From the start, our group has always tried to be very welcoming to new people. We try to take time at the beginning of our meetings to give them a brief introduction to Refuge Recovery, so they have a general idea of what to expect. For a while, this introduction was the responsibility of a few group members, but gradually it made more sense to put it down in writing and to have someone read it at the beginning of each meeting where new people are in attendance. This insures that the intro covers all the relevant points while being concise and it keeps personalities out of it. The following is the introduction we are currently using. Please feel free to use this and/or to offer feedback so that it may be improved.
A Brief Introduction to Refuge Recovery
Refuge Recovery was created by the Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society of Los Angeles, a group that was founded by Noah Levine in 2008. They offer a modern secular Buddhism that’s heavily influenced by Theravada traditions. Against the Stream, in a sense, descended from the Insight Meditation Society where many of its founders were trained. It has grown rapidly since its inception. Today, more than 2,000 people a week attend Against the Stream in L.A., and there are over 20 Against the Stream affiliates in North America.
One of the things that sets Against the Stream apart from other Buddhist groups is that its founders are mostly people who have had past struggles with addiction in their lives, and some are licensed drug and alcohol counselors. Many of them have worked together since the year 2000 teaching traditional Buddhist practices in prisons and treatment centers.
A few years ago, the Against the Stream teachers realized that the peer led group model of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, would be the best way to get their message out to the largest possible audience. They wrote down their teachings in the book Refuge Recovery, and included their personal stories in the back (with the one exception being Noah Levine’s story because it is the subject of an entire book called Dharma Punx, published in 2004). Central to their message is that people form groups like this one, so that those who are interested in following these practices can do so within a supportive local community. Community (or “Sangha”) is vital.
It is important to understand that Refuge Recovery isn’t trying to offer some blend of the 12-steps with Buddhism. It is designed to be a distinctly Buddhist approach. The thinking is that if you want a 12-step perspective, there are plenty of places where you can go to get that. You are encouraged to investigate all approaches to recovery and to find out for yourself what is most valuable to you on your personal journey.
We sell the Refuge Recovery book here at cost. Each meeting begins with a 20 minute meditation. If you are new to this, understand that it is not important how you sit as long as you are both relaxed and attentive. In other words, if you have an itch, scratch it. If your back hurts, lie down. Also, if you find it difficult to keep your mind focused during the meditation, don’t be discouraged. This is normal for everyone in the beginning. Give it time and try to trust in this process. It has been working for people for over 2,500 years.