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Book study - Recovery Dharma

Old 07-11-2021, 01:37 PM
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Book study continued:

Awakening: Buddha

Most of us enter into recovery with one goal in mind: to stop the suffering that got us here in the first place, whether that was drinking, using drugs, stealing, eating, gambling, sex, codependency, technology, or other process addictions. As newcomers, most of us would be satisfied with simple damage control. We want to stop harming ourselves or others in particular ways.

You’re reading this right now because you had enough wisdom to start seeking the end of the suffering of your addiction. You’ve already taken the first step on the path to your own awakening. Everyone who has made the wise intention to recover, wherever they are on their path, has accessed that pure, wise part of themselves that the wreckage of addiction can never touch.

So many of us have hearts that are tender and worn raw from the suffering we’ve experienced. Many of us have collected layers of trauma which often led us to seek temporary relief in our addictive behavior. But then, through our addiction, we added more layers of demoralization and shame that hardened around our hearts. On top of those layers are the ones we built for our protection: all the ways we’ve run from pain, all the ways we’ve pushed people away in fear of being vulnerable, all the ways we’ve shut parts of ourselves off in order to adapt to what often feels like a hostile world.

We started to recover when we let ourselves believe in the part of us that’s still there beneath all those layers we’ve collected and built—the pure, radiant, courageous heart where we find our potential for awakening. Who were we before the world got to us? Who are we beyond the obsession of our conditioned minds? Who are we beneath all our walls and heartbreak? Despite the trauma, addiction, fear, and shame, there is a still and centered part of us that remains whole. There is a part of us that’s not traumatized, that’s not addicted, that’s not ruled by fear or shame. This is where wisdom comes from, and it’s the foundation of our recovery.
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Old 07-11-2021, 01:41 PM
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"Despite the trauma, addiction, fear, and shame, there is a still and centered part of us that remains whole. There is a part of us that’s not traumatized, that’s not addicted, that’s not ruled by fear or shame. This is where wisdom comes from, and it’s the foundation of our recovery."

Wow! What a profound message. The thing I love about this path is that I'm not required to believe in anything supernatural. What a revelation to think that there is a part of me that is untouched by addiction and suffering, and that it's the source of wisdom and recovery. Who knew! I find that such an incredible comfort; to know that I am not completely broken, that the parts of me that are addicted and suffering are maladapted facades and layers of protection, not the real, true me.
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Old 07-12-2021, 01:40 PM
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Book study continued:

Awakening: Buddha continued

If you’re at the beginning of your recovery journey, it may seem impossible to access this part of you. But the reason you’re here is because you already did. It’s because you felt some small glimmer of hope—maybe born out of desperation—that there might be a way out, that things could change if you took wise action and reached out for help. Maybe it feels impossible to have faith in this part of you, to believe that you have the potential to be someone capable of wisdom and kindness and ethical deeds, to believe you can be the source of your own healing and awakening. But don’t worry. Recovery doesn’t happen all at once. The path is a lifetime of individual steps. It’s not only the Buddha’s example that shows us the way, it’s also the examples of people in our recovery communities who have gone through what we have and made it through to the other side. They show us we can, too.

So what does the Buddha have to do with recovery? There are two ways in which we use the word Buddha, which means “awakened.” First, it is the title given to a person named Siddhartha Gautama, a man who lived in modern-day Nepal and India roughly 2,500 years ago. After many years of meditation and ethical practice, he discovered a path that leads to liberation or awakening and the end of suffering, and that’s why Siddhartha came to be known as the Buddha.

The second usage of the word Buddha follows from the first. Buddha can refer not only to the historical figure but also to the idea of awakening: the fact that each of us has within ourselves the potential to awaken to the same understanding as the original Buddha. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we take refuge not in Siddhartha as a man, but in the fact that he was able to find freedom from his suffering. He was human just like us, and experienced suffering just like us. He found liberation from it, and so can we.
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Old 07-12-2021, 01:46 PM
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I don't know if I'm wise, but I try hard to practice kindness and ethical deeds. In my meditation community, we are encouraged to share out good deeds because it brightens our own minds, and also the minds of the people we share them with. When we go to sleep, we are taught to have a "sea of merit", which basically means recalling the good deeds we did during the day. That was a revelation to me. Instead of tossing and turning and feeding my worries all night, I can think about the ways in which I practiced kindness and generosity. This combined with no alcohol and minimal caffeine (one cup of tea rather than 5 espressos) has improved my sleep no end.
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Old 07-13-2021, 01:56 PM
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The Story of the Original Buddha

To understand the nature of this awakening and what it is we’re aiming at, it helps to know something about the life of the man named Siddhartha Gautama.

