Dharma In Recovery: Accepting Life On Life’s Terms

Dharma in Recovery

Many people are expressing hope and relief now that there is a vaccine being introduced as a tool in the management of the COVID-19 virus. This is very welcome news, as so many are impacted personally and intimately by the illness or are really suffering under the prolonged pandemic restrictions. 

Viewed realistically, however, we still have a ways to go before things are stable and “normal”, and there is great uncertainty about how the situation is going to play out. So many unknowns. 

In the past, you may have faced personal calamity and did your best to cope and survive. Maybe you have thought about how you would react to an event such as a natural disaster. Now, we find ourselves in the midst of a crisis that is not abstract but is affecting the entire globe.

The situation is not completely unprecedented, as pandemics have come and gone throughout human history. However, for most of us, this is unprecedented in our lifetime and beyond our lived experience. 

Our alumni members have courageously shared their present-moment thoughts and feelings at Continuing Care: boredom, fear, confusion, frustration and deep sadness. Some are making the best of things, and some are barely hanging on. 

Aurora’s Saturday afternoon Continuing Care session has provided an excellent opportunity for staff, members and alumni to share how they are maintaining their recovery and emotional stability using mindfulness, meditation, and Buddha-inspired fellowship. 

We hear about new perspectives being applied to difficulties. Most of us acknowledge and accept that there is a certain degree of suffering and difficulty that comes with being born on planet earth. From a Buddhist perspective, we compound our suffering and psychic pain with mistaken views about the nature of things.

The problem and solution is laid out in The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. This is similar to the Twelve Steps in that the first two steps are contemplative in nature: admit the truth and acknowledge reality. Then, the solution is introduced and the action steps suggested. 

The First Truth expresses the reality that existence is, by its nature, unsatisfactory and dissatisfying. This truth can manifest in very obvious painful ways or very subtle ways. It may seem obvious to you,  however, many of us engage in some degree of magical thinking or denial. Of course, active addiction is a life of delusion and ignorance. 

The Second Truth details the cause. Our suffering is compounded by an urge to grasp on to pleasure exclusively. We attempt to push away or avoid any uncomfortable feelings or experience.  Now, these urges and desires have a wisdom and healthy function, but we tend to go to extremes and get caught up in vicious cycles. 

Our survival instincts end up keeping us mired in unhealthy and unproductive states.  Addiction amplifies this attraction/aversion. Some people comment that these statements are pessimistic. A Buddhist would reply that they are realistic. 

The Third Truth states that freedom is possible, and then the path to freedom is detailed.

Initially, an intellectual understanding of these truths leads to a deep level of acceptance. No sense fighting natural laws; the “war against the universe” is over. However, with the practices outlined in Truth #4, a massively deeper insight manifests. 

We embrace the reality of impermanence, that everything is in a state of constant flux. We realize that the self in which our conditioned mind has invested is a process rather than a fixed entity. We explore the nature of suffering and find that relief from it stems from accepting reality. We begin to invest our time and energy into behaviours and beliefs that are life enhancing rather than those that keep us stuck.

You don’t have to identify as Buddhist to have these realizations or adapt the practices. The Aurora treatment program and structure is designed to bring us out of denial states and outdated defensive patterns. 

Over time, treatment members find it easier to experience difficult emotional states without resorting to avoidance tactics. Meditation is introduced. Outmoded core beliefs and distorted thinking styles are revealed and challenged.

Doing what we feel like instead of changing our practices usually leads back to status quo existence and unmanageability. Recovery is a pro-active lifestyle and requires daily motivation and action to achieve and maintain happiness. 

As the grip of our egocentric, fearful illusion is loosened, our perspective becomes more panoramic, and our mind and heart opens. We realize that we are not alone, and that we never have been or never can be. The delusion that breeds isolation and shame is smashed. As awful as our present situation is, WE can work together to make things tolerable. Compassion and unconditional love are our responses to life’s challenges. 

The whole world is suffering. There is no sense taking COVID-19 personally. With compassion comes a deep sadness as we witness the suffering of others. Even for the liberated, life is bittersweet. However, it is so much more fulfilling to face it head on. To be truly alive, the spiritual life is not optional. 

So, let us move into 2021 and strive to live life on life’s terms to the best of our ability, one day at a time. May we live each day in humility, bringing wisdom to our desires and aversions. 

Dharma truths are beautifully reflected in the Serenity Prayer and the passage on acceptance in the AA Big Book on page 417. With our new outlook on life, let us work together to use this difficult experience to grow in gratitude and love. 

By Tim Dickson