Kevin Griffin

Abstinence or harm reduction ?

What I’m Thinking
Everyone’s recovery is unique. Once upon a time, there was the strong binary opinion of all or nothing. Abstinence or you are doomed. The argument was harm reduction versus Abstinence. While this view is helpful for many, it was a major hindrance for others. If some people couldn’t keep their abstinence for more than a month without slipping, it became an excuse filled with facilitative thoughts like: “What the heck, I may as well keep on using.” Or some people were told there was no hope for them, they were doomed. Abstinence is a concept that needs to be explored with each individual in recovery. The teachings of the dharma make it clear that we are all in training, and we need to start exactly where we are. In the raft parable, the Buddha says the raft is useful for crossing over but not for holding onto. In the same way, abstinence and harm reduction are useful behaviours to help us cross over into recovery, but not if we hold tight to these views. Nobody is doomed in the teachings of the dharma. What works for one person, may not work for another. When you see what the dharma is pointing to – it’s a non-dual reality.

Negative Jargon in the Addiction field Clean, Dirty, Addict, Abuser, Junkie
One of the basic meditations to help calm the mind and the central nervous system is the practice of loving-kindness, traditionally known as the Metta Bhavana. In this practice, we are learning to love ourselves and all other sentient beings. There is so much negative jargon in the field of addiction which is demeaning. This kind of language labels a person by their illness, rather than their potential. This narrative also implies permanency of addictive behaviours and no room for change. The Buddhist teachings can be summed up in two words. “Everything Changes.” We can all change because things are always changing. And we all have seeds of potential within us. These seeds need to be watered with loving kindness.

What I’m Reading
Recovery Groups by Linda Farris Kurtz. A book looking at the history of recovery groups for addiction and emotional trauma. And although it doesn’t refer to the history of Buddhist recovery groups, there is a lot the Buddhist Recovery world can learn from this book.

Something I’m doing I’m off to Spain to ordain someone into the Triratna Lineage. And will be presenting at the 5th International Mindfulness summit in Zaragoza. As well as delivering mindfulness and compassion workshops for addiction in Valencia. And co-leading a retreat with Kevin Griffin in July, and leading another in September. Join me on retreat.

Back by popular demand, January 1, 2019: The online Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery Retreat

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Gratitude

Vimalasara


What I’m up to

Last month I was appointed as the new President of the international organization Buddhist Recovery Network BRN. Sounds grand, but I have the task of bringing this organization out of dormancy and popularizing Buddhist Recovery in all its guises to the rest of the world. I have also been invited to be part of the Menla Retreat Centre (Upstate New York) Faculty as the lead teacher in Buddhist Recovery and Mindfulness Secular Recovery. Kevin Griffin and I will be launching their first Buddhist Recovery Retreat in July 2018.

What I’m Thinking
Another year with more fatalities and casualties from opioids. And as the month of December looms for many, the increase of overdoses, suicides and self-harm will escalate in some parts of the world. While I write this, I make my decision to open the doors of my Buddhist centre on Christmas day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day to be of service.

Inspiring Jargon
It works if you work it. If you don’t it won’t
Many people who have been in the rooms of 12 steps will be familiar with this jargon. It’s a reminder to me that if I want recovery If I want abstinence and sobriety of mind, I have to work a program. I have to be active in my recovery. While self-pity, blame and distractions may seem energetic and the best way to deal with our hurt and frustrations. These habitual behaviours will keep us in the hell realm of our addictions.

What I’m Watching
Seeing The Disgust in Food
A short documentary by Bhikkhu Samahita. He reminds us that over 3 million people die of obesity every year, and obesity causes death from heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. He points out that while food may look attractive to the eye and nose and taste senses. As soon as we place the food in our mouth, and chew it, the food becomes something disgusting to look at, and if we regurgitated it, we would most probably recoil with disgust. 32 minutes of food enlightenment, and we will realize how much we are a slave to food.

