Waking Up to the Joy of Being Alive
M.A. Licensed Psychologist
"We meet Monday evening at Mind Roads Meditation Center in Saint Paul, MN, one chapter in a nationwide community of Twelve Step and Mindfulness meetings. The room is soft with candlelight, scented by burning incense, and lined with black cushions on the polished oak floor. Our addictions are wide spread: drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, cigarettes or codependency. Everyone is welcome. We introduce ourselves by going around the circle, saying our first name and Twelve Step affiliation.
We have a common interest in meditation practices and how they can inform our recovery from addiction. Each month, we discuss one of the Twelve Steps and how Buddhist thought, meditation and mindfulness practice can be applied to our life in recovery. We sit in silent meditation together, hear a talk by one of our members, and share our reflections.
As with many Twelve Step meetings, we are a diverse group of people, tall and short, wide and thin, black and white and brown. BMW sedans are parked next to rusty pickup trucks in the parking lot. Yet we are part of the great stream of beings seeking greater serenity in our lives, grounded in sobriety by the Twelve Step program, inspired to awaken and live in the present by the practice of mindfulness meditation. In our addictions we were never here in the moment. We wanted to be gone. Now we are learning to wake up to the joy of being alive.’’
Admitting Our Suffering; Opening To Community
"Perhaps many of us have dragged ourselves through the door of our first Twelve Step meeting, frustrated, impotent to change the addicts or alcoholics we love, admitting by our very presence that going it alone had failed us. Humiliated, perhaps, to let our hurt show, or to disclose we are out of control—powerless to handle our own drug or alcohol use, powerless to cure our alcoholic loved ones, powerless to manage others in any way. Striving for perfection, hiding our real self from others, or putting on a false face keeps us separate and alone.
But in the act of admitting our pain and suffering, we open up to a community. When we admit our failures, weaknesses, hurts, and needs, we find out we are not alone. A portal to connecting with others is opened.
Thích Nhât Hanh—a Vietnamese monk and, I believe, a holy person on this earth—describes it this way: “We have to recognize and acknowledge the presence of suffering and touch it. Please don’t run away from suffering. Embrace it and cherish it. To do so, we need the help of friends in the practice.”
A fundamental teaching of mindfulness and Buddhism is that we are interconnected with all beings, all life forces. Believing we are separate, that I do not affect you and you do not affect me, is a delusion. This is depicted in the story of Gautama Buddha’s moment of enlightenment, which goes something like this: Gautama is sitting under a beautiful bodhi tree, meditating and maybe chanting “Ohm” after years of wandering, searching, and nearly starving to death. He is wrestling with his inner demons, watching them torture his mind. He touches the ground with his fingers, and as he does, the earth rumbles, rising to meet him. All of his suffering and distress falls away. In that moment he is awakened. He avows, “I, together with the great earth and all living beings, attain the way at the same time.”
Buddha’s enlightenment happens in concert with all beings, not alone. He declares his understanding that we are part of the 'Great We,' alive in a world of 'inter-being,' meaning that our existence is a shared experience. When we walk into a Twelve Step meeting and take Step One, we, too, touch the ground and experience the fellowship there to meet us. Realizing we are no longer separate and on our own, the veil of delusion is torn open.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (also known as the Twelve & Twelve) is a core text of Alcoholics Anonymous. It describes the experience of joining the Twelve Step community like this: 'Through it we begin to learn right relationships with people who understand us; we don’t have to be alone anymore.' Even by myself in my room, I’m part of the Twelve Step fellowship. When I sit in mindfulness meditation, noticing breath, the texture of the cushion, and the sounds of the room, I begin by thinking about being part of the Great We."
Therese Jacobs-Stewart, Mindfulness and the 12 Steps
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