Categories
Mindfulness Recovery Spirituality

Noah Levine’s Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction

Refuge Recovery is a non-profit, Buddhist oriented, non-theistic recovery program and Noah Levine’s latest book.

Noah Levine Reading from Refuge Recovery at the Book Release at BLVD Treatment

Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction was released on June 10, coincidentally the 79th anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous. Noah Levine, M.A., whose story is already familiar to many in the recovery community, is also the author of the autobiographical Dharma Punx, the revolutionary meditation manual Against the Stream, and the reflections on the practice of loving-kindness Heart of the Revolution. He founded Against the Stream Meditation Society, which opened its doors in Los Angeles in 2008, and Santa Monica in 2009.

 

Refuge Recovery was birthed in direct response to the clear need for a viable, non-theistic approach to recovery. Noah, feeling disconnected from the 12 steps’ theistic philosophy, found deeper relief within the 4 Noble Truths and the 8-Fold Path of Buddhism. Many members of Against the Stream who were talking about similar difficulties pursued similar conversations. There was a need to shift the paradigm of 12-step recovery and open the door to an alternative path.  Refuge Recovery doesn’t ask anyone to shift a belief system, nor does it require anyone to believe in something. It simply asks that you “trust the process and do the hard work of recovery.” You also don’t have to be Buddhist to participate.

 

The Four Truths of Recovery are:

1: We suffer due to our addictions and the general difficulties of being human in this world of constant change and loss.

2: Craving is a natural phenomenon; it is not our fault, but we are fully responsible for our healing and recovery.

3: We can fully recover and enjoy a life of sanity and well-being.

4: This is the path to recovery: the Eight-fold Path.

 

Refuge Recovery begins with the First Truth: addiction creates suffering. Understanding that addiction always creates suffering is crucial. Suffering is craving the next drink or drug. Suffering is the idea that you can’t get enough; Suffering is the loneliness and shame and isolation. Suffering is the desire for more pleasure and less pain, which we persistently seek in our addiction. Suffering shows its face in a multitude of maladaptive behaviors.  Understanding this first truth and then accepting it as reality also means accepting that drink and drug aren’t an option any longer.  Recognizing the multiple layers of suffering is encouraged through inventory work: “Without full acceptance and disclosure, recovery is not possible. We cannot skip this step; we must be thorough in our inventory process.” (page 6, RR)

 

The Second Truth asks you to do another inventory, this time seeking clarity and acceptance around the causative factors behind your craving. “The addict is not at fault for the root causes and conditions that lead to addiction, only for the habitual reactive patterns that perpetuate it.” (page 11, RR)  More often than not, someone suffering from addiction is suffering from deep pain and dissatisfaction in their lives. Perhaps there is abuse, and drugs and alcohol help numb the pain; perhaps there is neglect, and drugs and alcohol make you forget. The reasons and root causes are many and they are varied, but they all lead to the same place: suffering.

 

The 8-Fold Path of Recovery directs us toward maintaining safety and creating a refuge from addiction. The Eight-Fold Path of Refuge Recovery is:

1: Understanding: We come to know that everything is ruled by cause and effect.

2: Intention: We renounce greed, hatred, and delusion. We train our minds to meet all pain with compassion and all pleasure with non-attached appreciation.

3: Communication/Commmunity: We take refuge in the community as a place to practice wise communication and to support others on their paths. We practice being careful, honest, and wise in our communications.

4: Action/Engagement: We let go of the behaviors that cause harm. We ask that one renounces violence, dishonesty, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Compassion, honesty, integrity, and service are guiding principles.

5: Livelihood/Service: We are of service whenever and wherever possible. And we try and ensure that our means of livelihood are such that they don’t cause harm.

6: Effort/Energy: We commit to daily contemplative practices like meditation and yoga, exercise, and the practices of wise actions, kindness, forgiveness, compassion which lead to self-regulatory behaviors in difficult circumstances.

7: Mindfulness/Meditations: We develop wisdom by means of practicing formal mindfulness meditation. We practice present-time awareness in our lives.