What I’m Obsessing about
My weight. After putting a pair of jeans on and noticing a roll of flesh hanging over the waistband, I went into horrified anxiety. Then paused, and took a breath, because once upon a time it would have set me off on a binge/purge cycle, or a hunger strike for a week. Instead, I set about doing crunches, pulled a muscle. I am now choosing to mindfully watch what I eat, knowing that while this may not get the results I want in a week, but the results will change with time, and cause less proliferation of thought and obsession of my body.

What I noticed
Gratitude. I attended an AA gathering this month, and my partner was one of the speakers on gratitude. As I listened to several speakers explore this theme, I noticed that gratitude is something that I can easily ignore. There are so many things I can have gratitude for, from the moment I wake up in a country where war is not on my doorstep, to the moment I place my head on a pillow in a house with a roof over my head, and enough money to pay my bills. I noticed too that once upon a time, I resented having to be grateful, often because people would tell me I should be grateful, and because I was so unhappy and resentful with my life. Now that I don’t complain about my life anymore nobody tells me I should be grateful, and gratitude has been a by-product of cultivating loving-kindness.

Something I’m doing
I will be delivering an online Mindfulness Based Addiction Recovery course during the month of January 2018. For people in recovery and people working in the field of recovery.

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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When does craving become addiction?

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Joan Duncan Oliver, Tricycle: Only two things have I ever craved as much as life itself: drink and a man. To save my life, I had to give up the drink. To give up the drink, I had to give up the man.

My desire for both was total, visceral: passion seeking its own DNA. The bond was physical, emotional, spiritual, chemical—drink, man, and I locked in a menage a trois.

It began, however, as a folie á deux. Alcohol was my first love: a constant, if feckless …

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It’s brain science: University fights binge drinking with meditation

Susan Donaldson James, NBCNews: A song by U2 blares from loudspeakers as Dr. James Hudziak tosses a brain-shaped football back and forth to students, calling them out by name as they file in to the University of Vermont lecture hall.

The neuroscience course, “Healthy Brains, Healthy Bodies,” is about to begin, first with meditation, then the latest research on the benefits of clean living.

The class is part of a pioneering program — Wellness Environment or WE, which is anchored in four pillars of health: exercise, nutrition, mindfulness and mentorship.

Last year, the university accepted 120 …

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Tricycle magazine explores ‘dharma drunks’

 Noah Levine - Author of Refuge Recovery - A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction

Last month I asked the question, why another book on recovery? In the summer issue of Tricycle, Joan Duncan Oliver, a contributing editor and the editor of Commit to Sit, an anthology of Tricycle articles, also gives her view on this topic too. Tricycle has kindly let me quote the first few paragraphs while also including a link to the rest of the article.

‘Buddhist practitioners are skewing younger. Add to that growing concern about drug abuse in America, and it’s hardly surprising that the Buddhist recovery field is expanding. Back in 1993, Mel Ash, then a dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Korean Zen and the author of The Zen of Recovery, drew on Buddhist teachings to, as he put it, “provide some insight into alternative ways of approaching the spiritual aspects of the Twelve Step programs.” Over the past decade, other Buddhist teachers and authors—Kevin Griffin, Darren Littlejohn, and “Laura S.” among them—have recast AA’s Twelve Steps in Buddhist terms, integrating the two approaches as a way to treat addiction.

Now two more books are bringing a Buddhist perspective to recovery, but with a twist. Instead of searching for commonalities between the twelve steps and the dharma, these authors go straight to the Buddha’s teachings and practices as the basis for overcoming the suffering of addiction. The twelve steps hover in the background as ever-present, if shadowy informants—how could they not when the AA model is arguably the most successful self-help recovery method to date? But in both of these new books, recovery is grounded in the four noble truths and the eightfold path, without recourse to the twelve steps.

The titles are eerily similar—Eight Step Recovery: Using the Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction, and Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction—and both programs stress meditation practice. Beyond that, however, they’re refreshingly dissimilar.’

Read the rest of Tricycle’s review »

“Eight Step Recovery” is out now: Eight Step Recovery – Order your book now

Or try a free sample – For a free sample chapter of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Why another book on recovery?

