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The Easier Softer Way

The Easier Softer Way

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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

Waterfall L.A. ArboretumRecently, I have heard a lot of talk about what exactly it means to be sober. Somebody mentioned they were sober because they had stopped using drugs, but they still drank. Somebody else argued that they had never drank or used in their entire life, and they understood what it was like to be sober. Finally, a non-alcoholic friend asked me about caffeine, smoking, and prescription medication, and their relationship with sobriety.

Just Drinking

This example of somebody who quit hard drugs and just drinks is very common. I did this myself for years. Although some people benefit from this tactic, it is absolutely not sober. My personal experience was that I was simply no better off switching drugs. As my sponsor puts it, it is like switching seats on the Titanic. I still repressed feelings and pain. I didn't look within or grow. Although marijuana may physically be less harmful than methamphetamine, it is no better for my spirit.

However, it is not for me to judge how other people choose to live their lives. If somebody can quit using crack but continue drinking alcohol, then I support them. My personal Buddhist beliefs are that I should not ingest anything that leads to heedlessness, but I would never push this on somebody else (just as I don't want somebody pushing their religion on me). Just because I wasn't able to continue using one substance while quitting another does not mean everyone will have the same experience. However, this simply does not make one sober.

Having an Addiction

Although the word sober actually means not intoxicated, there is a different connotation in recovery circles. Being sober implies that the person once went through an addiction. If somebody never picks up or uses in their life, they are technically sober. However, they are not sober in the same way that somebody is who has gone through an addiction. This does not make their sobriety any less valuable or important. However, it is just not the same.

I was recently in a position where a non-alcoholic was speaking to a newcomer. The non-alcoholic said they had never used, and understood what the newcomer was going through. Because this person had never used, they had experienced much pressure and desires to try drugs and alcohol. However, this is completely different from trying to get sober from an addiction. Although the non-alcoholic here had a valid point about choosing not to use, the non-alcoholic simply cannot understand the addict's feelings. When we get sober, our brains are suddenly without substances they are accustomed to. We have been spending much of our lives running from every feeling. Suddenly, we are confronted by our feelings, and are often overwhelmed. However, the non-alcoholic has had many years to face their feelings.

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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

IMG_1879Attending twelve-step meetings regularly, you are bound to hear somebody recommend that you get a commitment. Personally, I am one of the people that suggests even the newest of my sponsees get commitments. Commitments have been one of the greatest tools in my sobriety, are relatively simple, and the return on investment is huge.

Getting commitments have several benefits. First, I truly felt like a part of the recovery group I was in. My home group meets every morning, and has about 4o-50 people. Everyone knows each other, and coming in new to this meeting was a little scary. I got a few commitments on different days, and everyone quickly learned my name. People recognized me even when I didn't recognize them. Even though I still wasn't completely self-confident, I felt much better about attending the meeting. Even if I had the simplest commitment, I felt as I was an integral part, just as I had seen other with commitment as integral parts.

Having commitments has also helped me show up when I don't want to. Often, I wake up in the morning and do not feel like going to my regular meeting. My mind tells me I don't need to, that I should sleep in, etc. However, a commitment helps me show up and be responsible even when I don't feel like doing so. Almost always, I show up on these days in a bad mood and leave with great gratitude that I came. Commitments really have helped me keep some consistency in my sobriety.

Commitments are great ways to be of service on a regular basis as well. Although taking commitments does a lot for us, it also is a great way to help others. Meetings need people to take commitments in order to run. Without commitment-takers, meetings would fall apart. Whether you set up the meeting, clean cigarette butts, or make the sponsorship announcement, taking a commitment is a great service to the group as a whole. Because it is a form of service, commitments help us build esteem and connect with the community.

http://theeasiersofterway.com

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Giving Thanks to SufferingI was recently asked to speak at a meeting in which the speaker chose a reading from As Bill Sees It. I flipped open the book randomly, and came to the entry on page 226 entitled Give Thanks from the March 1962 episode of the Grapevine. It read:

Though I still find it difficult to accept today's pain and anxiety with any great degree of serenity - as those more advanced in the spiritual life seem able to do - I can give thanks for present pain nevertheless.

I find the willingness to do this by contemplating the lessons learned from past suffering - lessons which have led to the blessings I now enjoy. I can remember how the agonies of alcoholism, the pain of rebellion and thwarted pride, have often led me to God's grace, and so to a new freedom.

I have not read every page of As Bill Sees It, but I don't know if I could have turned to a page that I agree with more. Although I do not practice this in every moment, I try my best to. Turning toward our suffering and not running from it is a indispensable practice. The tendency of recovering addicts to run from unpleasant feelings is often a result of what is taught in twelve-step programs: to call your sponsor, go to a meeting, or help a newcomer.

