Spiritual Recovery from Addiction: Zen Buddhism

Spiritual Recovery from Addiction: Zen Buddhism

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Photo by Chris Jongkind

Zen can loosely be defined as a merging of Buddhism and Taoism. Zen is about simplicity and living in the now. I’ve read a book or two about it and found it to be a perfect compliment to my recovery. So here are some zen quotes and how they can apply to your recovery:

“Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightment: Chop wood, carry water.” – old Zen saying

man sitting

What an awesome saying this is. It shatters the illusion that many of us carry in our minds about what true enlightenment is: most of us probably picture a monk, sitting in a cave, meditating for hours on end. The idea behind this Zen saying is mindfulness in every day activities. Not only does this raise consciousness and awareness, but it also speaks to the concept to gratitude. Take any daily activity, such as walking into your place of work. Don’t just hang your head and stumble in through the doors. Instead, be mindful. Be fully aware of your surroundings, the parking lot, the sky and the clouds: take it all in. Breathe deeply and live simply. Appreciate it all. Appreciate everything. Taking pleasure in your everyday activities is a key concept of the Zen philosophy.

“To set up what you like against what you dislike – that is the disease of the mind.” – Seng T’san

Imagine the torrent of tears when a spoiled 4 year old child orders a strawberry sundae and gets a plain vanilla one instead. This is the attitude and emotional unbalance that most of us carry into our adult lives, using our judgment to express our dissatisfaction in just about any area of our lives. We want a bigger house and a new car and a big plasma television. However, without even delving into consumerism and materialism, we can still generate mountains of misery for ourselves through our negative judgments. Zen is appreciation and gratitude and enjoying every experience for what it is….without attaching our judgments to the outcomes.

“One day a monk fell down in the snow and cried out for help. Another monk came along and lay down beside him. The first monk got up and walked away.” – Zen Koan

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I laughed out loud when I read this quote. This is recovery in action–perfectly expressing the essence of twelve step work. One addict helping another through identification. If you see a newcomer in recovery, you can share your story and explain that you were in their shoes. They gain hope in seeing that you are happy and content with your life in spite of your addiction. That is how we pass hope to the newcomer–through identification. That is why we must tell our stories of addiction before we explain how we achieved sobriety–so that the newcomer knows that we are true addicts and alcoholics just like they are.

“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” – Tao Te Ching

Just look at the fourth step of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Anyone who has thoroughly taken the fourth step in AA or NA and shared it with their sponsor can tell you that it is no light undertaking. Working the step as outlined in either program will expose every little flaw in our personalities, as well as having us thoroughly explore all of our past behaviors and dealings with others. Identifying and exposing these character defects can be grueling enough, but the twelve step program goes even further and has us actively working to change these exposed character defects as we continue through the steps. Recovery is truly an exploration of the self. In fact, that is what we are essentially recovering: our “self.”

So there you have it. Have a little Zen with your recovery!

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