Eight Step Recovery

During the past few years we have seen several authors like Kevin Griffin, Tom Catton and Noah Levine publish books about recovery. They are making the rounds in the recovery community. This year three new books have come onto the market, Scot Kiloby’s Natural Rest for Addiction: A Revolutionary Way to Recover Through Presence, Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction by myself and Dr Paramabandhu Groves, and in June Noah Levine’s Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Overcoming Addiction will hit the streets.

Not so long ago there was only the Big Book, of 12 step recovery, and it was a book that was in the closet. Nobody went public about it, unless of course you were in the fellowship, but these new books have brought addiction and recovery far more out into the open. You can walk into somebody’s front room and see some of these books lying on the coffee table. Once upon a time the only places to get recovery were in the rooms of 12 step meetings or psychiatric treatment offered by the doctor. Now we have Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, Mindfulness Based Addiction recovery courses, Self Management And Recovery Training (SMART), Scot Kiloby’s Living inquiry for addiction, Noah Levine’s recovery program, Eight Step Recovery, and Buddhist versions of the traditional 12 steps that were originated by Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I often hear people saying: ‘I’m shopping around, there is so much out there to choose from’. I believe that is a good thing, because although 12 steps has saved many peoples lives, and saved families too, it has not worked for everyone. These new books or recovery programs are not a panacea either; they will not work for everyone. But we live in a climate where we recognise that people have different learning styles and needs, and hopefully, people who are looking for a way out of their misery will find something in one of these newer recovery approaches on offer.

We identified eight steps in our book, because steps have a venerable historical tradition in Buddhism. One of the main texts in Buddhism is called the Dhammapada. The etymology of the word Dhammapada actually means steps of the Dharma or more commonly interpreted as verses of the Dharma. Statues of the Buddha are recent symbols of the Buddha. Once upon a time it was a tree, or a turning wheel, and many other symbols, including two footprints carved into the earth, into wood or clay. These footprints were a metaphor for the Buddha walking out into the world and spreading his teachings. We do know that the Buddha walked throughout India teaching the Dharma.

Our book is by no means a short cut to recovery, or the fast track route, and we haven’t forgotten the other four steps, as some people have suggested. It’s just that the teachings we took from the Dharma fell neatly into eight steps. Plus the shorter the list, the more memorable, and hopefully the more manageable it will be to work through. However each step covers many teachings, so take your time in reading.

Are we competing with 12 steps? No most definitely not. We hope to compliment what is already out there. People in the 12 step community often are looking to understand step 11, they are wanting to have a deeper connection with meditation, prayer and a God of their understanding. However one thing that the 12 step offers is a community specifically for people in recovery. This is something that those of us who are introducing new approaches do need to think about. Yes we can offer the Buddhist community, or other spiritual and self development communities, but are these doors open to somebody who has hit bottom, for somebody who is in a life-and-death crisis? 12 steps does, and offers one-to-one sponsorship, which is crucial part to the 12 step recovery process.

Community is something that all of us authors and pioneers in the recovery community do need to think about. How are we going to support people who walk through the door who are clearly under the influence of an intoxicant? How can we best serve these people? My approach to date, is to send them along to a 12 step meeting, and insist they only have to be clean on the day they arrive, or not using in that moment they walk through our Buddhist sangha doors. You could say this is their actual first step. Community is important, it’s what most of us place at the center of our lives. So if we want to recover from addiction, we need a community that is in recovery at the centre of our lives, to help us on our recovery path.

How to use the book has been a question asked by many. Throughout this year, I will begin to explore each step, and ways that you can use the book in groups, or by yourself. Meanwhile, dive in, and see if there is anything in the book that resonates for you. We hope to see some of you at our launches throughout the year. This month we are in Goderich, Toronto, Guelph and Edmonton.