8: Concentration/Meditations: We develop the capacity to focus the mind on one thing, such as the breath, or a phrase, training the mind through the practices of lovingkindness, compassion, and forgiveness to cultivate that which we want to uncover. (pages 24-26 RR)

 

What Refuge Recovery does is encourage practitioners to lean into their discomfort, investigate it, notice its impermanence, and begin to let it go. It encourages a deep shift in one’s relationship to suffering, creating an element of space around it, and it provides a unique ability to begin to care for your own suffering with compassion. Ultimately, we learn that we are not our suffering.

 

Refuge Recovery asks practitioners to know and understand that everything has a cause and effect and to take action to shift toward making better, wiser choice. Our actions are never without a reaction, good, bad or indifferent.

 

Refuge Recovery has been a deep, grounding cornerstone of my own recovery for the last 6 years. It has profoundly shifted how I view my own difficulties and allowed me to come to a deep understanding of how to hold my pain with compassion and approach my difficulties with kindness. It’s exciting to see this work come to fruition and to have been involved in the Refuge Recovery movement since its inception. I have been fortunate to witness the efficacy of Refuge Recovery for those who are just getting sober and for those with long-term sobriety, proving to me that this method works. It’s also been a wonderful alternative for clients struggling with the 12-step model; these same clients have embraced the Refuge Recovery process, finding relief from their suffering and formed a solid foundation of recovery and service.

 

There are regular Refuge Recovery meetings in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Oklahoma City, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Nashville. See HERE for a complete list with times and locations. If one isn’t in your area, you are encouraged to start your own. You can download meeting formats and Refuge Recovery inventories and meditations at RefugeRecovery.org. In addition, BLVD Treatment Centers is offering the first Refuge Recovery track for adults in treatment. There is also a Refuge Recovery sober living that has recently launched, that is has created a sober living environment in coordination with the Refuge Recovery Model.

 

Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery

Can Contemplative Practices Foster Recovery?

In addition to our therapeutic programs, Visions offers contemplative practices to our teens that teach and encourage skills for self-regulation and self-care. We have regular yoga classes and a weekly meditation group.

 

Jessica Rosen, founder of One Down Dog in Silverlake, heads up our yoga program. She brings in a playful element to yoga that the kids love. This allows them to reconnect with themselves in a profound way. I spoke to Jessica and asked her what she feels she brings to the clients, and how contemplative practices are helpful in recovery. She said, “Through the practice of yoga I hope to offer students the tools to get comfortable in discomfort. Through yoga and meditation we explore our challenges, we confront our inner critic, we gain clarity and find acceptance. For example, the ability to sit in a hip opener may help us sit through a tough breakup, or better handle confrontation and fights with our friends/parents, and gain confidence in ourselves and our appearance.”

 

I also asked Joseph Rogers, Visions Education Coordinator at the Visions Day School, Chaplain and meditation facilitator, how he feels meditation is helping the clients.  Joseph said, “The most immediate and greatest benefit is that the clients learn how to, as the Big Book says, ‘stop and pause when agitated.’ Additionally, I try to make a great deal of effort to put these kids on the path of compassion for themselves and others.”

 

The contemplative practices can have a profound effect on one’s ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, and connect with the present moment. Both offer a chance to pause, to look inward, and to come to a place of equanimity (mental calmness and composure) when faced with difficulty.

 

I too teach yoga to youth, and one thing I notice are the high levels of stress these kids face. The pressures of being cool, getting good grades, and the discomfort of the rapid physical changes can be overwhelming. This is where contemplative practices are useful. I’ve found that teaching kids the ability to take a deep breath and pause before responding or reacting to difficulty is hugely beneficial. Developing a sense of self-awareness helps eliminate the sense of perpetual urgency to respond or act on an impulse. The contemplative practices also engage the parasympathetic nervous system—the area within our nervous system that quiets the fight or flight response, quells anxiety, and brings things back into harmony.

 

There are three key tools for self-regulation, and the contemplative practices are the perfect conduit for them:

 

Grounding, Resourcing, and Orienting.

