I have come to view the years I spent in active addiction as my having been trapped in state of perpetual unconsciousness. That is not to say there was no mental or emotional activity. On the contrary, whether I was getting high or not, my mind raced incessantly and my emotions swung to extremes. I say that I was unconscious because all of this mental and emotional activity occurred without much if any apparent effort on my part as if it all were happening automatically. I have since learned that these reactive patterns were conditioned in me from a very young age and were likely reinforced by both genetic and other biological factors. Initially, alcohol and drugs soothed the perpetual state of anxiety (or, dissatisfaction, discontent, dis-ease, or dukkha, if you will) which pervaded my existence. However, these powerful chemicals ultimately turned on me as they acted upon vulnerable reward, memory, and motivation circuitry in my brain to ensure that I would fall into the vicious downward spiral of addiction. Thus the trap of addiction is complex and composed of myriad personal and environmental risk factors which conspire to form the trance of automaticity. And so, for me the process of recovery has essentially entailed an awakening to the causes and conditions of these automatic reactive patterns. More importantly, it has also been about learning to step out of and interrupt these patterns through cultivation of mindfulness.
Last December, when I learned that Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul, Minnesota would host the 6th Annual Buddhism and 12-Step Retreat, I immediately began making plans to attend. It was with great anticipation that I boarded a plane on March 7 and flew to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for the 3-day retreat. What follows are my initial thoughts and reflections from this remarkable event; but first, some background information is in order…
Upon reaching the 8th Step last summer, I had made substantial progress in freeing myself of the closed-mindedness towards spiritual matters that had previously blocked my recovery. Leading up to that point, while working the 3rd Step, I had come across Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and for the first time felt that I could honestly trust the process of recovery — an experience which I wrote about in an essay entitled An Appeal for Pantheism. However, as I moved forward with the work of Steps 4 through 7, further spiritual investigation was forestalled in favor of Albert Ellis’ rational approach to cognitive restructuring. Ellis’ techniques proved practical and effective. But as I began to consider the 8th Step, I was drawn back to the search for a spiritual underpinning from which I could make sense of the amends process which I was about to undertake. It was time for me to face, once and for all, the deep-seeded shame and resentment which had fueled my addiction. And so, the search for a spiritual antidote to these problems resurfaced.
This award winning film takes viewers into India’s largest prison which also happens to be one of the toughest in the world. The film documents the dramatic change brought about in both inmates and prison guards under the visionary leadership of Inspector General, Karin Bedi who oversaw the introduction of Vipassana meditation into the prison.