Eight Step Recovery is out now: Eight Step Recovery – Order your book now

Or try a free sample – For a free sample chapter of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Eight Step Recovery

Eight Step Recovery

Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction, by Valerie Mason-John and Dr Paramabandhu Groves

‘Blending Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery with traditional Buddhist teachings and personal stories, the authors give us a wise and compassionate approach to recovery from the range of addictions. This comprehensive approach will be a valuable tool for addicts and addiction professionals alike.’
Kevin Griffin, author of One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps

Foreword written by Gabor Maté
Publication date 2014

The Eight Steps

Step One: accepting that this human life will bring suffering
Step Two: seeing how we create extra suffering in our lives
Step Three: embracing impermanence to shows us that our suffering can end
Step Four: being willing to step onto the path of recovery; and discover freedom
Step Five: transforming our speech, actions, and livelihood
Step Six: placing positive values at the center of our lives
Step Seven: making every effort to stay on the path of recovery
Step Eight: helping others by sharing the benefits we have gained

Who is this book for?
These eight steps are aimed at anyone who is struggling with an addiction or compulsive behavior. As well as those with drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, the book is for people who experience compulsive or addictive aspects to eating, sex or other behaviors. Although we recognize that recovering from addiction can be a matter of life or death for some people, this book is also for people who do not think of themselves as having an addiction, but who have habits that are harmful in their lives. We hope the book will be of value to professionals working in the field of addiction, as well as to those caring for someone with an addiction, or in relationship with a person struggling with addiction. We can’t avoid suffering if we open our eyes to it. Suffering is all around us. However, freedom from suffering is in front of our eyes too. Of course, some of us, who realize our difficult human predicament, reach a crisis and turn to a spiritual path, faith or religion to deal with the shock. Others turn to an addiction to find meaning in life. Fortunately, addiction itself and the suffering it causes can lead people through the doors of a Buddhist temple, a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and many other places that offer some type of solace.

Sometimes, though, our suffering can seem too overwhelming, or the possibility of freedom from it can be so painfully close that we refuse to see it. We may know there are places we can go for help, but choose to stay in our suffering. Many addicts are afraid of recovery. They are afraid of the institutions that could help them.

One such institution that has helped people with addiction has been the twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and many other programs in this community. It has saved many lives, helped many families, and outlined twelve steps and twelve traditions to the path of freedom. If the Steps are followed diligently, there are twelve Promises ranging from having a new freedom and happiness, to having no fear of people or fear of financial insecurity. However, twelve step programs are not for everyone, and many have turned away, desperate for another way of recovery. These eight steps can be used by people who have not responded to the twelve step approach, as well as those who are in twelve step recovery. But it can also be used by people in a twelve step program who are perhaps trying to understand their eleventh step more fully. This step is “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”

In the twelve step community, God can be interpreted as the God of your understanding, “Good Orderly Direction”, or “Higher Power”. Although the Buddhist tradition has no place for God as a creator divinity as understood by the theistic traditions, there is nevertheless a clear and definite understanding of a supra-personal dimension, an “other power” in Buddhism. This dimension is available to every human being, and for those interested we are including the supra-personal in the eight steps, providing the groundwork for people to readily connect with it, beginning with the breath. However, the eight steps can equally be practiced without reference to or belief in a higher power or supra-personal dimension.

Our book draws on the teachings of the Buddha, but the steps can be used by someone from any religious or spiritual tradition or from none. In the spirit of the Buddha’s advice to some of his disciples, we encourage you to test out the teachings here in your own experience and utilize those you find helpful.

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Parenting and practice

Steve BellHow do we maintain an active practice while being immersed in the world of parenting and work? Are children a hindrance to spiritual practice? Or can parenting also be a path? Steve Bell, Buddhist practitioner and social worker, speaks from his experience of meditating while parenting two young boys.

I tell prospective parents to make a list of all the things they enjoy doing in their spare time. What are your hobbies? Do you like to go to the movies? I ask them to list the obscure little things they would miss. Do you like timely haircuts? Do you like to luxuriate in the bathroom, on the toilet, in the shower, and grooming? Then I ask them to cross off half the things on their list — those that are least important. Then cross out half of the remainder. Keep whittling the list down, until there is just one last thing, the thing you couldn’t give up.

