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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.

The South Florida intersangha as been working together to provide opportunities to turn Dharma into practice, build a strong recovery community, and encourage and support the work in which each individual member is engaged.
  • During June, Daniel Fishburn from Asheville, NC joined members of our own community to explore specific key practices that, collectively, are parts of the Refuge Path to Recovery. Over 40 members from throughout Florida spent an afternoon exploring addiction, renunciation, inventory and understanding, meditation as investigative practice, mentorship and spiritual friendship, and personal ethical conduct and the precepts as learning opportunities.
  • Beginning in July, the intersangha is hosting a series focusing on how central finding our authentic voices is to our recovery process. The biweekly series will explore challenges faced by women, members from the LGBTQI community, those recovering from process addictions, persons with both mental and physical disabilities, persons of color, and cys-identified straight men in owning their individual voices during developmental periods, during addiction, and in recovery (both within and outside of Refuge). Our goal is to find ways to make our sangha truly safe and welcoming for each of us.
  • Throughout 2018 we have met weekly as a group to work through the inventory process, learning how to investigate these central concerns by supporting each other spiritually through the process. Although this meeting began in response to the scarcity of available mentors, it has shown the tremendous value of friendships based on spiritual connection, honesty, and compassionately confronting our truths with others!
  • We have started taking meetings into two residential treatment centers, and have begun conversations with a number of traditionally 12-step based programs on how we can augment options for their clients.
As a peer-led community, it has been exciting this year to expand upon the ways we are connecting and learning to support each other. We continue to talk about new ways to welcome and embrace those new to Refuge and recovery, increase connections to the large south Florida recovery industry, and focus as a group on being a safe, welcoming, and meaningful part of people’s recovery!
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.

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.

Bee Sloan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bee Sloan

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson PH.D

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

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

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

Train Your Mind Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley

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

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

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

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

New Year Intention Reflection 2018

New Year Intention Reflection 2018