Gary Sanders, one of the original founders of the Refuge Recovery program, sits down with me to discuss how the Refuge Recovery book was written collectively based on the meetings that were already happening in LA.
We discuss the program itself, the early days when the program was being developed by a group at Against the Stream LA, the process of collectively assembling the book and much more!
TL:DR; The book was not written by just one person, it was assembled by a group based on the the group experience of running years worth of Buddhist Recovery meetings. Whether we consider Noah our teacher or not, the RR book is a necessary and invaluable resource for our meetings and our lives.
Read on below to find links to everything mentioned in the video and a full transcription with timecodes!
Links and references mentioned in the video
- Gary Sanders on Facebook
- Refuge Recovery Portland
- Portland Insight Meditation Community (PIMC)
- Robert Beatty Gary’s teacher at PIMC
- Gary’s PIMC videos on YouTube
- Gary is @jacklope on Twitter
- Refuge Recovery early organizers and book contributors
- Gary Sanders – Early meetings + worked on book
- Jordan Kramer – Early meetings + worked on book
- Joseph Rogers – Early meetings + worked on book
- Sarit Z. Rogers – Early meetings
- Enrique Collazo -Early meetings + worked on book
- Pablo Das – Early meetings + worked on book
- George Haas – Early meetings + worked on book
- Mary Stancavage – Worked on book)
- Dave Smith – Worked on book)
- Shannon Smith – Worked on book)
- Noah Levine
- Noah’s Book Dharma Punx
- The book “Against The Stream” by Noah Levine
- Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (now closed)
- Vinnie Ferraro (leader of ATS lineage with Noah)
- Noah’s interview with The Fix about RR
- Stephen Levine, Noah’s father
- Jezebel (2018-08-15): A Murky Scandal Involving a Powerful Punk Rock Dharma Teacher Is Dividing a Major Buddhist Community
- Tricycle (2018-08-27): Against the Stream Closes Doors as Investigation Finds Misconduct by Founder Noah Levine
- Jezebel (2018-10-31): Leaked Internal Report: Famous Buddhist Leader Noah Levine Was Accused of Rape and Assault
- Refuge Recovery Treatment Centers (now closed)
- Buddhist Recovery Network
- Link to the Buddhist Recovery Network – Inaugural Conference 2009 website archive
- PDF Brochure of the BRN 2009 conference
- BRN Flickr photo stream (last uploaded after the 2009 conference)
- Northwest Dharma News article about the 2009 BRN Inaugural Conference
- Alan Marlatt from the University of Washington
- Kevin Griffin
- Dave Smith interview with Renew Everyday that mentions the conference
- Joseph Rogers – “THE EARLY HISTORY OF REFUGE RECOVERY”
Full transcription with inline reference links
Transcribed with readability in mind by Jer Clarke. Text [between brackets] are transcription notes by Jer, inserted for clarity.
Bold text starting with “Jer:” was spoken by me, Jer Clarke. All non-bold text was spoken by Gary Sanders.
Headings added by Jer for convenience, use the to Table of Contents jump to specific sections. This Table of Contents is also available in the description to the video, where you can click on a timecode to jump to the relevant section.