The last thing on my own list was meditation. I’d give up everything but that. I love meditation and what it gives me. And I wouldn’t have known all that if I didn’t have children. The narrowing of possibilities as a parent has focused me onto what’s most important in my life and helped me to see what’s most important to me.

Parenting is a kind of crisis that makes it more important for me to meditate, because meditating is a survival strategy for me. I underestimated the amount of work it would take to raise children. The pressure of having no sleep and caring for children has challenged me maybe more than living in a hermit’s cave would. I’ve done the “mindfulness of my exhaustion and sleeplessness” meditation more than I care to. At times, when I’m tired and stressed, I feel moved to act in a way towards my children that I know is wrong. Somehow I’m primitively drawn forward, like there’s some archaic script that must be followed, some intergenerational trauma that must somehow be passed on. Meditation helps me to step aside from that, to act in my own best interest and in my children’s best interest.

The age of the children, the number of children you have, their disposition, how much support, and other circumstances, determine the constraints that you practice under. Here are the factors that affect me: My children are aged two and three. My wife works. My sons are not good sleepers. They’re very loud, active boys who like climbing, jumping, shouting and exploring. It’s been a challenge to get them into their beds, and to have them sleep through the night in their own beds. I wake up in the morning and they are in bed with us. They sneaked in while we slept.

All these conditions effect whether I get to meditate uninterrupted. My wife leaves for work during the time I meditate, and if the boys wake up I need to stop what I’m doing. There will no doubt come a time when I can ask them to let me finish meditating, or when they will just know to leave me alone until I’m finished. But for now I have to cultivate patience. To help with this I’ve taken to reading the chapter on patience in Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara after I meditate, if there’s time. Rarely is there time.

My boys challenge me in unexpected ways and constantly catch me out. They are my gurus, pointing out the aspect of my practice I need to be focused on: patience. Nobody can unravel me and find my weak spots more easily than they do.

When I complain about not being able to meditate, my friends say, “Just be mindful in your day-to-day life.” I get irritated at that because on the one hand it is actually the answer. On the other hand, I feel that meditation is an essential way for me to increase and even just to maintain my mindfulness. The challenge for me is finding the right balance between the depth of sitting practice and cultivating mindfulness in everyday life.

When I don’t meditate I feel less capable, less positive, less open, and less flexible. I am more easily overwhelmed and unbalanced, more small-minded and selfish. When I meditate I can relax into the challenges of parenting. I am grounded in my body, and I’m not as reactive. I have more objectivity.

When I don’t meditate, I resist my circumstances more. One of my core understandings of the Dharma is that we hurt ourselves when we resist our circumstances. The struggle to accept my situation as a father, and in particular being interrupted when I meditate, is one of my key spiritual challenges.

The Satipatthana Sutta says that you should cultivate mindfulness when your mind is “restricted, scattered, unconcentrated.” I have more of a restricted, scattered, unconcentrated mind when my children wake up early and I don’t get a chance to meditate. Meditation is my main method for increasing mindfulness.

So how do you develop the mindfulness to parent well when parenting prevents you from meditating? How do you get inspiration in the very situation that seems to be drying it up? I can’t find the answer in the life of the Buddha. He left his family to pursue a spiritual journey that resulted in enlightenment. He never went back, though his wife sent his son to live with him at age seven, and he took him on as a disciple. Later his wife even joined the Sangha. But that’s not a reunification of the family unit — they joined his spiritual movement.

With my literal mind, in moments of weakness, I sometimes wonder if I have to leave my family to seek more spiritual depth and challenge. But of course I couldn’t leave my children. My father left me, and it was deeply painful. His leaving was perhaps the central event in my life. Because of my childhood experiences and my commitment not to harm others I could never do the same thing to my own children. So I need to find a more metaphorical kind of going forth that will benefit me and my family and that takes into account my circumstances and commitments.