There are many versions of the traditional story of the Buddha. Some of them are very mythical, while some of them are more down to earth. It’s been said that Siddhartha was a prince, that he was wealthy, and that he was born into privilege, sheltered from much of the suffering of the world. The story goes that young Siddhartha sneaked away from his palace and saw people suffering from old age, sickness, and death. He realized that no amount of privilege could protect him from this suffering. Wealth wouldn’t prevent it. Comfort wouldn’t prevent it. Pleasure wouldn’t prevent it. Despite having a life of ease, Siddhartha still found that he experienced suffering and dissatisfaction. He was born with everything, but it wasn’t enough.

This persistent dissatisfaction with life, whether dramatic or subtle, was referred to as dukkha in the language of the Buddha’s time, a word we still use today. All humans experience dukkha, but some of us— particularly those of us who have struggled with addiction—seem to experience it on a more intense level, and with worse consequences. What is addiction but the consistent and nagging feeling of “not enough?” What is addiction other than being constantly unsatisfied?
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Old 07-13-2021, 01:57 PM
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There was certainly never enough in my addictions. Being constantly unsatisfied is a hunger for sure.
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Old 07-14-2021, 02:00 PM
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Book study continued

The Story Of The Original Buddha (continued)
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Siddhartha saw clearly that pain was an unavoidable part of life, and he became determined to find a way to put an end to it. He left his family and tried, for a while, the life of an ascetic—the most extreme opposite to his previous life of comfort and wealth. As an ascetic, he sat in extremely uncomfortable postures meditating for long periods of time. He slept very little. He ate very little. He even tried breathing very little. He thought that, since material comfort hadn’t brought about an end to suffering, maybe the opposite of material comfort would. But it didn’t. Pushed to the brink of death, Siddhartha abandoned the idea of extreme asceticism and instead chose what he came to call “the middle path.”

Siddhartha realized that both the extremes of pleasure and denial of pleasure had gotten him nowhere nearer to liberation. Neither extreme had given relief from his suffering. So he set off on his own to meditate. Sitting beneath a Bodhi tree, he meditated deeply and discovered the path that leads to the end of suffering. He looked within himself for his own liberation, and he found it.

What Siddhartha found meditating under the Bodhi tree is what we refer to as the Dharma, or the “Truth.” It’s what the path of Buddhism is based on. Central to this path are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which will be explained in the next chapter.

Siddhartha was called the Buddha, or “The One Who Woke Up,” because the way most people go through life was thought to be like dreaming or being in a trance. The Buddha spent the rest of his life developing the Dharma into a simple but sophisticated system. He shared it with anyone who would listen, dedicating himself to a life of service to free everybody from suffering. He bucked the trends of his time by letting women and the poorest class of citizens become monastics. Everybody was welcome in his Sangha, his spiritual community. Central to his teachings was that liberation is available to all—to the most broken and oppressed among us, to the sick, to the powerless, to those who have lost everything, to those who have nothing left to lose. All of us, even the most addicted, the most lost, can find our way to awakening.
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Old 07-14-2021, 02:08 PM
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Being awake and present to everything is a blessing and a curse! Using alcohol to numb myself certainly keep me asleep and lost.
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Old 07-15-2021, 01:56 PM
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Book study continued:

Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha

The story of the Buddha may seem far removed from our everyday reality, but his life, both before and after his awakening, offers us a model for our own lives. Probably all of us can relate to the suffering that seems to be unavoidable in life. In some way or another, the signs of aging, sickness, or death have touched us all. We’ve experienced the truth of impermanence—the highs and pleasures we achieved in our addictions always eventually wore off, but we kept chasing them anyway. We’ve endured other forms of suffering, some of it self-inflicted and some at the hands of others. And we’ve dealt with the subtle forms of dukkha: the annoyances with others, the boredom, the loss of what we want, the inability to keep what we have, the impatience with life, the refusal to accept what is. And what have we done with these experiences of suffering? Maybe we tried to change them. Maybe we tried to avoid them. Maybe we tried to find something more pleasurable to replace what was unpleasant.

