Schedule change

RROKC has made several recent changes to its meeting times. We have added a meeting on Tuesdays at 8:00 pm. The Sunday meeting has been moved from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm. And we no longer host a regular meeting on Saturdays.

Refuge Recovery South Central Regional Forum

forum021717

February 17-18, 2017, we had the the first-ever South Central Regional Forum of Refuge Recovery in Dallas, TX. Official attendance was 57. The purpose of the forum was to give the many nascent Refuge Recovery groups in the area the opportunity to meet Noah Levine, and other like-minded people from nearby communities.

If you are new to Refuge Recovery, and/or are thinking of starting a Refuge Recovery group in your area, much of the discussion that took place at this conference may be helpful.

Friday evening, Noah gave a talk that highlighted his personal story of recovery and focused on the events and decisions that led to the formation of Refuge Recovery. Noah broadcast this talk as a live facebook feed. If you are on facebook, you can watch the talk here: https://www.facebook.com/noah.core.7/videos/385897818436221/

Alternatively, here is the audio of that talk:

Noah Levine Refuge Recovery Talk 2/17/17 52:56

Saturday morning began with a guided meditation, then a meeting that we called State of the Sangha, where members of the various groups represented got up and told about their groups and the challenges that they are currently facing. Here is the audio of that meeting:

State of the Sangha 2/18/17 1:19:02

Following our lunch break, Noah engaged in a very long question and answer session. To protect the privacy of audience members, the questions were presented in writing in advance and Chris Kavanaugh grouped them according to topic and then posed them to Noah, often in a more general form than they were written. This discussion has been posted in the form of two YouTube videos located here:

Q&A with Noah Levine, Refuge Recovery 2/18/17

Q&A with Noah Levine, Refuge Recovery 2/18/17 part 2

Alternatively, here are the audio files of these meetings:

Q&A with Noah Levine, Refuge Recovery 2/18/17  1:14:05

Q&A with Noah Levine, Refuge Recovery 2/18/17 part 2 30:18

If you have any questions about this conference, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

For Those Attending Their First Refuge Recovery Meeting

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.

A Refuge Recovery Workshop is Scheduled

Refuge Recovery OKC will be hosting a 4-hour workshop on Saturday November 1st, from 1:00-5:00pm that will outline the process of Refuge Recovery and consist of detailed Buddhist teachings, meditations, Q&A, group discussion and much more. Everyone is welcome to attend regardless of background or experience with addiction. From a Buddhist perspective we are all recovering from something. This is offered by donation only, we ask that you pay whatever amount is within your means. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

The workshop will be led by Dave Smith, the guiding teacher and program director of the Against the Stream Nashville Meditation Center. Dave is both a long time Buddhist practitioner and recovering addict. Trained by Noah Levine, the author of Dharma Punx and founder of Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, Dave has worked since 2008 as an addiction treatment specialist, bringing meditative interventions into jails, prisons, youth detention, and addiction treatment facilities. He teaches over 250 meditation classes and workshops a year. Against the Stream Nashville has been hosting Refuge Recovery meetings since it opened in 2010.

The workshop will be held at:

Rissho Kosei-kai Dharma Center of Oklahoma
2745 NW 40th St, Oklahoma City, OK 73112
(located one block north of I-44 and one block east of May Avenue)

For more information call Chris at 405-633-3568

How to Start a Refuge Recovery Group

Since the book Refuge Recovery came out June 10th, I have fielded several inquiries from people in different cities about how to start a Refuge Recovery group. If you are interested in starting one, there is a detailed suggested meeting format that is very helpful in one of the appendixes in the back of the book Refuge Recovery, appropriately titled Format for Refuge Recovery Meetings. However, when starting a group there are many other considerations besides meeting format. So it makes sense to offer our brief history to those interested in following suit.

I first discovered Against The Stream (ATS) on iTunes. There are over 400 ATS talks online and I highly recommend them. So I stopped by ATS in Hollywood while on vacation in February of 2013 and visited with one of the instructors (Joseph Rogers). We talked a lot about how to carry the message of Buddhism (the Dharma) to recovering alcoholics and addicts since I have been in recovery for over 30 years. Joseph told me that my questions were timely because this was the topic of the book that Noah was currently writing. He predicted that the book would be out in about 6 months.

A year passed and no book. By this time I had learned that a small weekly discussion meeting of Buddhists in recovery had formed at a lay Buddhist organization in Oklahoma City and I began attending. I had issues with this group’s approach which made me uncomfortable promoting it to friends in recovery who I suspected would otherwise be interested. I was hopeful that these problems might be corrected over time and I really wanted to know more about how we could benefit from ATS’s experience. So I fired off an email that reached Mary Stancavage, the Director of ATS. In response, she told me that the book was coming out in June and she sent me the aforementioned appendix from the unpublished manuscript of Refuge Recovery.

It then became clear to me exactly what Noah Levine and ATS was trying to accomplish, and I took the appendix to my local Buddhist recovery meeting and suggested that we consider transforming ourselves into a Refuge Recovery group. A couple of members shared my enthusiasm and a couple of others were strongly opposed to the idea. Rather than fight about it, it made sense for us to leave and establish the Refuge Recovery group elsewhere.