Meditation is essential to me. I’ve practiced meditation daily for the past six years, and my sitting practice has been the biggest catalyst for positive change in my life. Some people are amazed that I meditate for 40 minutes most days despite having two small boys. For me, it’s vital, necessary, and not negotiable.

Retreats are very important to me. I want to squeeze the most out of the few retreats that I get to go on. On retreats it’s easier to meditate and we meditate more than I do normally, but my hunger for meditation is such that I never feel there is enough. I have an urgency I would not have developed if I was able to go on retreat more.

And I’d love to get on retreat more, but it wouldn’t be fair to leave my wife alone with the children. She’s not a Buddhist, though she is very kind, and because she doesn’t go on retreat we can’t have a straightforward quid pro quo arrangement. I won’t go on retreat against her wishes, so the retreat negotiation is yet another struggle on the spiritual path, attempting to get my needs met while also taking my wife’s needs into account.

You parent well by giving attention: by giving a particular kind and quality of attention. I don’t usually see that as mindfulness, but in a way it is. I have the challenge of trying to remain calm when flummoxed, to remain kind when my conditioning tells me to crack the whip in an unskillful way by imposing my will rather than relating empathetically. I have to watch for being so tired that I just want to let some of my children’s undesirable behavior slide by unaddressed.

Although my practice is important to me I worry about pushing Buddhism onto my children. I dislike the coercive indoctrination of religion on children. Yet my practice and my parenting are inseparable. There are many ways my boys learn about my Dharma practice. I chant to them to help them fall asleep. They see me meditate. They have met my Buddhist friends. They have gone to a Buddhist naming ceremony. They had naming ceremonies themselves, although they were too young at the time to be able to remember. They can identify the Buddha on the cover of books I read. My practice subtly diffuses out of my pores, and they pick up on it, without my proselytizing or forcing anything on them. Most of the time they appreciate my kindness and my mindfulness. So in a way I have done what my friends suggest, and infused my parenting with my spiritual practice.

I wish I could say I act gracefully all the time, that I go around in a state of equanimity, that I’m always a “good Buddhist.” The fact is though, that my boys have exposed some of my fragility and inflexibility of mind. They show me that I have lots of work to do. They are my gurus, and they humble me because they help me to see more clearly who I am and who I want to be. Pema Chodron talks about “the big squeeze”: when we realize the pressure of our ideals and how far we are from them. I have learned to clarify and use ideals, like the ten precepts, in a positive way, and not to turn them against myself in the pressure cooker of parenting.

My teacher, Sangharakshita, tells a story. There was a fellow who meditated on lovingkindness every morning. Every day, his servant boy would quietly bring some tea into the meditation room so that his master could have tea after meditating. One day, during meditation, the servant boy spilled the tea. The man roared at the boy for interrupting his meditation, “Can’t you see I’m radiating universal loving kindness throughout the world!”

So when my son comes up to me while I’m meditating, and says, “Do you want to play?” my heart melts, and I get up from my cushion — even if I’ve only been sitting for four minutes — and go play with him. That is how I express my metta.

Parenting is a challenge, but it also brings direct spiritual rewards. Kevin Griffin points out in One Breath at a Time:

Sometimes we are focused on developing concentration or investigation or some other quality. New parents have to work hard at cultivating and maintaining a lot of spiritual qualities: patience, generosity, renunciation (as they give up so much of their freedom and time). But the gift that they receive is love, as well as what’s called mudita, or appreciative joy. There’s no work involved, no effort in developing metta and mudita for our children, they just blossom. Appreciating that this is happening for us can help us to be easier on ourselves when other aspects of our practice seem to be crumbling.

I love my sons. They are utterly precious to me, even if they sometimes stop me from meditating. My love for my boys is as at least as powerful as my feelings of frustration about not being able to meditate. I sometimes catch myself speeding home from work: I am rushing to get back to them, to see them, urgently, passionately.

