sober while your body heals and your brain rewires? He’s got answers for it all, addressing detox, professional treatment, support groups, healing your brain and body, restoring relationships, rebuilding your career and financial health, and dealing with emotional trauma from the past.

This book pre-dates the Refuge Recovery movement, so he leans heavily on 12-step programs, although he does say that there are other support groups that work better for some people. I would have liked more information about medication and meditation. Probably the most valuable take-away for me from Dr. Mooney’s book was really understanding the scope and sequence of a truly effective recovery program – its life-long nature and what is required in terms of daily work and attention.

And don’t forget the actual name of that song – RESPECT. Respect the long process of healing and transformation. Respect yourself. You are worthy of this work.

Bee's Books

Bee’s Books – Reading to Change Your Mind

When we think of gathering in community, how many of the visions that arise have to do with food? That iconic Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving dinner; pizza and a movie on Friday night; waffles at Sunday brunch. That’s the sunlit side of eating. Not many of us would want to do without it. But then there’s the shadow side: the family-sized bag of cookies downed in fifteen minutes when the divorce decree comes in the mail – scrabbling in the bottom of the bag of Kettle chips and realizing that I just ate the whole thing without noticing it – eating dessert after a huge dinner, because “I had a hard week, I deserve this.” And I don’t have a diagnosed eating disorder. Like most of us, I have the garden-variety version of what Jon Kabat-Zinn has called “our disordered relationship with food and eating.” It’s caused me to gain extra weight. It’s cost me a few unnecessary stomach aches. But so far, that’s all.

However, for many, the relationship with food has tipped over into a true eating disorder, just as dangerous to health as a disordered relationship with alcohol or a drug addiction. The spiritual, emotional and physical agony that eating disorders cause can be devastating.

An alcoholic can renounce alcohol. A drug addict can abstain from drugs. The Refuge Recovery practice is based on renunciation and abstinence. It’s made clear that renunciation is the price of admission to start on the path to true recovery.  And as difficult and excruciating as that path can be, especially in the beginning, drug and alcohol addicts have the advantage of being addicted to something you can renounce. What if you have a process addiction that involves food? You can’t renounce eating.

Bee's Books - August 2018But our practice does include a path to recovery, even so. Remember the equanimity meditation? “Suffering or happiness is created through one’s relationship to experience, not by the experience itself.” It is possible to change your relationship to food. In her book, Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, Jan Chozen Bays, MD, offers insight into how to satisfy the many kinds of hunger. What kind of hunger are you experiencing, she asks? And how can you truly satisfy that particular of hunger? Practice (both written and in the form of guided exercises on an accompanying CD) is provided.

Dr. Bays, also known as Chozen Roshi, is a pediatrician specializing in child abuse, a meditation teacher, and a teacher of mindful eating. She is also the co-abbott of Great Vow Zen monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. As you might expect from her background, her writing voice is gentle, kindly, and accessible.

Her videos on mindful eating have been uploaded to YouTube by both Great Vow and Shambhala Publications.

Dr. Bays concludes her book with this Dedication of Merit, and I pass it on to you:

May we all become free from anxiety and fear about eating. May we all be at ease. May we all be content as we nourish this precious human body and mind. May our hearts be happy and satisfied as we walk the path of awakening. 

Bee Sloan

These are my recommendations for books about the Refuge Recovery practice, the intersection of Twelve Steps and Buddhism, and how to meditate. They are not specifically endorsed by Refuge Recovery and are offered in the spirit of generosity to our sangha. Happy reading!

For me, the core of the Refuge Recovery book has always been the chapter “The Process.” There it is, the crack in the sidewalk I stumble over every time I read it, Number 6, Effort/Energy:

“We commit to the daily disciplined practice(s) of meditation…”

and then a few paragraphs later,

“We encourage you to begin with the practice of meditation right away. Meditation is going to be the most important tool in supporting our renunciation.”

This is demonstrably true. I have seen it work miracles in my life and in the lives of dozens of people. And if I know how true and valuable this is, why is it so hard for me to stick with this brief daily commitment? And I’ve noticed that it’s not just me. Newcomers and long-time practitioners alike have their struggles with meditation practice. Restlessness, doubt, attachments to our stories, and self-criticism can all derail a meditation session or even a long-established practice. But the meditation practice is absolutely key to our recovery. How can we overcome these hindrances and establish or continue a practice that is so crucial and beneficial to our developing sense of ease in the world as it is?

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chödrön

In Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, Pema Chödrön seems to speak directly to us in her loving voice about how to accept ourselves and our lives, just as they are. She provides clear instruction in three basic meditation practices: basic sitting meditation, tonglen, and working with lojong, the seven points of mind training.

I found this book to be a real life saver. The lojong slogans serve as exercise for my heart and mind, just as walking does for my heart and body. Tonglen made sense for the first time, too.

But for me, probably the most valuable passage was instruction on becoming mindful of thoughts as just something the mind does. Pema says,

“Labeling your thoughts as ‘thinking’ will help you see the transparency of thoughts, that things are actually very light and illusory. Every time your stream of thoughts solidifies into a heavy storyline…label that ‘thinking.’ Then you will be able to see how all the passion that’s connected with these thoughts, or all the aggression or all the heartbreak, is simply passing memory.”

That was a huge revelation, and the book is full of them. Give it a read! May it help you be at ease with your practice.

Bee Sloan

These are my recommendations for books about the Refuge Recovery practice, the intersection of Twelve Steps and Buddhism, and how to meditate. They are not specifically endorsed by Refuge Recovery and are offered in the spirit of generosity to our sangha. Happy reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bee Sloan

These are my recommendations for books about the Refuge Recovery practice, the intersection of Twelve Steps and Buddhism, and how to meditate. They are not specifically endorsed by Refuge Recovery and are offered in the spirit of generosity to our sangha. Happy reading!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson PH.D

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

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

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

Train Your Mind Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley

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

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

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

by Bee Sloan

When I first got sober, all I knew was that I didn’t want to die this way. For the first time I understood that drinking was really going to kill me. Not that I didn’t want to die; because I did, but then a nurse told me, “You don’t want to die THAT way. It’s a really ugly way to go.” Finally this message penetrated my fogged brain and I became ready to do whatever it took to get sober. And as I did the work of early recovery, I became more and more willing to live, to learn about my true nature, and to do the work to become the person I was meant to be.

These are the books that helped me most, my first year. There are many more, which I hope to share with you in future newsletters:

  1. “Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction” Noah Levine
  2. “Against the Stream” Noah Levine
  3. “The Heart of the Revolution” Noah Levine
  4. “Buddhism and the Twelve Steps Workbook” Kevin Griffin
  5. “One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps” Kevin Griffin
  6. “The Twelve-Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction” Darren Littlejohn
  7. “Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction” Damien Keown
  8. “The Recovery Book: Answers to All Your Questions About Addiction and Alcoholism” A.J. Mooney

And finally, strangely enough, “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor, an inspirational story of a woman’s stroke and recovery, written from her own point of view as a neuroscientist. I learned a lot about how the brain heals from this book. It was recommended to me by my nurse at Hazelden.