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UnDude

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Rock to Recovery

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

 

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

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

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

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

Voices from the Sangha - Amy Reed

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

Some Thoughts on Activism and Buddhism

by Amy Reed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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