This is not the spirituality of being on retreat, of meditation, dharma study, and sangha. I contrast my life with a retired friend’s simple life of meditation and reflection, his walks in nature, his artistic and social activity, with no television or internet. His children have grown up and he no longer needs to work. Is that the only way to be spiritual, with free time, with no pull of responsibility? Do you have to be a monastic to move towards enlightenment? Can I be spiritual while immersed in my parenting and working life?

My spiritual practice is about staying with my experience, and not running away internally in order to cope with difficult experiences. It’s the same as with an itch on my nose in meditation — I don’t have to react, I can just experience it. I must stay with the challenging experience of parenting, not do the violence of wishing I was elsewhere, taking myself out of the here and now. It’s in this way, staying with and accepting my experience, that I become less scattered and restricted.
I wouldn’t have known all these things if I didn’t have children. Maybe I would have learned different lessons — I can’t say, and there’s no point in trying to second-guess myself. The challenge of losing my free time, of being needed so much, has taught me something vital: My children are my gurus. They help me blossom.


Steve Bell is a 40 year old father of two small children, who’s been meditating for five years. He lives in New York City and works as a psychotherapist at an agency for people with HIV/Aids. Steve is currently studying at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. His wife of 10 years is a middle school teacher.

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Buddhism and the 12 Steps (Beliefnet)

Kevin Griffin (Excerpted from “One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps”): Both Buddhist practice and 12-Step programs encourage followers to have faith in their own experience.

How Can I Believe?

Buddhism offers a safe way to approach faith. The Buddha invited people to “come and see,” ehi-passiko—to come and see for yourself. In the same way, Twelve Step programs don’t recruit members but use their members’ success in dealing with addiction to speak for itself, a policy called “attraction rather than promotion.” Nobody’s trying to sell you something with Buddhism or the Twelve Steps—quite literally, since both are primarily supported by donation—but rather they invite you to see how they work for others and yourself before making a commitment.

The Buddha understood the challenge of faith. In the India of his time, many competing teachers claimed to be the repositories of Truth. One community of eager spiritual seekers, the Kalamas, were confused, and asked his advice. In his famous and fundamental teaching, “The Dilemma of the Kalamas,” the Buddha explains how to decide whether a teacher or teaching is useful.

The Buddha starts by sweeping away the past as the container of wisdom. It doesn’t matter what people tell you or what’s been written down; you don’t have to believe something just because it’s got the weight of history and tradition behind it, he says.

He goes on to assert that it’s not enough that a teaching appeals to our intellect, our logic. While the ideas behind a teaching may be appealing, that doesn’t mean they work in real life. What’s also implied here is that, just because a teaching “feels right” doesn’t mean it is right—a critical point, since we are often drawn to ideas that fit with our own preferences, whether accurate or not.

Finally, he warns against accepting an opinion just because your teacher holds it.

The Buddha takes away many of the standard routes to faith: scripture, tradition, logic, authority. And what he says then is that if you want to know the value of a teacher’s offering, you have to try it out and see what the results are. If the results are good, keep it up; if not, drop it. But, to guard against bias in your own interpretation of the results, you should also check with the wise. One way to determine if someone is wise is to see if they are living a skillful life. In Twelve Step terms, “Do you want what they have?” To check with the wise means to listen to the advice of those we trust: a sponsor, mentor, therapist, sibling, parent, friend, or teacher. (Although we don’t do something automatically because someone else said we should, we do not dismiss out of hand the suggestions of those who are close to us.)

For those of us skeptics who need proof of the value of a practice or belief, this is a helpful invitation. You can try out the practice, study the teachings, sit with a teacher, and see what happens. If your life gets better and if “wise” people approve, you know you’re on the right track. For those whose faith has been damaged, this is also a gentle approach that can rebuild trust and help to gradually open to the possibility of a renewed spiritual life.

Faith, the Spiritual Faculty

Alcoholism is a disease of faith. Alcoholics often develop a cynical attitude toward life, not seeing anything to believe in. When you persistently feel the need to change your consciousness through drugs or booze, you are expressing a lack of trust in life itself. And, in some ways, you are expressing a lack of trust in yourself, in your ability to tolerate life undiluted, to find value in your own, unadulterated experience.