It’s at this point that most of our stories start to look different than Siddhartha’s, and it’s this difference that led us to this program. Instead of deeply understanding suffering, we found ways to avoid it or replace it with something we found more pleasurable. For some of us, that came in the form of drinking or using. For others, it came in the form of sex, relationships, food, self harming, technology addiction, workaholism, or gambling. And for a lot of us, our stories contain some version of “all of the above.” Whatever our behavior was, we found that it was just a temporary solution that always led to deeper suffering for ourselves and others.
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Old 07-15-2021, 01:58 PM
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Managing to get my head above water long enough to accept that while craving alcohol was suffering, drinking alcohol caused even more suffering. As part of dealing with cravings now I remind myself (very gently, no fear or shame involved) that if I give in to the craving and drink, it sets off an even greater cycle of craving. Every day I don't drink, I get further from that suffering, and suffer less in general.
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Old 07-16-2021, 01:40 PM
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Book study continued

Walking in the footsteps of the Buddha continued


We’ve come to realize that our stories don’t have to continue like this. The life of Siddhartha, and the lives of the countless people we meet in recovery who have found an end to the suffering of addiction, prove to us that there is another way.

We, too, can look back upon our own lives and see clearly the path that brought us here. We can examine our own actions and intentions and come to understand how we shape our own future. And we can gain insight into the nature of our own suffering and follow a path that leads to less harm and less suffering.

This is a path of practice. While the Buddha can be an ideal that inspires us, he won’t do the work for us. The Buddha wasn’t a God. There’s nothing miraculous about the path we follow. We believe, and experience has shown us, that good results come when we put the necessary effort into our own recovery. This is a program of empowerment: we take responsibility for our own actions and intentions. The Sangha is here to help us along the way.

None of us is expected to become an ascetic. We don’t have to become monks or nuns, and we don’t have to meditate for hours each day. We don’t have to become Buddhists. But we have found that the path outlined in the Four Noble Truths can lead us to liberation from both the suffering of addiction and the suffering that comes from simply being human, and we trust in the potential in all of us to find freedom from this suffering.
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Old 07-16-2021, 01:42 PM
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What a comfort that I don't have to rely on a miracle to be bestowed upon me to achieve sobriety. That I can achieve it through my own work and effort. I've never understood why people say "God loves me so much he gave me sobriety." Well, God, must really hate little children in poor countries dying of starvation and preventable diseases if he chooses not to save them. I am not interested in anything that particular God has to offer, even if I did think he existed.
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Old 07-17-2021, 01:46 PM
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Book study continued

The Truth: Dharma

As people who have struggled with addiction, we’re already intimately familiar with the truth of suffering. Even if we’ve never heard of the Buddha, at some level we already understand the core of his teachings: that in this life, there is suffering.

It can be incredibly liberating to hear this said so plainly and directly. No one is trying to convince or convert us. No one is telling us we have to believe something. No one is sugarcoating our experience. For once, it feels like we’re being told the truth.

The Buddha also taught the way to free ourselves from this suffering. The heart of these teachings (which we call the Dharma) is the Four Noble Truths. These truths, and the corresponding commitments, are the foundation of our program:

1. There is suffering. We commit to understanding the truth of suffering.
2. There is a cause of suffering. We commit to understanding that craving leads to suffering.
3. There is an end to suffering. We commit to understanding and experiencing that less craving leads to less suffering.
4. There is a path that leads to the end of suffering. We commit to cultivating the path. Like a map that shows us the path, these truths help us find our way in recovery.
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Old 07-17-2021, 02:12 PM
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Makes sense to me! I am finding this book very helpful.
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Old 07-18-2021, 01:47 PM
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The First Noble Truth: There is Suffering

Some of the ways in which we suffer are obvious, like hunger, pain, disappointment, and feeling separated or excluded. Some are less obvious, like feelings of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. We suffer as we struggle with aging, sickness, and death. As much as we want to hold onto the things, people, and feelings we like, we’ll always have to deal with separation and loss. There’s suffering any time we want things to be different than they are.

The First Noble Truth rests on the understanding that our lives are unsatisfactory due to the fact that experiences are impermanent and impersonal. Our senses (which the Buddha understood to include not just hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touch, but also thinking) are unreliable and temporary, which means that the way we experience and make sense of the world is constantly changing. We suffer because we keep expecting these temporary experiences to satisfy our craving for pleasure or to avoid pain.

Many of us have suffered by trying, and failing, to control our dependencies, habits, and addictions. We’ve used every kind of willpower, bargaining, planning, and magical thinking, each time imagining the result would be different, and beating ourselves up when it turned out the same.

How many times did we promise: “Just this one last time, then I’m done? I’ll just use or drink on the weekends, or only after work, or only on special occasions. I’ll never drink in the morning. I won’t do the hard stuff. I’ll never get high alone. I’ll never use at work or around my family. I’ll never drink and drive. I’ll never use needles.”

