Perspective: Buddhism – the spiritual path that fit

by Mike R.

Some 10 years ago, I started to practice Buddhist meditation and study Buddhism in depth.

With 14 years sobriety and having gone through the steps 14 times, I felt I needed to be able to look at myself through a different lens. For me, this was the spiritual path that fit.

This is how my practice of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path of Buddhism works with my practice of the 12 Steps:

The First and Second of the Noble Truths can be aligned with Step One.

Step One: We are powerless over _____ and our lives are unmanageable.

The First Noble Truth: Suffering
Human beings are subject to desires and cravings, but even when we are able to satisfy these desires, the satisfaction is only temporary. Pleasure does not last; or if it does, it becomes monotonous. Even when we are not suffering from outward causes like illness or bereavement, we are unfulfilled, unsatisfied. This is the truth of suffering.

The Second Noble Truth: The truth of the cause of suffering
The Buddha taught that the root of all suffering is desire, tanhā. This comes in three forms: greed and desire; ignorance or delusion; hatred and destructive urges.

In the First Noble Truth I can see how drinking worked for a time, how it eliminated my internal suffering (restless, irritable, discontent). In the Second Noble Truth I can see that suffering brings back the desire (obsession) to use or drink, so I can fix the malady; that delusion can be twofold: 1) I don’t have a problem and believe deeply that I don’t; 2) This substance is doing something to relieve the malady; and, of course, that Greed is the selfishness in me.

The Third Noble Truth can be seen within Step Two.

Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The Third Noble Truth: Cessation of suffering
The Buddha taught that the way to extinguish desire, which causes suffering, is to liberate oneself from attachment. This is the third Noble Truth – the possibility of liberation.

To liberate oneself from attachment is to understand that lack of power is my dilemma and come to believe that on my own I am unable to relieve my addiction. So, there will need to be something greater than self.

The Fourth Noble Truth works with Step Three.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

The Fourth Noble Truth: Path to the cessation of suffering
This is the Buddha’s prescription for the end of suffering: a set of principles called the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is also called the Middle Way: it avoids both indulgence and severe asceticism, neither of which the Buddha found helpful in his search for enlightenment.

The step says as we understood him, not as others understand him. Here I am going to find my truth. But I need to remember it’s not me. Also, the decision in this step is just to move forward to find my truth and to follow the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path

The eight stages are not to be taken in order, but rather support and reinforce each other:

  1. Right Understanding: Accepting Buddhist teachings. (The Buddha never intended his followers to believe his teachings blindly, but to practise them and judge for themselves whether they were true.)
  2. Right Intention: A commitment to cultivate the right attitudes.
  3. Right Speech: Speaking truthfully, avoiding slander, gossip and abusive speech.
  4. Right Action: Behaving peacefully and harmoniously; refraining from stealing, killing and overindulgence in sensual pleasure.
  5. Right Livelihood: Avoiding making a living in ways that cause harm, such as exploiting people or killing animals, or trading in intoxicants or weapons.
  6. Right Effort: Cultivating positive states of mind; freeing oneself from evil and unwholesome states and preventing them arising in future.
  7. Right Mindfulness: Developing awareness of the body, sensations, feelings and states of mind.
  8. Right Concentration: Developing the mental focus necessary for this awareness.

Steps Four, Five, Six and Seven are essential to get to the practice of the Eightfold Path. Steps Four and Five assist me in finding where I was wrong in all eight areas of my life. I no longer do a column inventory, but inventory by putting my life against the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Step Six is being willing to make the changes required for contented sobriety. Step Seven is being willing to let go of self, so these changes can take place.

I have to make the Step Eight list in order to be able to follow the path, and need to make my Step Nine amends because freedom is essential for my recovery.

Steps Ten and Eleven are strict disciplines and I must use them the way they were written. I am still human and make mistakes, and must rectify them promptly if I am to follow the path. At least morning and night I go to the mat for meditation and prayer. (In Tibetan the word OM or AUM is used to start and end prayer.) At night I also do daily review. Without meditation and daily review, I can return to the unconscious state where ego rebuilds, and it can take me out of the path I have chosen to follow.

This leads to the Twelfth Step. Carrying the message is essential to my sobriety, and the practice of the principles are the principles of the Eightfold Path. As for the spiritual awakening, there is a Zen saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” It tells me that no matter what, I must practice daily.

Members of Renascent’s alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email alumni@renascent.ca.

Perspective: Step Ten

by Kathy L.