Refuge Recovery groups follow the peer-led model first established by Alcoholics Anonymous and its many 12-step sister programs. It is helpful to have a basic understanding of this time-tested organizational structure when starting an R.R. group. So here is a brief overview of the A.A. group structure:

Alcoholics Anonymous is simultaneously one of the largest and the least visible non-profit organizations in America. In the U.S and Canada there are roughly 70,000 A.A. groups and 1.4 million members, so the average size group is around 20 members. A.A. has no central authority, minimal organization, and a handful of traditions instead of laws. Each group functions independently except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole. All of the essential group work is done by group members, with each member entitled to do their service in the way they think is best within the spirit of the traditions. This means that the group functions as a democracy with all plans for group action approved by the majority voice. No single individual is appointed to act for the group or for A.A. as a whole. In the words of one observer, “A.A. is the world’s largest functioning anarchy, and on the whole it performs astonishingly well.” (“The Drunk’s Club” by Clancy Martin, Harper’s, Jan. 2011)

In A.A.’s own words: “Each group is as unique as a thumbprint, and approaches to carry the message of sobriety vary not just from group to group but from region to region. Acting autonomously, each group charts its own course.” (“The A.A. Group, Where It All Begins” p. 16)

This is also the intent of Refuge Recovery and the book says this: “We hope that as the program grows, new formats and styles of meetings will be created.” (Refuge Recovery, p. 227) So your group is not only free to create any format or style of Refuge Recovery meeting you like, you are actually being encouraged to innovate.

That said, a few words of advice: as early as possible try to function as a group, rather than as an individual. In other words, delay decisions, such as where to meet, how long your meetings will be, what the initial format will be, and focus instead on getting other people involved so you can make these decisions as a group. Doing this helps to insure that the other members of the group feel that they have a stake in it (i.e., it is their group and not just a meeting they occasionally attend). Also, if you make all the important early decisions alone, as the group grows, they are likely to expect you to do all the required service work to keep it going, and this is a recipe for you to burn out on the whole business.

Our small founding group looked at a variety of possible locations to host our meetings and then we decided to ask the owner of a meditation center called Innerspace if we could meet there each week. We selected this location because it is a hub for many in the Buddhist community in Oklahoma City and it is not associated with a particular Buddhist brand. In fact, five different meditation groups meet there throughout the week from five different Buddhist traditions.

This decision was fortuitous because the many ways that Innerspace could help spread the word about our group had never been considered in our deliberations. Once we were put on their schedule, Innerspace sent out an email announcement to everyone on their mailing list and they distributed flyers to the people who attended classes there throughout the week. Here is the text of our first flyer (remember that the intended audience is Buddhist practitioners):

“Refuge Recovery OKC is part of a worldwide community of people who are using the practices of mindfulness, compassion, forgiveness and generosity to heal the pain and suffering that addiction has caused in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Refuge Recovery is a peer-led practice, a process, a set of tools, a treatment, and a path to healing addiction and the suffering caused by addiction.

Refuge Recovery began as part of Noah Levine’s Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, in Los Angeles in 2008. Noah is a renowned author and lecturer who struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction in his youth. He wrote Dharma Punx, Against the Stream, The Heart of the Revolution, and most recently Refuge Recovery, to be released June 10, 2014. Noah was also the focus of a 2007 feature film documentary titled Meditate and Destroy.

The weekly meeting of Refuge Recovery OKC is held on Wednesdays at 8:00pm at Innerspace, 2201 NW I-44 Service Rd., Oklahoma City, OK 73112, beginning April 30, 2014. This meeting is open to all forms of recovery. There is no requirement for attendance and we welcome all those who are seeking freedom from addiction. We will explore how Dharma practice can deepen this process.”

Internet and social media has also been an important way that we have spread the word about our group. Having our meeting listed on the Refuge Recovery website has brought in a few members, but the best tool we have used so far has been Facebook. Several of us have many friends in recovery and we have promoted our group to those we believe to be receptive by the use of a Facebook secret group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/rrokc/). The way that works is once you establish a secret Facebook group, you can invite any friends you think might be interested to join. If they accept, they will receive any announcements you post in the group on their Facebook feed. There is a line between promoting and spamming that you don’t want to cross, so you should be very selective before using this particular tool. One really cool way to do that is to search Facebook for “Buddhist” and then go to that page. Facebook will then show you a list of your friends who have identified themselves as Buddhist or who have liked Buddhist related pages.

Since the book came out, we have created a new flyer for posting at 12-step recovery meetings, clubhouses and outpatient treatment centers. For this audience we rewrote the first paragraph of our original flyer. It now reads:

“Refuge Recovery OKC is a peer-led, weekly group-meeting gathered in the spirit of investigation of a Buddhist approach to recovery from addiction of all kinds. All are welcome. We invite you to join us and to find out for yourself if a Buddhist perspective is valuable to your process of recovery. This group is meant to be a support for recovery, not as a substitute for your dedicated practice.”

It is too early to report on how well this has been received.

Peer led groups live or die based on how well they address the needs of the members. It is essential, especially early on, that the group frequently asks the members how well it is doing in this regard. Our group now conducts a business meeting monthly. We look back on our meeting format from the past month and discuss ways it might be improved. Each month since we started, we have made changes to the format. Currently we spend 15 minutes on meditation (using the guides in the book), 15 minutes of book study, followed by 30 minutes of individual sharing.

Since it began in April, our meeting attendance has grown. We started with 5 or 6 people. We now average around 15. I think we are off to a good start and I am very optimistic about our group’s future. I hope this information has been helpful and good luck with your new group. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions. I look forward to meeting you one day on the path.
–Chris