At last, the gentle tribe safe enough to invite into my blanket fort for whispered secrets—and snacks
I fell in such deep love last night that it was hard to fall asleep and even tougher to stay that way. But that's how it always goes when you are swept off your feet. Otherworldly. As surprising as it is overwhelming, like your life force was just zapped by a mega-Wattage voltage of cosmic energy that cranked it up to full tilt and showered your heart in stardust. I drove home feeling like I had just swallowed the sun, and I had no idea that I would even like this place. It was just an experiment, a venture into new and hopefully refreshing in-person connections with the Recovery community.
"So we'll start by exploring Refuge Recovery and hang out with the Buddhists and then we can check out the Freethinking Agnostic Queers meeting at the LGBT Recovery Center. If any AA meeting in this entire valley has a chance for a renegade attitude and fewer gigantic brooms up the ass, that has to be it, right?"
My friend Marie had reached the end of her tether with the same-ole AA crowd. For years she has done things like promoting progressive 12-step retreats and starting AA meetings in local prisons just to keep growing—just to keep her inner rebel from losing its shit and setting fire to the village. But lately she's been blurting out things like "The atmosphere around here has become so judgmental, we should start wearing robes and banging gavels. And wigs, let's go all the way back to huge white wigs, because these aren't even modern judges!" Just guessing that she is not their favorite daughter right now, either.
So Marie and I were looking for many of the same things: A place to celebrate and deepen recovery in alignment with the principles of positive psychology. Something free of rigid thinking and even the tiniest hint of shaming or making others wrong. Something that offers a deeper dive into self care and self love in the midst of life's chaos and relational complexities. But I had another unspoken hope, at least for Refuge Recovery. And that was finding my sangha—which is Buddhist/Hindu for "spiritual community." My buds, my peeps, my soul tribe. A place to learn and practice mindfulness and a constant connection to nourishment and inspiration.
The long and winding road that led me to this door really began back in 1981 when my spiritual teacher packed it in and moved across the country. Paula's home had been my ashram for more than six years, my direct plug-in to ineffable love and grace and peace and healing and Light. I knew in my bones that it was time to leave that cocoon but I had no idea how "Meh" every other spiritual group or experience would feel in comparison. Yes, there were glimpses and moments of bliss in the years and decades that followed. An afternoon or evening or maybe on a three-day retreat, a few outrageous miracles with gifted healers, but every connection was random or fleeting.
Not that all that meandering and seeking led to a door that was easy to find. Marie and I arrived so early that it was unclear which side of the sprawling complex was the front. The parking lot wrapped around like a horseshoe, so we rattled iron gates and peeked in windows and pulled on every entrance and wandered back and forth over stretches of grass in the middle of a July heat wave. Was it really that bad? YES! Just look at the screen shot for the weather app that day:
Our overheated search party had gained another lost newbie by the time we found our way into a dimly lit room with a ring of chairs around a towering statue of Buddha. This gathering is the only Refuge in town that offers a half-hour pre-meeting introduction for newcomers, so the facilitator had time to cover the nuts and bolts while he set up the room and we had time to feel a bit more comfortable in a foreign land. Craig said the meeting had been going strong for about two years with nary a blip—even if Monday fell on Christmas Eve or Labor Day or Please Take My Children to Work Day.
"We don't use or encourage labels like alcoholic or addict. In fact, we don't even want to know what problems brought you here because we believe all addictive patterns arise from the same core issues. Refuge Recovery demands no belief in God or even in a Higher Power. Buddha was solely focused on the elimination of needless human suffering and reaching a state of enlightenment. You have work to do, a path to follow, and you are the only one who can do it."
I was ALL IN before the meeting even started. I've been a huge book and audio fan of Buddhist wisdom for decades, particularly as shared by Cheri Huber, Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, of course—totally The Dude. In fact, Cheri Huber's small hand-written books kept me from losing my fucking mind back in the early 90's during a prolonged siege of volcano-force kundalini resurgence, but that's a wild and wooly tale for another time.
By the time Craig wrapped up the intro, most of the seats in the room had been filled with men and women of all ages who were greeting each other with quiet nods and smiles. A few more poured through the door at the last minute, so after the shuffle died down, we went around the circle giving our first names. The blanket of serenity that was settling over the room made it easy to relax into a growing sense of peace before the 20-minute guided meditation even began.
When the meditation ended and I opened my eyes, I was still feeling the overwhelming sense of Presence that only a deep meditative trance can bring. The sensation brought me back to those years with Paula, but in those days, her Presence was the power source. This emergence was coming from somewhere deep inside, still growing stronger and brighter even though I was listening and reading and talking and interacting on a fully conscious level. It was the same blissful state that I usually experience only in the deepest of meditations. Can I walk out the door this way? Can I take this all the way home and be in the world like this all the time? How did this even happen?"
"Your true nature is love itself...timeless, formless, boundless, unbroken and infinite in expression. Awakening to this dimension isn’t an act of becoming, doing or learning from outside of yourself, but rather accepting and allowing what already is within you to emerge just by being willing to surrender to its presence." —Sebastian Dudley
So yes, yes, yes to Refuge Recovery on Monday evenings. It's laughable to think that a Spirit junkie like me with a lifetime of curious exploration into the higher realms would stumble across Nirvana in some recovery program that's only been around for three years. And yet I can't believe how perfect that feels—or how profoundly appreciated. My efforts to host and sustain a weekly meditation group have never gained much traction. Ironically, Marie was often the only person who showed up with any regularity. We never had a problem flying around the galaxies together, but still, it was just the two of us. The Mindfulness Center in Scottsdale is an amazing resource but the monthly cost is as high as most yoga studios.
Nothing but nothing is quite like this. I can't imagine any other group or temple or circle or gathering that could offer what I found last night with about 30 complete strangers, each one dedicated to gentle loving kindness and compassion for self and others. Finding this Refuge at just this time feels like something Deepak Chopra would call SynchroDestiny. It was only a few weeks ago that my daughter Katie introduced me to Michael A. Singer's book The Untethered Soul with its brilliantly simple guide to freeing ourselves from habitual thoughts and emotions through meditation and mindfulness, and centering our consciousness in the peace of our innermost being. And now I have an entire spiritual community committed to following that very path. It's taken a very long time to arrive at this place, but as I said to my sangha, "This feels like Home."