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

Now that we have completed the first nine steps (at least for the first time), we are ready to begin living life. We know more about ourselves than ever before and have done whatever we could to face up to the wreckage of our past through amends. If the Promises (what I call the 9 ½ Step) have not come true for you, it is still important to continue with the recovery process. Remember the Promises come sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly but they are indeed promises that are kept!

I have come to love Step Ten because every time I am in a step meeting and ten is the focus, I learn more and more about it. Step Ten is private. It is between you and your Higher Power. Step Ten, like many of the steps, has a promise. This promise reveals to us one of the most miraculous discoveries of recovery and that is:

“We have ceased fighting anything or anyone — even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have been returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we will recoil from it as from a hot flame.” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 84)

If we were not aware at that point in our recovery that the obsession had been lifted, this might serve as a reminder. I don’t believe that this means we never think of it but the obsession is gone. Do you remember the obsession? How your entire day revolved around drinking or the thought of when you could have the next drink? I remember clearly and the thought can still make me anxious. When the realization that we are free of the obsession hits us, we breathe a sign of relief and say prayers of gratitude. Many of us may be rid of the obsession to drink before Step Ten but we are reminded of this freedom at this time.

We must be careful, though, because this is also where we are told that “we are not cured of alcoholism.” We absolutely must maintain our sobriety and the only way we can do this is by the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Step Ten is the first of the three maintenance steps and what gives us the “daily reprieve” from our addiction.

The nature of Step Ten is not something only suggested in 12 Step Recovery Programs. This type of conscience examining is recommended by both religious and spiritual folk and has been for many ages. Our old behaviour was never an examination of ourselves but all of the other people we had encountered that day. Usually they did something to us and now we were angry. How often did we lie in bed thinking of the day’s events and taking everyone else’s inventory? Today we examine our own behaviour for the day. Were we honest, kind, helpful? If not, did we say or do anything that would harm another? We have stopped blaming everyone else and have taken responsibility for our own behaviour. If we must make an amend we do so as soon as possible as the Step suggests.

Do you know what I have noticed about myself and what I hear others share? That by the time we get to this step and have been honest with ourselves, we don’t even have to wait until evening time (as suggested) to take personal inventory. We know immediately when we have said or done the wrong thing and we do everything in our power to apologize before too much time has passed. We grow up a lot in recovery and, thank God, we begin to understand that hurting others, even accidentally, is not something conducive to happiness. It really is the old “do unto others…” that most of us have heard since we were children.

When we take personal inventory, it does not mean that we have had to say or do anything to another person. Perhaps we did not give our employer a solid workday; maybe we had jealous thoughts; maybe we had an opportunity to help someone but we ignored the chance. These are not situations that require an apology to anyone but can be as detrimental to our sobriety and spiritual condition as anything else. Sometimes what I think is much more dangerous than what I say or do. Those sorts of thoughts or non-actions can build and if we cannot rid ourselves of them, there is little chance for peace and serenity.

Step Ten isn’t all about looking at our “dark” side. The “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” of Alcoholics Anonymous tell us Step Ten should be a balance sheet of both good and not so good. Surely we do good things every day and we should acknowledge them to ourselves and in prayers of gratitude. It is true that there are times when the good things we do are not done for the right reasons. I heard just last evening at a step meeting that giving unsolicited advice to someone was not helpful but was more like criticism. If we are not asked for our advice, why should we be so righteous and all-knowing that we tell someone else what he/she should do? Or perhaps we volunteer for something so that people will admire us. I understand now the difference between self-seeking and real service and I have come to terms with how many times in the past it was all about me. Ironically, especially when I am never sure how anonymous I want to be in my addiction, anonymity has clearly helped me define that issue. This step has taught me how to give of myself without expectations.

The steps are in an order for a reason but there is no reason why anyone can’t review their day. Even the newcomer to recovery can begin this type of inventory, providing any apologies necessary are only apologies and not Step Nine amends. No one has to teach us how to do this. This is nothing more than a nightly chat with your Higher Power. If you are not in the habit of taking Step Ten at night, I suggest you try it. Talking to God right before sleep gives us the peace we might have searched for all day. Sweet dreams!

Namaste’. May you walk your journey in peace and harmony.

Copyright © Kathy L. Reprinted by permission of the author. Kathy L. is the editor of Bella Online 12 Step Recovery, where more of her writings on recovery can be found. She also hosts the Grateful Recovery page on Facebook.

Members of Renascent’s alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email alumni@renascent.ca.