How many diets have we tried? How many times have we said we wouldn’t binge, or purge, or restrict calories, or over-exercise?

How many times have we looked at the scars on our arms and vowed to never cut again? How many times have we let our wounds heal, only to break them open once more?
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Old 07-18-2021, 01:49 PM
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Wow yes. Every day would be my last day. I'd tell myself "This is the last one. I'm quitting after today. So I'd load up on booze for one last blow out, only to tell myself the same thing the following day. For a long time, I only kept what I would drink that day in the house because I was going to quit. Tomorrow. Then I gave up and just made sure I had loads of booze in the house so I wouldn't run out. Then I'd tell myself I'd quit when I finished all the booze currently in the house. It was endless torture.
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Old 07-19-2021, 01:48 PM
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Book study continued

The First Noble Truth: There is suffering (continued)

How many limits have we set on ourselves around technology or work, only to get sucked back in? How many times have we vowed to have no more one-night stands, vowed to stay away from certain people or places or websites? How many times have we crossed our own boundaries and been consumed by shame?

How many mornings did we wake up hating ourselves, vowing to never do again what we did last night, only to find ourselves repeating the same mistake again just a few hours later? How many times did we attempt to cure our addictions with therapy, with self-help books, with cleanses, with more exercise, by changing a job or relationship? How many times did we move, thinking our shadow wouldn’t follow us?

How many promises did we make? How many times did we break those promises? Having suffered and struggled with addiction in its many forms, we’ve come to understand this first truth as it relates to recovery: Addiction is suffering. We suffer when we obsess, when we cling and grasp onto all of the delusions of addiction, all the impermanent solutions to our discomfort and pain. We’ve tried to cure our suffering by using the very substances and behaviors that create more discomfort and pain. In all of our attempts to control our habits, we’ve still been clinging to the illusion that we can somehow control our experiences of the world. We’re still caught in the prison of suffering. In fact, we’re reinforcing the walls of that prison, building them taller and stronger as we act on our addictions.

Liberation comes when we gain a clear understanding of where our real power lies, and where we are throwing it away. This is a program of empowerment. It’s a path of letting go of behavior that no longer serves us and cultivating that which does.
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Old 07-20-2021, 01:31 PM
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We’ve tried to cure our suffering by using the very substances and behaviors that create more discomfort and pain.
Right? The insanity of it.
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Old 07-20-2021, 01:33 PM
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Trauma and Attachment Injury

For many of us, suffering also exists as trauma. Trauma is often described as the psychological damage that occurs after living through an extremely frightening or distressing event or situation. Itís caused by an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds our ability to cope, and may make it hard to function even long after the event. Trauma can come from childhood experiences or from events that occur in our adulthood. It can be sudden, or it can develop over time from a series of events that changed how we perceived the world. While trauma frequently comes from life-threatening events, any situation that leaves one feeling emotionally or physically in danger can be traumatic.

Itís important to note that itís not the objective facts of the event alone that determine how traumatic it is, itís the subjective emotional perception of the person who experiences it. Generally, the more terror and helplessness we feel, and the longer that terror lasts, the more likely it is that weíll be traumatized.

Attachment injury can be just as insidious and harmful as trauma, and can have the same impact. Itís defined as an emotional wound to a core relationship with a caregiver, often caused by abuse, neglect, or inconsistency of care in early childhood. Attachment injury and trauma can impact our recovery and meditation practice in slightly different ways. With trauma we may feel fear (even panic) or distrust when asked to ďsitĒ in meditation, even when intellectually we know weíre in a safe place with a supportive group. It may be triggering to be asked to be present in our bodies and minds, or to focus on our breath. Attachment injury may show up as a hesitation to trust people or a process, as a reluctance to be part of a recovery group or sangha, or as a core belief that we donít belong. In this case, the nurturing thing to do for ourselves might be to lean into this discomfort and compassionately engage and investigate the stories weíre telling ourselves about not belonging. Again, itís key to become aware of the nature of the harm we carry with us. Trauma and attachment injury may require different ways of feeling safe and supported. You should always do whatever is most compassionate for yourself in the moment, and seek outside help when you need it.
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Old 07-20-2021, 01:36 PM
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I hadn't thought about the difference between trauma and attachment injury before. Interesting. As for a "safe place with a supportive group", that's pretty subjective. Every individual and every group has good days and bad days.
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