Table of contents
- Gary Introduction 1:23
- ATS Center opens and Gary attends 3:09
- Gary asks for recovery meetups and holds 12-step meeting at a retreat 3:53
- Buddhist Recovery Network Conference 4:41
- Opening of ATS and Noah’s story 7:40
- First two Recovery meetings led by Gary, Jordan, Joseph and Enrique 9:00
- Quick Growth of Recovery meetings and relationship to 12-step programs 12:00
- Sidenote: Refuge Recovery Portland has amazing growth too! 12:54
- Original meetings were facilitator-led and the transition to peer-led like Dharma Punx meetups 13:54
- Origin of the book idea and the name “Refuge Recovery” 16:50
- On the similarity of the name “Refuge Recovery” to Tara Brach’s book “True Refuge” 19:18
- On the book being rushed and Noah not wanting his name as author 19:58
- Sidenote: Women’s safety at recovery meetings 21:30
- Sidenote: Portland conversion of 12-Step buddhist meeting into RR 22:38
- Sidenote: Affinity Groups in the Portland RR sangha 23:10
- Refuge Recovery as “graduate program” that exists alongside 12-step meetings 24:08
- Summarizing the sexual misconduct situation with Noah 26:47
- The desire and need to distance RR from Noah 29:20
- Getting specific about how the book was co-written because reading Noah’s words is a problem for some people 30:56
- Sidenote: RR meetings should make decisions about reading material communally 34:41
- Noah was not central to the early development of meetings, and had lots of help with the book 35:44
- The core ideas of the program aren’t original, they are Buddhism 37:11
- Noah was quickly removed from power after scandal arose 38:18
- Dharma is for troubled people, we are imperfect 38:53
- RR has less problems with abuse than some other fellowships 39:30
- Refuge Recovery the organization has been responsible in their handling of the situation so far 41:40
- Buddhism and Recovery Conference details 45:54
- Five-week course and Joseph writing the inventory questions 47:13
- Disagreement around the terms “inventory questions” and “mentor” 48:00
- Requirements for being a “mentor” in the book are too strict, Noah has said “mentor each other” 49:33
- Kalyanamitta — Spiritual friends — alternate concept to mentorship 50:49
- Sidenote: Starting a daily practice and concentration v. metta as initial meditation focus 52:35
- Sidenote: Ongoing mutual support among “kalyanamitta”/Dharma Buddies 53:21
- Acknowledging flaws in the book, and that some of them come from Noah not being deeply involved in the early meetings 56:58
- Possibilities for new books/materials going forward 58:34
- Early drafts of the book were shared with the group for editing 59:50
- Group process of resolving disagreements about the book 1:01:08
- Origins of the emphasis on process addictions 1:02:42
- How were the eightfold path chapters written? 1:05:33
- What would the cover of the book ideally have said, rather than Noah’s name? 1:07:41
- Was there consideration of making the book free online? 1:08:31
- What do you think is likely for the future of RR book-wise? 1:10:27
- Discussing other books being used in RR meetings 1:13:03
- Thanks to Gary and how to find him 01:21:13
- Dedication of merit 01:23:55
Jer: Hello anyone in the refuge recovery audience who is watching this later! This is a video for the sangha about the Refuge Recovery book.
Just to warm up a little bit. What is Refuge Recovery? If you don’t know what it is, this is probably the wrong video for you. We’re not going to explain it in detail, but just to summarize: it’s a recovery program, like AA but with a Buddhist theme and a focus on meditation. There’s already meetings all around the US and there’s lots of them in Canada, and there’s a book at the heart of it.
This video is to talk about the book and it’s history.
My name is Jer and I’m sober for about 11 months so far within the Refuge Recovery program, so it worked really well for me, and that’s why I care about it.
The main crux of this video will be a an interview with Gary, who is someone who has been with Refuge Recovery from the start as far as I can tell, and I want to learn about that and what he knows about the book.
Gary would you please introduce yourself and explain your current role within Refuge Recovery.
Gary Introduction 1:23
Sure. Hi Jer and thank you so much for offering to do this. I know there’s a lot of people who are interested in the history and here we go!
My name is Gary Sanders I originally am from Los Angeles California. I first started going to Against the Stream when it first opened. I should start by saying there are — there WERE, because that’s changed now, all things are impermanent as you mentioned before — there was first a [meditation] centre that opened in Melrose in East LA called Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (ATS), and when it first opened I started attending it.
Previous to that I got sober in AA because there wasn’t really anything else around that was a viable option. I tried other things — secular sobriety — I tried a bunch of other things.
I started getting some books about a buddhist approach to recovery and the one that really rang my bell was Kevin Griffin’s book “One Breath at a time”. I got that book, I got into AA, worked the steps and was successful at it, and I also started to double down on my meditation practice. Previously, for I don’t know 20 or 25 five years I had been a “bad buddhist”, you know interested in Buddhism without really investing in a sangha or teacher at all. When I got sober I really doubled down on my meditation practice.
ATS Center opens and Gary attends 3:09
The book “Against The Stream” (by Noah Levine) had just come out. Previous to that my friend had turned me onto Noah’s Book Dharma Punx, which I really liked and a lot of his story resonated with me, and right after I read that there was a big thing in LA Weekly, the weekly newspaper there, that Against the Stream book is out and the meditation center is open on X day, whatever it was. [Note: I tried to find this article, but it’s not online -Jer]
So I started going and attending, and right away I connected with Noah and got along with him. I mean we’re both heavily tattooed people and a lot of other people were in recovery in that sangha.