 

Grounding: Reconnecting to the present moment, your emotions and physical sensations. One grounds themselves by noticing their feet on the floor, or placing your hands on something solid in order to help themselves get back into the body. Taking deep breaths while you are doing this can help you track the sensations mindfully. Taking a time out when you are dysregulated is the first step to getting grounded.

 

Resourcing:  We all have resources within us or outside of ourselves. Resources are tools we can easily access that make us reconnect with calm. For example, breath can be a resource. Your hands on your belly or lap can be a resource. Your pet can be a resource. A resource is something that helps you feel good when everything around you is dismal.

 

Orienting:  Checking in with your surroundings. When we are not self-regulated, we check out. This is a disembodying experience–one that feels determinedly unsafe and out of control.  So when we orient, we do so by consciously noticing our surroundings and we do this by looking around the room, noticing where we are, where we are sitting or standing—Orienting is acute observation or present-time awareness.

 

The contemplatice practices of yoga and meditation provide a means of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. They create a sense of awareness, and allow the practitioner to be ok with not being ok, and to accept where they are emotionally and physically in that particular moment in space and time.  Addiction and mental illness are dysregulating, but the use of contemplative practices opens the door to self-regulation, which does foster recovery.

Categories
Adolescence Holidays Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Service Spirituality Teen Activism Wellness

Resolution, Schmesolution: Create a New Year Theme

© 2013 sarit z. rogers — all rights reserved

It’s that time: New Year’s Eve celebrations are upon us! For many, it’s the time of year often met with party plans and resolutions. Parties and resolutions together sound like a juxtaposition and affect some legitimate irony, but nevertheless, they go together for most people every 31st of December. However, if you are in recovery, have clearer eyes and hopefully a wiser mind, things might look a bit different during this time of year.

 

There are several articles offering tips and guidelines for setting up the “perfect” New Year resolutions, 0r embarking on a New Year cleanse, or signing up for a New Year workout plan. The one thing all of these have in common is the idea that you can and will actually commit to changing a bevy of major things just because it’s the New Year. Sadly, many fail or abandon those impassioned resolutions after a few weeks. One article in particular stuck out to me. This article suggests creating a theme for the New Year rather than a resolution. A New Year’s Theme! That is right in line with the New Year Intentions I have suggested in the past. Both of these, a theme or an intention, are something that can easily be created, worked with and maintained throughout the year. Rather than seeking perfection, or a grand, finite accomplishment, a theme or intention allows one to slowly change behaviors and invite the possibility of more long-term, sustainable changes.

 

What might your New Year’s Theme or Intention be for 2014?

 

Kindness: The wonderful quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. You can choose to practice random and not so random acts of kindness throughout the year. Make it a year of being kind when you might otherwise be gruff. Invite some personal curiosity and investigation about what it might be like to respond to difficulty with kindness instead of anger or fear. It’s an interesting one to work with, but everyone can be kind and deserves kindness in return.

 

Mindfulness: Also looked at as keen “awareness,” mindfulness is an astute awareness of reality and the present moment.  It is an acknowledgement that things are just as they are in that moment. If you make mindfulness your New Year theme, perhaps you will begin by investigating the contemplative practices of meditation and yoga. Or perhaps it might mean choosing not to use your cell phone when you are walking around and instead bringing your awareness to your surroundings and becoming more present. It might mean driving without the radio on, or not always having your cell phone nearby. It might mean eating dinner without the television on so you can be more present with your family. Remember, it is not about perfection; this is a practice.

 

Wellness: If you are desirous of changing your health or the way you eat or the amount of activity you engage in, this is a wonderful theme. You might do this by ruling out meat for one day a week, or by eating more greens. You may choose to limit your caffeine, or cut down on your cigarettes or vape pens: eventually you may even quit! You can increase your wellness, that healthy balance of mind, body and spirit, even if you start small. In fact, small changes over a long period of time have a longer lasting effect.