Step Ten: Living the Program

by James Knight

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

The most precise description of the Tenth Step is found in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which states:

“Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear (4th Step). When these crop up (6th Step), we ask God at once to remove them (7th Step). We discuss them with someone immediately (5th Step) and make amends quickly (9th Step) if we have harmed anyone (8th Step). Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.”

There are two critically important aspects to these instructions:

  1. First, it is clear that the purpose of the 10th Step is to incorporate into our daily lives that which has been learned in working the Fourth through Ninth Steps. As above noted, the directions include ongoing inventory, consultation with trusted advisers, identification and treatment of character defects, and making amends for harms done.
  2. Second, the well-known 12-step slogan of “progress not perfection” provides the framework from which the 10th Step is practiced. Notice that the language of both the step itself and the ensuing instructions anticipate future setbacks (or, what might be more appropriately couched as “learning opportunities”) — “when we were wrong” and “when (as opposed to ‘if’) these [character defects] crop up”. As such, while the spirit of the Tenth Step involves the turning of one’s intention toward certain virtues and ideals and acting along those lines as best we can, there must remain an understanding that attaining spiritual perfection is highly unlikely, if not impossible. And yet transformative spiritual progress which borders on the miraculous is to be expected at this point in the recovery process.

Ultimately, the work of the 10th Step provides a bulwark against the reaccumulation of resentments, self-pity, shame and irrational fears. Recovery may only be preserved and enhanced with vigilance and persistent effort. The temptation to rely on the work already done — though it has been significant and undoubtedly beneficial — must be avoided if happiness, joy, and freedom are to persist. As the Big Book warns:

“It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do for alcohol [and other drugs] is a subtle foe. We are not cured of [addiction]. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

The more we work at the first half of the 10th Step, which requires ongoing and accurate self-appraisal, the less we will need to turn to the second part of the step (making amends for harm done). Furthermore, as a practical matter, fidelity to the amends process together with an emerging moral consciousness serve as powerful reinforcement against harmful action. Sometimes the only barrier between our scorn and the tranquility of another is personal disdain for what would be the required corrective action.

With that being said, little spiritual progress can be made if the same harm is repeated over and over notwithstanding any amends. Genuine amends include not only honest regret and restitution, but intent not to repeat the harm in the future. Inasmuch, the most important work of the 10th Step centres around the development of self-restraint. As noted in the Twelve and Twelve, “nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen.” Learning to avoid the hook by not taking the bait — no matter how tantalizing — is the fundamental challenge of this work. To this end, the focus now shifts to managing anger as it arises in the present moment. In active addiction, as life spirals out of control, the delusion of omnipotence combined with the reality of powerlessness fuel the anger response. From this perspective, the addicted person is caught in a cycle of “feeling-reacting” — leashed by the circumstances of life and the apparent whims of others.

However, through the practice of self-restraint, the individual learns the art of thoughtful response as opposed to mindless reaction. And while much progress will have been made in terms of achieving “emotional sobriety” by the time the 10th Step is reached, much work remains. In essence, what must be learned and practiced is non-action. This cardinal principle requires the exercise of reasoned judgement, and should not be confused with inaction which implies careless passivity. Non-action — known as wu wei in the Taoist tradition — transforms the power of choice into spiritual growth. While the spiritual principle of non-action usually implies the absence of unnecessary or harmful action, it can also include effortless action (eg. “second nature” or what the program describes as “intuition”) and lack of resistance (“opting out”). Lao Tzu described the principle in his philosophical masterpiece, Tao Te Ching, as follows:

43

The gentlest thing in the world

overcomes the hardest thing in the world.

That which has no substance

enters where there is no space.

This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,

performing without actions:

that is the Master’s way.

Taxonomy of Inventories

Of course, the major “housecleaning” completed in the 4th Step need not be repeated so long as the prior work is maintained in the 10th Step. As stated in the Twelve and Twelve, “learning daily to spot, admit, and correct these [mistakes] is the essence of character building and good living” and is achieved through a variety of “personal inventories” including:

  • The Spot Check Inventory
    This inventory is taken at any point throughout the day, as necessary. The need for a spot check inventory arises when we notice that we are emotionally disturbed, when our behaviour is askew, or when we are engaging in negative self-talk. It is here, in the “real world,” where the practice of self-restraint and the principle of non-action become most important. The use of program slogans and personal mantras (e.g. “Let Go and Let God,” “This too shall pass,” “I can handle this” etc.) are indispensable at such times.
  • The Daily Review
    The daily review involves careful reflection upon the events of the day. It is during this daily review — often conducted just prior to retiring for the night — where we decide whether or not harm has been done to another, and if so, what amends are necessary. The Twelve and Twelve suggests that we visualize how we might have handled a difficult situation differently. It is also important to consider where we have done well and where we have successfully applied the principles of the program in our lives. Many utilize a questionnaire or checklist to aid in this ritual. The questions may be tailored to the particularities of the individual program, but often include such queries as:
  1. Did I start my day with conscious contact with my Higher Power?
  2. Did I act with patience, compassion, kindness, and love towards others today?
  3. What have I done to be of service to the people around me today?
  4. Did I resist the temptation to gossip and criticize others today?
  5. Did I make unreasonable demands upon myself, others, or life today?
  6. Did I label myself or others today (people rating)?
  7. Did I catastrophize any situations today (can’t-stand-it-itis)?
  8. Did I have contact with my support group and/or another person in recovery today?
  9. Have I contacted my sponsor recently?
  10. Did I do any step work today?
  11. Did I renew at any time today my conscious contact with my Higher Power?
  12. Have I been resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid today?
  13. Did I worry excessively today or dwell in the past?
  14. Am I taking myself too seriously in any part of my life today?
  15. Did I feel “stressed out” today?
  16. Did I experience any extreme feelings today? What were they and why did I have them?
  17. Did I exercise self-restraint today?
  18. Did I respond rather than react today?
  19. Did I harm anyone today? Do I owe an amends? What might I have done differently?
  20. Have I practiced unconditional self-acceptance today?
  21. Did I allow myself to become obsessed about anything today?
  22. Did I behave compulsively in any way today?
  23. What spiritual principles did I practice in my life today?
  24. Was I happy and peaceful today?
  25. Do I see any “old patterns” re-emerging in my life today? If so, which ones?
  26. Has there been any conflict in any of my relationships today? What?
  27. Did I allow myself to become too hungry, angry, lonely or tired today?
  28. What did I not do today that I wish I had done?
  29. Did I get physical exercise today?
  30. Have I kept something to myself that I need to discuss with my sponsor?
  31. Was I kind and gentle to myself today?
  32. What did I do today that I feel positive about?
  33. What are the areas where I need to improve most?
  34. What am I grateful for today?

Download PDF version of Tenth Step Nightly Review Checklist.

  • Annual or Semi-Annual House Cleaning
    If in the Daily Review there appears persistent negative patterns or nagging emotional disturbances, it is advisable to take out pen and paper — as was done in the Fourth Step — and take a more detailed look at the concern. Some believe that a thorough, written inventory should be reviewed with a sponsor as a matter of course on an annual or semi-annual basis.

 

10th Step Promises

from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (pp. 84-85)

“And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone — even alcohol. For by this time, sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality — safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.”

 

“It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause,
there is something wrong with us.”

~Step 10, Twelve and Twelve~

 

Reprinted from The Tao of Recovery with kind permission of the author. James Knight is a therapist in rural Western Kentucky at a community mental health agency. His passion is working with those who likewise suffer from addiction and their families. He is particularly interested in helping clients incorporate mindfulness practices and meditation into their recovery. Read more of James’ work here.

Members of Renascent’s alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email alumni@renascent.ca.

Perspective: Get Honest

by Sean V.

Every day my inventory is searching and fearless. Progress not perfection though, as some days it is more difficult to look within at something that is particularly nasty to witness. Coming to terms with yesterday to make today beautiful. If I don’t feed my recovery it dies. If I don’t give it away I cannot keep it. I’m not always right and I am OK with that today. Bottom line is this: be kind to yourself and you’ll have the ability to be kind to others.

One day at a time.

 

Reprinted from In Recovery with kind permission of the author. Sean has an Associate’s degree in Human Services from Tacoma Community College and a Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College in Olympia. He is interested in finding a deep meaning in life and cultivating compassionate mindfulness in all of his affairs. Read more of Sean’s work here.

Members of Renascent’s alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email alumni@renascent.ca.

Feed Your Recovery

A surefire way to maintain your addiction is to keep feeding it. In recovery, we need to put at least as much energy and effort into feeding our recovery as we did into feeding our addiction. This means setting up a lifestyle that encourages you every day, with the support you need to stay on course and keep your recovery alive and well. Some call this “Building a Recovery Plan.” Your Recovery Plan should include physical self-care, emotional/spiritual self-care, and social self-care. Read “9 Steps to Building a Self-Care Plan in Recovery” and let us know in the comments how you’re planning to feed your recovery this week!

Members of Renascent’s alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email alumni@renascent.ca.