Gary asks for recovery meetups and holds 12-step meeting at a retreat 3:53
I know personally I started bugging Noah immediately about holding recovery groups at ATS. I started going to his retreats — I think there was an early Brighton Bush one I went to, and I held a 12-step meeting at lunchtime one day and he was cool with me holding that. This was way before Refuge Recovery at ATS. I also remember that when it was time for Noah to share he said “I’m Noah and I’m a recovered alcoholic” and he went into this whole pitch of why he says he’s “recovered” and not “recovering” like they say in traditional 12-step, and that kind of lens on what we’re talking about in Refuge nowadays. The way that we talk about things and frame things, the way we hold things to be true.
Buddhist Recovery Network Conference 4:41
So I was bugging him about doing something about recovery at ATS and I would imagine that probably many other people were doing the same thing. I’d like to think that it was me, you know “IT WAS ALL ME! MY IDEA!”, but what happened was that Noah was on the Buddhist Recovery Network and there was a conversation within these people that were doing 12-step in Buddhism and other things with a Buddhist slant.
Link to the Buddhist Recovery Network – Inaugural Conference website archive
There was this idea brought up that was, “hey, the Buddha’s original teachings, the 4 noble truths, there is dukkha”, and dukkha is often defined as “stress”, “it certainly could be applied to addiction. Addiction is suffering, addiction is dukkha”. Those are original teachings of the buddha.
In this life there is dukkha. And the second noble truth is that there is a cause of this dukkha, this clinging — the buddhist term tanha, this unquenchable thirst — and those in any sort of addiction, whether it’s substance or process. In the heat of addiction that thirst is not quenched at all. We have this bottomless pit in our chest that we’re just trying to fill with whatever. Substances, sex, compulsive shopping, whatever. It’s not filled. I can’t find enough of whatever it is to take me out of this moment, to take me out of the idea that I don’t want this moment to be anything other than what it is. I’m uncomfortable, dissatisfied.
So to follow the four noble truths, there’s suffering, there’s the cause of this suffering, there is freedom realized from this suffering, and then the fourth noble truth is this path, that’s been practiced for 2600 years, that gets summarized as a wheel. Usually the eightfold path is shown as a ship’s wheel, with 8 spokes and it really gets kind of sorted into these three sections: Cultivating wisdom, living ethically — living without causing harm — and then training our minds, mindfulness and concentration.
So here’s this path that’s been practiced for 2600 years of people successfully finding freedom from dukkha, freedom from dissatisfaction, suffering, stress. Freedom from addiction.
So if that’s been the case why do we need to frame or distort some other program through a buddhist lens to apply to our addiction. Why not just try these original teachings of the buddha that have been so successful. Why not apply these to addiction. That’s the experiment really, that’s the question that was raised.
Opening of ATS and Noah’s story 7:40
So we at ATS, because of Noah’s story, that first story of Dharma Punx, his story of finding freedom from addiction, freedom from the unrelentless warfare in his mind — he found that in prison while he was detoxing off drugs from some simple instructions his dad gave him — his dad Stephen Levine was a famous teacher by the way, who passed away years ago.
So because of that story, a lot of people were attracted to ATS and Dharma Punx — his first book — and these peer-led groups that blossomed after this book. When the ATS centers opened, ATS signified that it was a full-time center run by people that were trained by Noah or by the organization of ATS.
So by now we have ATS on Melrose on the East side of LA and the original place that Noah was holding the Dharma Punx groups, I think was originally the Zen center and then it turned into InsightLA in Santa Monica California, and then InsightLA decided to get a bigger building and so ATS took it over as a full-time center.
First two Recovery meetings led by Gary, Jordan, Joseph and Enrique 9:00
So now we have two sangha’s where over half our sangha membership are in recovery. So we say “Lets try this out”. So we developed a very simple script, a simple format for meetings — it was very similar to the one that’s in the Refuge Recovery book, we just kind of polished it through some years of field study — and the very first meeting was on a Tuesday night at Melrose.
It was me and my friend Jordan Kramer — Jordan’s story is at the back of the Refuge Recovery book — and then on Thursday night that same week Joseph Rogers and Enrique Collazo co-led the other meeting.
And so the four of us started these first meetings. Originally it was just an experiment within our Sangha. Something that supports our sangha, something different than just having an AA meeting in our center.