 

Movement: Increase your physicality in 2014. You can start with walking more or riding your bike. If you usually drive to the corner store or to a meeting that’s only a mile away, try riding a bike once a week! The more you do ride your bike or walk, the more it might become a habit. Honestly, there’s no concrete rule about how long habits take to form or break. Instead, look at this as small opportunities for personal change.

 

Service: Make 2014 your year of being of service! Take a commitment at a meeting and keep it for a year. Volunteer to feed the homeless. Volunteer at an animal shelter once a week. Find a cause you believe in and get involved in raising awareness about it. Being of service is the fulcrum of recovery; “We can’t keep it unless we give it away” is one of the most-often repeated sayings relating to being of service. Write it on something you can always see to remind you to get out of yourself and into action.

 

No matter your theme or plan, the New Year is a time of reflection and growth. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past year so we can grow into the new one. May you ring this New Year in with self-care, compassion, kindness, and great joy. We wish you a wonderful New Year celebration and look forward to celebrating and growing with you in 2014.

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Spirituality

Forgiveness: The Path Back to Your Heart

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Rumi

Forgiveness: It’s something we seek and it’s something we can give others. In recovery, forgiveness is imperative for the healing process to really thrive. In the 12-step process, we do inventories to uncover and discover the grievances we may have with others, and more importantly, with ourselves.  But for many of us, this idea of forgiveness, compassion, and kindness are foreign to us. In fact, in some circles, being compassionate and forgiving someone’s foibles is considered a weakness.

 

First, we must start with forgiving ourselves. The truth is, this is easier said than done. We are stuck with internal tapes on a loupe, reminding us of our insignificance and shame. We are inundated with fractured family systems that influence our self-esteem and self-worth. We are touched by the shame and sometimes self-righteous justification of our reactions. To begin this process of forgiveness and self-compassion takes a willingness to take contrary action and go into the emotional places of discomfort. Learning to love ourselves and be kind to ourselves is hard work. But it’s work well worth doing.

 

When I was younger, my anger fueled me. In some ways, it was also the thing that protected me. However, when I came to recovery, I was deeply affected by tragedy and trauma. At the same time, my dysfunctional family system projected blame and shame onto me, leaving me bereft of any ability to be kind to myself. When I began to do the inner work required to redefine my paradigm, I was frozen by fear. This wasn’t delicate work; it was an archeological excavation. But I soon realized that if I was to truly be of service and help others, I had to help myself first. If we are an empty well, we ultimately have nothing to give others.

 

The contemplative practices of yoga and meditation resonate with me, particularly in relation to my recovery.  These are the practices that have ultimately shown me the way to being of service, being kind, and having an open heart. There are a series of meditations called the Brahma Viharas. They are the heart practices, typically referred to as metta practice. They are:  lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion.  In each of these, you focus your energy on phrases that nurture a sense of lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion to yourself, someone you love, a benefactor, a difficult person, and then all beings. Often times, it is suggested to focus primarily on yourself in the beginning, sometimes even for the first year of your meditation practice. Cultivating compassion, forgiveness, and love for yourself is, in and of itself, the act of filling your well.

 

Yoga provides another opportunity: the chance to get back into your body through breath and movement. We can begin to forgive our inflexibility with patience; we can begin to forgive our hyper-flexibility by developing stability.  Both meditation and yoga are opportunities to reconnect with ourselves, and ultimately finding refuge within. One breath, one kind act of self care at a time.

 

I am reminded of the phrase, “My Friend, the Enemy.” Within it, compassion and forgiveness come together. When we develop compassion, we begin to develop the space to forgive those who have harmed us, those we resent, or those who continue to suffer. It doesn’t mean that we justify harms done; it means we get to put down the hot coal of anger we’ve been carrying around so our hearts can heal.