Generally, I think these things are great. I call my mentors every day, go to many meetings, and work with as many newcomers as I am able to. However, these are not solutions for our own issues. When I am feeling an unpleasant feeling (like anxiety), calling a sponsor may not be the right choice. A sponsor may tell me to go to a meeting or help a newcomer, but these are not helping me grow how I need. Going to a meeting or working with somebody else are both important aspects of my recovery, but again, they do not necessarily offer the best solution.

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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

SufferingAlthough it is our natural tendency to turn away from suffering and wish for happiness, it is actually the suffering itself that leads to wisdom. It is inevitable that we suffer and experience discomfort. When we just run from it, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from it. However, our suffering really can be the gateway to freedom.

People have suffering in one place, so they go somewhere else. When suffering arises there, they run off again. They think they’re running away from suffering, but they’re not. Suffering goes with them. They carry suffering around without knowing it. If we don’t know suffering, then we can’t know the cause of suffering. If we don’t know the cause of suffering, then we can’t know the cessation of suffering. There’s no way we can escape it.

These words from Ajahn Chah put it another way. If we don't take the time to know our suffering, we won't be able to understand it. If we don't know and understand the roots of our suffering, we can't experience the cessation of suffering. Looking at it this way, it is a wonder that we ever deny our suffering.

Why Do We Turn Away from Suffering?

The answer to this question is fairly simple. We turn away from suffering because it is unpleasant and doesn't feel good to us. When we are suffering, we are uncomfortable, discontented, and generally dis-eased. It seems natural that we turn away from such feelings.

One of the reasons we turn away from the suffering is this natural instinct. For survival, we are programmed to avert from suffering. In nature, if we feel some sort of pain or suffering, it is often in our best interest to move away from it. If humans didn't move away from the pain, we may have been hurt or killed. This natural instinct lives on today, and we move away from even the slightest discomfort and unpleasantness.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

With another year on the horizon, I find myself wondering why we feel the need to wait for January’s coy signal to jolt us into making resolutions. Why January? Why do we wait until after the holidays have come and passed? Why do we wait for our lives to ‘calm down’ in order to focus on our goals? Why wait at all? What are we waiting for? What is keeping us from making these resolutions today, here, now? Why do we find ourselves distracted, busied with excuses, and comforted in our procrastination? Why must we wait for anything? What are YOU waiting for?

As I chat with friends and family alike, many of us agree that New Year’s resolutions are somewhat disheartening. We make grandiose plans for the New Year only to be disappointed in ourselves a few weeks post ‘declaration of bold aspirations.’ Whether it is weight-loss goals never met, hopes of eating healthier crushed at the sight of a coffee shop donut, or simply never getting around to cleaning the spare-room closet, we all suffer defeat and give up. Next year will be better, we all say to ourselves. Our goals were too big, too silly, or too difficult to accomplish anyway. We succumb to the veiled belief that our goals were not realistic to begin with, and we bond with one another in our sea of excuses.

It is laughable at first, but I find it quite sad as well. We are quick to busy ourselves with mundane activities only to avoid and hinder our REAL goals, our TRUEST desires, and our biggest DREAMS with resistance and fear. We lose sight of what it is that energizes our true being because we are too distracted with extraneous preoccupations of the day. I think Sogyal Rinpoche says it best:

“Western laziness consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues.”

Look at your life. What are you busying yourself with today? What is distracting you from the present moment? Sure, social media, television, and music distract us from what is presently before us. But think deeper for a moment. What is distracting you from accomplishing your goals? What is stopping you from opening up that restaurant you’ve always wanted to open? Who is telling you that you cannot sell your paintings and be an artist full-time? What is distracting you from living your dreams today? Why do you find yourself occupied with ‘to-dos’ and push aside the real issue of fulfilling your life’s true purpose by achieving your goals?

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

05We were recently asked a great on our Instagram page about a Higher Power and Buddhism. The question read, "How does the higher-power concept fit within the Buddhist philosphy?" I personally have wondered the same thing in my journey through twelve step recovery and Buddhist meditation.

First, we must consider what Twelve Step programs are asking from us when they speak of a Higher Power and its importance to the program. On page 12 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous Bill Wilson says, "It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself." The book doesn't say that we must believe in a specific Higher Power. It even says we can use our fellows as our Higher Power on page 107 of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, "For the time being, we who were atheist or agnostic discovered that our own group, or A.A. as a whole, would suffice as a higher power."

Many Buddhists are atheists, and don't believe in a god. There are devas and bodhisattvas in Buddhism, but the Buddha taught that the origin of the universe was irrelevant to the ending of suffering. However, many of atheistic Buddhists are in recovery, and find ways to work the Higher Power concept in with their own beliefs. This is just my opinion and experience.