And it was run by people that were trained facilitators or teachers. I think most of us were in facilitator training at the time. Part of facilitator training at ATS — an assignment — was to start a group wherever you’re at. So it was nice for me. I actually started a group where I lived AND I led the recovery group.
By the way we didn’t call it Refuge Recovery in the beginning, it was just called Buddhist Recovery. So we started it for our sanghas, for our members, and it was run by people who were trained.
Jordan kind of faded away after a little bit and Pablo [Das] came in, and he was an empowered teacher and he came in for awhile. George Haas who was an associated teacher — who later I think was empowered by Noah within that lineage of Noah and Vinnie [Ferraro] — George was there in the beginning in these meetings. And they ran very similar to the way they’re run now.
I will say that this program that we developed was developed by people who all got sober in 12-step. So we had that very much as part of our conditioning, that format of a meeting. We did have meditation at our meeting, but you know, a meditation, then a reading, then open sharing. Sound familiar? And me, running the Melrose one, I had other people help me for awhile, but then they kind of faded away, so I led the Melrose group for 4 years.
Quick Growth of Recovery meetings and relationship to 12-step programs 12:00
I’ll also say that very quickly these meetings blossomed; we started getting 80-100 people at both centers! [Jer: WOW!] There were people showing up that were just really all jazzed up for various reasons — a lot of the same reasons people show up for Refuge now, 8 or 9 years later.
There’s people that show up that just want to deepen their 11th step, there’s people that want to work both programs: “I want to stay in 12-step but I want to try this thing too because Buddhism resonates with me”. There’s lot of people that show up that maybe were reluctantly in 12-step and had just done it because it was the only other thing around.
But now, all these years later, there’s people that are showing up with no 12-step conditioning at all, getting right into Refuge Recovery.
Sidenote: Refuge Recovery Portland has amazing growth too! 12:54
I’ll also give a shout out to — I’ve since moved to Portland Oregon about three years ago, and it’s thriving up here. I think we just hit 20 meetings a week. A few months ago — as far as I know, for the first time in Refuge History — somebody did 90 meetings in 90 days, all Refuge Recovery Portland. [Jer: Ha! Wow] so things are growing.
Anyway, back to the history. Sorry, I’m on a roll here, I’m flowing with it. Do I need to take a breath?
Jer: Ha ha. Everyone who’s watching, I hope you’re enjoying this, we got a great description of what Refuge Recovery is, and why it’s so important. Learning the background of the necessity for this program, and the differences from AA is really valuable.
Yeah, we’ll get to the book for sure and I’ll put the timecodes down at the bottom for anyone who wants to just jump to that, but I think this is really great so if you want to continue what you were saying, please go ahead.
Original meetings were facilitator-led and the transition to peer-led like Dharma Punx meetups 13:54
So as those original meetings went on — again, they weren’t peer-led. And so we only had the script and then I think fairly quickly we had this adaptation of the four noble truths and the eightfold path, with just the little twist towards addiction that’s found in the Refuge Book now and is still used with just slight editing through the years. So that’s what we had, just that. We didn’t have guided meditations [scripts], we were trained facilitators or teachers, so we offered these meditations, we offered various stuff.
Originally we did both meetings as regular meetings three times a month, and then we did one speaker meeting, and I think both meetings found after maybe a few months, we couldn’t find very many Buddhist speakers, so we kind of dropped that format. Again, this is all twists off stuff we were used to 12-step. So we dropped that speaker meeting and then just continued with this program.
Then it was so wildly successful, like I said 80-100 people at the meetings, we as a group decided — well because it was wildly successful, I shouldn’t say we decided. It was out of necessity [that we switched to switch to a peer-led structure].
There were these Dharma Punx groups throughout the country that were peer-led groups. Noah’s first book Dharma Punx came out and these people were really inspired by Buddhism, they wanted to practice, and they weren’t trained in any way and so Noah was just like “You know, start a group”. It’s a DIY, total punk rock ethic and all this stuff. If you wanna meditate, you wanna have a group, start it yourself! And that’s just known as this “peer-led” thing.
And again, because of Noah’s first story about his finding peace and ease and forgiveness through meditation and finding recovery through meditation. People in all these Dharma Punx groups all over the country — and in fact all over the world — they a lot of the time were in recovery, so they were hearing about this Buddhist recovery program that we had at Melrose and Santa Monica, and started asking about it.