 

Links for Meditation and Yoga:

Against the Stream

Insight LA

Recovery 2.o

Julian Walker

Categories
Addiction Mental Health Recovery Self-Care

Unworthiness: Feelings Aren’t Facts

The overwhelming sense of unworthiness that permeates someone’s mind when they begin their recovery can be astonishing. So often, we begin the path to recovery with this sense of not being worth anything: love, affection, respect, you name it. We show the world our feelings of unworthiness in our actions and our interactions. This is an interesting phenomenon to behold, and a challenging one to unwind and rewire. From the perspective of one who holds the position of sponsor or mentor, the way to help someone rewire often comes by way of being an example; planting seeds and watering them with knowledge, love, and support, and waiting for them to root. They eventually do, but not always in my time, or your time. They root during the natural progression of the person’s readiness to recover and do the necessary work.

 

Unworthiness is a state of mind, a feeling that tends to hover over those who are feeling down and out. It can be a temporary state or it can linger and lead to depression. It is not something to shrug off and ignore or to be held lightly.

 

In order to combat this, it’s vital we do the deep excavating work that’s required for the healing process of recovery to take effect. This work is not an opportunity to beat ourselves up but instead, a time to learn to take steps toward self-care and freedom. Unfortunately, the tendency toward self-deprecation is far too high and can often hinder one’s willingness to move forward.

 

How do we overcome this sense of being unworthy so we can develop feelings of being valuable or worthwhile?

 

1: Be of service: It can be as small as doing your dishes, or picking up the phone and calling someone to see how they are. Smiling at strangers is a nice way to bring some light to your day.

 

2: Ask for help. You can’t do this alone.

 

3: Start a gratitude practice: write down three things that you are grateful for every day and then share them with someone else.

 

4: Look in the mirror every morning and say, “You are magnificent.” Even if it feels weird, the positive reverberations are tangible.

5. Start a meditation practice of Lovingkindness.

 

Going through this process of recovery can be dark. We have to find ways in which to bring some light. Gratitude lists, being of service, and asking for help, developing a meditation practice, and practicing acts of kindness to others and ourselves: those are all flickers of light. We can and will recover, one step, one tear, and one laugh at a time. Those feelings of unworthiness will eventually fade and we will soon realize our feelings aren’t facts.

 

 

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Spirituality

Deepening Our Recovery With Yoga and Meditation

recovery |riˈkəvərē|

noun

1. a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength;

2. the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost. 

This Statue of Shiva (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we begin the process of recovery from various addictions, some may be surprised to find there are a number of approaches to recovery. This is promising. It means recovery isn’t one-size-fits-all, and it means there is hope for those who may be having some difficulties finding their way. While some of us may solely lean on the 12 steps to create a foundation in recovery, others find they can also lean on the Eastern practices of yoga and meditation. The latter two provide a unique path for practitioners to compassionately look at themselves and develop the means to create a healing “space” within the mind and body. In this way, yoga and meditation encourage an internal healing, and ultimately nurture our minds and bodies toward a spiritual and physical recovery. These modalities cultivate recovery by using a most practical tool: the breath. “Our breath is portable,” says Sharon Salzberg, a renowned meditation teacher. No one can see it, touch it, or take it away from you. It is simple, yet powerful in its silence.

When we engage in our addictive behaviors, we disconnect from ourselves and from our bodies: I remember distinctly using so I didn’t have to feel. I sought to desensitize my mind, body and soul by means of drugs, alcohol, starvation and self-harming.  In sobriety, this behavior often continued with the transference of addictive behaviors, proving that the desire to nullify emotions or sensations is sometimes stronger than the desire to face them. Here’s where things like yoga and meditation are remarkable. They gently encourage you to come back to the present; to face the shadows; to embrace the often difficult process of recovery. This doesn’t mean you can or should ignore the 12 steps. Rather, yoga and meditation are what allow you to take the foundation you create with the steps to a deeper place. In this way, yoga and meditation facilitate our innate ability to undo the physical erosion created by our addictions.