The Third Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states that we "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him." It does not say what this "god" must be. In my Buddhist practice, I turn my will and my life over to the Three Jewels, which are the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.

The Buddha here (in my tradition of Buddhism) is both the Buddha-seed within me and the historical Buddha. The Buddha taught that we all have Buddha-nature within ourselves. We uncover and connect with it by practicing the path. Turning my will and my life over to this inner Buddha consists of living my life and practicing in a way that is skillful and wise. The historical Buddha is the teacher, and the one who laid out this path for us.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Deer Park MonasteryThis past weekend, I stayed at Deer Park Monastery, a monastery founded by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. At the monastery, we did not sit in meditation as much as I am accustomed to while on retreat. Instead, the focus of my stay was living mindfully in a variety of daily activities. My mentor at the monastery, Brother Wisdom, urged me to find a state of unconditional contentment, and to not allow my happiness to be swayed by anything.

Sitting in meditation, it is relatively easy for me to be mindful of what is going on in the present moment. When I notice a sound, sensation, or thought, I am able to turn my attention toward it more easily. When I am attentive, I am generally able to treat things with more equanimity. With equanimity, my contentment is not as easily affected by anything going on. It is more sturdy and stable.

Although I may find this unconditional contentment at times in my meditation practice, I think it is important to look for it in daily life. I don't have to strive for perfection, but I can strive to have a more resolute happiness. I worked this past weekend on finding this contentment in my daily life. We sang, danced, chanted, washed dishes, gardened, rested, and hiked in mindfulness. Although we also meditated, I found that bringing my practice off the cushion was greatly insightful and beneficial. I think I began to dig a little deeper into the roots of my contentment.

Brother Wisdom pointed out to me the irrational logic that we use when we rest our happiness on conditions. Everything is impermanent, including our feelings, thoughts, and everything outside of us. We often have the habit of resting our happiness on these same things. We say or feel things such as, "I'd be happy if she loved me," "I can't be happy until my body isn't sore," or "I am happy because it is sunny out." However, all of these conditions are impermanent and changing. Can we be happy when she doesn't love us anymore? Will we actually be fully happy when our bodies feel better? Will we be sad when the clouds cover the sun? When we rest our happiness on impermanent conditions, our happiness is bound to change as the conditions change.

If we are to have true, stable happiness, we must find it regardless of any conditions within us or externally. With equanimity, we may do so. We may find contentment equally whether we are washing dishes, gardening, or hiking. Although this is a bit idealistic, we always have room to progress. I found while staying at the monastery that I had great room to grow in this area. I find contentment in certain situations, but am easily discontented in others. I find it interesting that the word disease (such as addiction, alcoholism, depression, etc.) actually comes from the words "dis" and "ease," meaning "not at ease." This is how I feel when not contented: dis-eased (or diseased).

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Buddhist Dharma WheelSomebody mentioned on our Instagram that they have a problem with the word "god." Their question read, "I notice I have some resistance with the word "God." I have a Christian/Catholic background and have come to a more open spirituality in the last few years. I typically use Universe and God interchangeably, but prefer Universe or other words. Do you have some suggestions, insight or wisdom on how to release any charges with this?"

I, too, have struggled with the word "god." I grew up with a Jewish family and ended up at a Catholic high school. When I was a young teen, my dad gave me a few Buddhist books, and my interest began in Buddhism. In college in Portland, Oregon, I used copious amounts of hallucinogens, and experienced quite a few "spiritual experiences" where I felt the presence of something greater. In short, my spiritual/religious beliefs have been all over the map.

When I got sober, I accepted the program as my "higher power." I then began to see my higher power as more of a spirit of the universe, an energy, or simply love. I didn't have a clear view of what it was, but I felt it, and knew it wasn't a man in the sky for me. As my Buddhist practice began to develop, I moved quite a bit more to the atheistic side. Now, I don't necessarily consider myself an atheist. I simply believe that everything we believe to be a higher power actually has a scientific explanation. We once thought stars, the ocean, and the wind were gods. Now, we understand them scientifically. Similarly, I think that our thoughts may affect the external world (like thinking positively or with affirmations), but there is a scientific explanation to this that we will someday understand. Many consider this atheistic, and maybe it is.

I do have a higher power, which for me is the Three Jewels of Buddhism. I use the Buddha-seed within me, the Dharma (Buddhist way), and the Sangha (community) as my higher power. To read more about it, read the Three Jewels and Step Three piece I wrote. This is a rather unconventional understanding of a higher power, especially since part of it is actually internal. This is a little background of why the word "god" is difficult for me to use.