We started sharing our format with these other Dharma Punx groups. And again, out of necessity people got really jazzed about it and a lot of people didn’t have any training, so we were required to #1 turn it into a peer-led program and #2 create material to help support these people that are leading the meetings as a peer-led thing. And so we created the guided meditation scripts.
Origin of the book idea and the name “Refuge Recovery” 16:50
Jer: Can I just clarify something? At this point, you’re talking about the Refuge Recovery meetings, not Against the Stream meetings.. Or are you?
[Note from jer: Gary was talking about both the “Buddhist Recovery” meetings, before they were renamed to “Refuge Recovery” and the peer-led “Dharma Punx” meetings, many of which would later become peer-led “Against the Stream” meetings. Next Gary describes how the name “Refuge Recovery” came to be as a way of clarifying my confusion.]
It was called “Buddhist Recovery” — and I’m not sure at what point [the name changed to Refuge Recovery]. I think Noah was pushed enough to create a book about this. That we had this program that’s successful, it’s being used in Dharma Punx groups; lets do a book!
You know, he’s got a book deal and his publisher is like “Hell yeah! We want another book!” and I’m not sure who all brainstormed the names or who came up with “Refuge Recovery”, but that was one of the things that was offered. To be honest, I hated the thing!
Jer: HA HA HA! Breaking news everyone!
I thought “Yeah, I don’t like that at all.”
So now there’s this peer-led program that’s successful, we’ve got these guided meditations, lets put a book together and get it out to everybody. So we started meeting as a group. It wasn’t just Noah, you know, it was those of us who started the meetings: Me and Joseph and Enrique and maybe Jordan was a little part of that. But also Mary Stancavage who ran the centers; Mary who’s been in long-term sobriety she was there. Pablo Das was there, he’s an empowered teacher and been working with people in recovery, especially process addictions. And George Haas who’s been in super long recovery. And Dave Smith was on the phone, he’s part of these conference calls, these groups from Nashville Tennessee at the time.
So it was this group of us that would get together and kind of workshop what was developed into the book. And the manuscript was sent out to some of these “Refuge” groups and now everybody’s using the term “Refuge”. And I have to say, all these years later, as much as I was resistant to it, now it just seems like, it’s the right thing to say.
On the similarity of the name “Refuge Recovery” to Tara Brach’s book “True Refuge” 19:18
Oh! Another reason I was resistant to it while we had this committee of putting the book together: Tara Brach’s new book came out — her second book — and I love Tarah Brach. Her first book Radical Acceptance is fantastic and I recommend that to anybody! Especially people in recovery.
Her second book came out and was called “True Refuge”, and now we get this book that’s gonna be coming out, that’s got a deadline, called “Refuge Recovery” and I was like “Dude! It’s gonna cause confusion, lets not do it!”. And still it happened and here we are.
And now it seems like it can’t be called anything but Refuge Recovery.
I think it’s easy to admit and accept that the book was rushed. There was grammatical and maybe some spelling errors. It was rushed. I mean yeah it’s a big publisher, but they wanted to go to press at a certain time.
Noah did really try to advocate for… he didn’t want to put his name on it, because it was this group of people. And he even says in the intro to the book that it wasn’t just him. It was this group of people who started the meetings, it was a group of people who put the book together.
Joseph Rogers is the one that did most of the [inventory] questions for an early workshop that we did for our sanghas in LA.
It was never just one person, it was a sangha. It was a community. We’re also in a materialistic world and Noah was a known name with a book deal, and his books had done well with his publisher, so they refused. They had to put his name on it to promote it and sell it. He wasn’t happy about it but that was it. It wasn’t going to get put out otherwise.
So the book was put out, I think around four years ago now, maybe a little over four years. And things blew up when the book went out. Just being part of this since day one, seeing this go worldwide…
Sidenote: Women’s safety at recovery meetings 21:30
You know, what really warms my heart… I have two daughters, and I love my daughters more than anything and I want my daughters to feel supported, to feel love, to feel empowered. And within Refuge there are some tremendous, very strong powerful women’s groups that have arisen out of necessity. Because in a lot of traditional 12-step [groups], those aren’t safe places for them. People are predatory. There’s that joke, the “13th stepping”, it’s a joke, people smile about it. The fact of reality is that it’s sexual harassment, it leads to worse! Date rape, straight out rape. To be blunt about it, those situations aren’t [safe]. A lot of mixed meetings aren’t safe for newer women, younger women in recovery.