I recently took a class with Seane Corn called “Yoga for a Broken Heart.” For an hour and a half, she addressed the physical manifestations of grief, compassionately leading us through the process of creating a healing space within our bodies with movement and breath. At one point, she said, “You can’t have light without the shadows.” How apropos for the recovering mind! It reminded me that none of us come into recovery without demons or shadows. We all have them, and we probably had them while we were using. In fact, how many of us used because of them? I know I did. Frankly, the sheer thought of turning to face them was abhorrent to me, and in the beginning, I did it with so much resistance, the shadows sometimes won. Truth be told, we come into recovery with an unspoken need to grieve. Modalities like yoga and meditation show us a way to create the space in our bodies to face that grief with compassion instead of anger and fear. Think of it this way: when we use, we disallow the grieving process by blocking it with “stuff.” Imagine what would happen if we gently removed that extraneous stuff and began to let it go. We can do that with these practices. We can allow what is to just be and we can let go of the things that are holding us back.

With yoga, we are graced with a set period of time where our breath takes precedence. We are afforded the opportunity to let go of the competitive mind and face the very thing we’ve been avoiding: ourselves. As we cultivate this space, we learn to give ourselves the love and attention we sought with our addictive behaviors. We begin to practice the art of forgiveness and become compassionate toward ourselves. We ultimately learn to find comfort in our skin, in our bodies, and in our minds. Through this process, we can and will find light in the shadows.

For more information, check out:

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention

Yoga for Addiction Recovery

Q & A With Tommy Rosen

Mindfulness and Meditation (weekly meetings)

 

Categories
Mental Health Stress

Stress: Too Much Pressure

When I think of stress, I think of a rubber band being stretched beyond its limit and its eventual ruptured demise. Though our bodies are provided with a natural alarm system, designed to protect us during perilous times, that same fight-or-flight response becomes erosive if it’s engaged for too long—much like that rubber band.

The body isn’t meant to live in a persistent state of fight-or-flight. The result of too much stress results in a concurrence of innumerable health problems. Still, our bodies are remarkable machines, having inbuilt mechanisms that help us move through our lives, and when something stressful occurs, our bodies jump into action.

A perceived threat will trigger the hypothalamus (a tiny region in the brain which sets off the body’s alarm system). This system prompts the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. While the adrenaline increases the heart rate, raises blood pressure, and creates an energy surge, cortisol (the body’s primary stress hormone) increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.(1)

Cortisol has a huge job to do: it keeps the nonessential or potentially detrimental functions at bay during the flight-or-flight response, adjusting the immune system and even suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes as it does its job. This systemic stress response is self-regulating: when the threat passes, the body begins to normalize itself.  However, when there is too much stress—too many perceived threats—over an extended period of time, the adrenals and cortisol  lose their ability to work efficiently. A persistent overexposure to stress hormones can “disrupt almost all your body’s processes,” increasing the risk for a number of other physical or emotional difficulties:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Fatigue
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness or depression
  • Irritability or anger
  • Eating disorders
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Social withdrawal

These difficulties are merely a sampling of what is often a long, detailed list of reactions to stress. Left unattended, stress can have negative long-term effects on a you.

So, what do you do when the pressures in your life are mounting with no end in sight? More than you think and in simpler ways than you can imagine. It’s not like you need a vacation to a tropical island to feel better (though that would be amazing!).

Start simply, but be consistant:

  • Exercise. It raises your endorphins and releases tension.
  • Meditation. Start with 5 minutes a day sitting in silence is too much. Work up to longer periods; before you know it, you’ll be sitting for 30-45 minutes at a time!
  • Yoga. It’s a wonderful way to work with your body and breath, creating a synergistic energy that is both energizing, heart opening, and calming.
  • Tai chi. Another wonderful way to move y our body in time with your breath. Slow, mindful movements bring you into the present–something that’s easily lost when stress is in charge.
  • Relaxation techniques. One of my favorites is a breathing exercise in yoga where you breathe in for a count of five and breathe out for a count of six. As you continue, increase the count on the in-breath while increasing the count on the out-breath. It’s been shown to relax the brain and body as you exhale for a longer count than on the inhale.

Stress isn’t something to shrug off. It’s quickly become a major health concern for an increasingly larger population. It’s time to stop. It’s time to take time every day to do something for yourself. The old adage of “I’m too busy to…” is nil. The reality is, we don’t have time not to take care of ourselves.

1 source: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/SR00001)