For me to deal with the use of the word "god" or even the phrase "higher power," I had to consider what it was. First, the word "god" is used across traditions and cultures to refer to the higher truth. Merriam-Webster provides this as one of the definitions of the word god: a spirit or being that has great power, strength, knowledge, etc., and that can affect nature and the lives of people. In my opinion, many things fit this besides a physical Judeo-Christian god. Looking at gods across different traditions, they are always represented as the greatest truth, knowledge, and power. For me, the Buddhist teachings (dharma) fit this. Similarly, one's view of a universal energy may also fit this. The word "god" is most often used to refer to the Judeo-Christian idea of it, and we often get caught in this thinking. However, the word can mean many other things. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word God comes from an old PIE word meaning "to call" or "to invoke." When we consider what the word means, we see that its limited use in the Judeo-Christian sense does not appropriately encompass the meaning of the word.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

19976_258044793945_4340661_nA user recently asked us on Instagram about being a first time sponsor, and how to deal with the fear of not doing it right. As with most of the questions we receive, there doesn't seem to be a clear, objective answer. However, we can offer our experience.

Being a first time sponsor was quite scary for me. I had about 4 months of sobriety, and absolutely did not feel ready. I had gone through the steps with my sponsor and was told to begin sponsoring others. Even though I did not feel like I had much to offer, I found myself taking a young man through the steps. There are four things that were important to me in my early days of sponsorship.

First, I took my first few sponsees through the steps almost exactly how I was taken through. At that point, I had gone through the steps only once fully. I had a single, clear-cut way of going through the Big Book and working the steps. My sponsor, who has over 30 years of sobriety, has a very routine way of taking people through the steps. With my first few sponsees, I emulated what my sponsor did for me.

Second, I often say that my first sponsee was really being sponsored by me and my sponsor, as I went to my sponsor with everything my sponsee brought to me. It is natural that we don't have all the answers. That is what our sponsors are there for. It is important to utilize the fellowship and community, and ask questions when appropriate. Although there is no hierarchy in twelve-step programs, people who have been sober longer than us do have more experience that we do. The fellowship of recovering addicts is one of our greatest tools, and it is there for our using!

Another thing we must do when sponsoring is set boundaries. This, in my opinion, is extremely important. Especially when I was newly sponsoring. Although a sponsor's main purpose is to take someone through the Twelve Steps, people often call on their sponsor with all kinds of requests and problems. I like to try to follow the instructions of Alcoholics Anonymous's pamphlet, Questions and Answers on Sponsorship that read, "A sponsor does everything possible, with the limits of personal experience and knowledge, to help the newcomer get sober and stay sober through the A.A. program." I offer whatever help I possibly may, but am careful to never enable. It is not my job to do certain things for my sponsee, and I must set firm boundaries and stick to them. Setting this boundaries may not make my sponsee happy, but sometimes the most loving thing we can do is not the most pleasant. In my personal opinion, Al-Anon is probably the best way to learn to set boundaries with sponsees.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

191_9147353945_4308_nRecently, an Instagram user asked us, "Will traveling and putting myself in nature make myself more spiritual? Or do you just need to be wherever you're comfortable?" It is my pleasure to answer this question, as I have personally thought about this many times. For many of us, we look for spiritual insight and growth by going on retreat, traveling to holy places, or even taking a simple walk in nature or on the beach.

I have sought spirituality in this way many times. I frequently enjoy time in nature, attend several silent meditation retreats a week, travel to the Arizona desert every year for a retreat, and even walk to the beach to meditate sometimes. I also practice my spiritual program in my own apartment and daily life, and this is the key for me.

One of my Buddhist teachers reminds me that the bell ringing at the end is the most important part of the meditation. It is the point in which we bring our practice from the formal sitting meditation into our daily life. The bell is the bridge where our practice becomes part of our life wherever we are. Although a sitting meditation practice is wonderful and can lead to great insight, it is just as great to practice mindfulness in daily life.

Similarly, traveling or being in nature may absolutely be of great benefit. For me, I find great power in nature, whether in solitude or with others. I have traveled to Buddhist temples and monasteries as well. In traveling and putting myself into nature, my mind is quieted, and I often connect better with my heart. Insight comes more easily. I feel more genuine and connected with the world around me. Many of the deepest and most profound insights I have had have been while traveling or in nature.

However insightful it may be to travel and be in nature, it is useless if we do not carry it back into our own lives. Although I often have a tendency to write a lot and keep a journal, I find it helpful to just see what sticks naturally. Jack Kornfield reminds his students at the beginning of every dharma talk to just pay attention and see what sticks. Right Effort is not trying too hard to bring these practices back to our daily life. Right effort is simply putting effort forth and practicing openly and with awareness. One of my teachers, Noah Levine, reminds us that although the mind may not always remember, the heart is learning.

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