Finding Refuge in Recovery

“I discovered the greatest rebellion of all is an inner revolution fueled not by rage, but by deep and pervading kindness.” — Noah Levine There are as many types of recovery tools as there are people in need of them. Some fall into the familiar categories of inpatient rehab, outpatient therapy, intensive outpatient and 12-step fellowship such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. A lesser-known application is called “Refuge Recovery, a Buddhist Path to Recovery.” It is the creation of author, counselor and Buddhist teacher Noah Levine. In the process of his own journey through active addiction, he wrote Dharma Punx, Against the Stream, The Heart of the Revolution and Refuge Recovery. Levine designed an experience that would have a greater chance of appealing to those who might not feel comfortable in a traditional 12-step setting, particularly if they were, like he was, a tattooed punk rock-loving addict. It is important to note that people from all walks of life, spiritual practice, as well as those who consider themselves secular in their beliefs enter into the rooms in which Refuge Recovery is offered. The word “dharma” has several meanings. According to Nyanatiloka’s Buddhist Dictionary, a Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines, it is defined as: “the bearer,” constitution (or nature of a thing), a norm, law, doctrine; justice, righteousness; quality; thing, object of mind “phenomenon.” It adds that “the basic dharma of Buddhism is oneness. Oneness includes, rather than excludes.” Levine defines the concept: “Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist-oriented, non-theistic recovery program that does not ask anyone to believe anything, only to trust the process and do the hard work of recovery.  Refuge Recovery asks that we begin to actively investigate the process and to begin to look deeply at the suffering that our addiction has brought about in our lives. No previous experience or knowledge of Buddhism is required. Recovery is possible, and Refuge Recovery provides a systematic approach to treating and recovery from all forms of addiction. When sincerely practiced, the program will help those recover from addiction and ensure a lifelong sense of well-being and happiness.”

The Spiritual Can Become Practical

According to Ryan Sachse, a therapist who incorporates Refuge Recovery into treatment, it is a practice, a process, a set of tools, a treatment and a path to healing addiction and the suffering caused by addiction. The main inspiration and guiding principles of Refuge Recovery are the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), a man who lived in India 2,500 years ago. Buddha was a radical psychologist and a spiritual revolutionary and was able to understand suffering by discovering the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. These concepts are translated into Refuge Recovery:

  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 Eightfold Path.”

The Eightfold Path Is a Set of Ethical Guidelines and Behaviors to Help in Recovery

  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/Community: 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 and 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 loving kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to cultivate that which we want to uncover.

Sachse observed that there is “success with clients utilizing the Refuge Recovery program. Typically, clients find success when they have had difficulties with other 12-step programs or when they have difficulties with the concept of a traditional higher power or God. I focus a lot with these clients on the three refuges of Buddhism: Taking refuge or solace in the Buddha (our authentic self, our potential to be healthier); taking refuge or solace in the dharma (teachings, whatever they may be, to help us out of the suffering of our addiction; taking refuge in the sangha (a community of like-minded people dedicated to their own recovery and improvement). ” Many clients identify closely with the three refuges. When those in recovery view themselves through the eyes of compassion and kindness and not simply judgment for the path their choices have led them down, then, according to the teachings of this modality, they are more likely to find peace.  

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