This same difficulty confronts the beginning meditator. Meditation is even more unadulterated than sobriety. Intentionally stopping activity and any diversion can be intimidating. Many people say, “I could never sit still for that long—twenty minutes!” Even without drugs or booze, many of us are trying to control our consciousness with food, TV, music, reading, and other daily habits. Stopping all activity as we do in Meditation is like a new layer of sobriety: ultimate abstinence (a new X Game?). Trusting this process is frightening, whether you are an alcoholic or not.

Nick, an independent filmmaker, went through a remarkable process with faith. When he began meditation practice he told me that he’d never been able to sit still. Even as a kid he’d always gotten in trouble in school because he was always squirming in his seat. As an adult he’d been treated for anxiety and panic attacks. He was nervous about the idea of meditating for even twenty minutes. We talked about different ways to work with this, and he decided to try an unusual approach.

Each day he would go to a park on the UCLA campus near his house. He found a beautiful glen that was usually quiet. There he did walking meditation for twenty minutes. After developing some calm through walking, he then sat on a bench. In the beginning he would just try to sit for five minutes. After some time, he began to stretch the sitting period, first to ten minutes, fifteen, and up to twenty.

He was beginning to develop confidence in his own ability to sit still and be with his anxiety. He continued to practice in this way until he was able to skip the walking altogether. He bought a meditation cushion and began sitting at home, eventually taking daylong and weekend retreats that required longer and longer periods of stillness. Although in times of stress he still has feelings of anxiety, he’s learned to work with these feelings by opening to them and developing calm. In this simple, step-by-step way, he has developed faith in himself and faith in the power of the practice as well.

Although Buddhism and the Twelve Steps both require us to develop faith, thankfully neither requires that we swallow a dogma or belief system whole. Both allow us to take on the amount of faith we can handle, little by little. Step Two says we “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” not that this power could fix everything in our lives. Restoring us to sanity in this case, means helping us get clean and sober.

This isn’t a huge Step, and it is often initially made by accepting the group of sober people who you practice the Steps with as a kind of Higher Power. Seeing how the Steps have allowed these people to stay sober—sometimes for unimaginably long times, like six months—can give you the confidence to venture into the process yourself.

In the same way, when we begin meditation, like Nick, we may not feel much calm or insight ourselves, but joining a room full of peaceful meditators often convinces us that there’s some value to practice. Once we have this seed of faith, we’re on the way to developing our program and our practice.

We all need this seed of faith to weather the difficult early stages of practice when the mind seems to wander endlessly, alternating periods of restlessness and sleepiness leave us frustrated, and sensations we’ve never felt before appear in the body. And we all need faith to weather early sobriety, with its roller-coaster ride of emotions, awkward first stabs at living more ethically, and unfamiliar, deer-in-the-headlights clarity.

As you practice more, the meditative experience grows deeper and richer. At the same time, you may want to read and hear more of the Buddhist teachings or make a connection with a Buddhist teacher who seems to be living the teachings. In the Twelve Step process, as sobriety takes effect, things improve in your life. You begin to read the literature and gather with others who help you learn how to live without booze or drugs. Finally, when you find a sponsor, you begin to have regular support and inspiration from someone who has truly benefited from and fulfills the promise of sobriety.

These are three of the foundations of faith: practice, study, and contact with a teacher, guide, or spiritual friend. As you practice, you see for yourself the results; as you study, your own experience gets put in perspective of the dharma and the Steps; and, as you sit with a teacher or spend time with a sponsor, you are guided and inspired. In this way, faith develops organically, not based on threats from a punishing God or the mysterious, inscrutable teachings of a foggy past, but through direct experience.

Kevin Griffin is a writer, meditation teacher, and musician. He lives in Northern California with his wife, the novelist Rosemary Graham, and their daughter. He is a graduate of the University of California at Irvine MFA program and the Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leader program.

For more information visit www.kevingriffin.net.

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