And so these women’s groups have arisen that have provided so much safety and support and it’s been beautiful.
Sidenote: Portland conversion of 12-Step buddhist meeting into RR 22:38
I will say that here in Portland, as soon as the book came out there was I think a 12-step Buddhist group that was meeting. And my friend Gensho who I co-teach with, he’s one of my best friends now, Gensho Welsh. He was a teacher at “Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple”, and they turned their Buddhist 12-step meeting into a Refuge Recovery meeting and it just kept getting bigger and bigger here.
And why did I bring that up.. about the book… oh yeah about women.
Sidenote: Affinity Groups in the Portland RR sangha 23:10
Here in Portland we are super organized, we’re one of the first bigger city sanghas that created an inter-sangha with a board, with these affinity groups like the women’s group, the men’s group, there’s a LGBTQ group. One of the early meetings here was for health care practitioners, so people who were therapists or psychologists or whatever that don’t want to see their patients in a meeting but they’re in recovery themselves and need a meeting.
So we’ve been super organized and we’ve got strong support here, and that’s been beautiful to see that pop up all over the place. And I’ve been able to help this thing grow. I’ve helped a lot of people start meetings all over the world.
Refuge Recovery as “graduate program” that exists alongside 12-step meetings 24:08
I will say that the one thing that I hear really across the board — more often than not, and especially from people with 12-step conditioning — the one thing that I’ve heard from many people across the world was that they feel that Refuge Recovery has felt like a graduate program for them from 12-step. They’ve done 12-step for 20-30 years and it’s great and now they have this other thing to go into that really touches into the spiritual aspect of recovery. The level of fellowship, this way of training our minds and our hearts and unburdening ourselves even more, even after long-term sobriety in 12-step. And I’m not talking down about 12-step. I still go to 12-step meetings myself. I still do both programs myself.
I think I started to say this but I don’t know if I said it out loud: In the beginning, and still to this day, people show up for various reasons for refuge. Either they want to deepen their 12-step, they want to do both programs, or they’re aversive to 12-step for whatever reason, or they just haven’t even tried 12-step and Buddhism rings their bell.
Or you know the other big thing is that since we don’t have a “higher power” –number one in Buddhism we don’t have a higher power [so] we don’t have a higher power in Refuge and we don’t have to “turn it over”, turn our lives and our wills over to a higher power. That in fact the Refuge Recovery message is that we have the potential ourselves. No matter what we’ve done what we’ve been accused of, what kind of addictions we’ve had. No matter what, we all have the potential to awaken. We all have the potential, with our own power, within community, to wake up from dukkha, from addiction.
So here we are. Whatever it was.. I think about 9 years after we started the first meetings. And a name, and a book. And I’m lucky enough to say that I’m one of the founders. Along with Enrique and Joseph. And Joseph’s wife Sarit has been there since day one, Sarit Rogers. And Jordan and Pablo Das and Dave Smith. And there continues to be a group of us that’s evolved.
And whatever’s happening with Noah right now has affected a lot of people. And you know, I don’t want to downplay this. Noah’s been accused of… Yeah, you want to stop right there?
Summarizing the sexual misconduct situation with Noah 26:47
Jer: Yeah, if I can. So you’ve devastated my questions list. You’ve answered most of them already in some amount of detail. If it’s okay, I might take a second to contextualize where we are right now with Refuge Recovery and with Noah and the story you were about to reference.
- Jezebel (2018-08-15): A Murky Scandal Involving a Powerful Punk Rock Dharma Teacher Is Dividing a Major Buddhist Community
- Tricycle (2018-08-27): Against the Stream Closes Doors as Investigation Finds Misconduct by Founder Noah Levine
- Jezebel (2018-10-31): Leaked Internal Report: Famous Buddhist Leader Noah Levine Was Accused of Rape and Assault
I think a lot of people are already aware, but just to summarize it a little bit, there’s a controversy with Noah who is, as you’ve described, certainly one of the key founders of Refuge Recovery, and, importantly, the person who’s name is on the book. And around whom the original community seems to have coalesced. Right? You were following him, you were empowered by him as a teacher right? A lot of the Refuge recovery teachers were.
Well I was empowered by him as a facilitator and a dharma group leader, but not as a teacher. I’m empowered by my own teacher here in Portland, Robert Beatty.
Jer: Ok, thank you for that clarification.
So the controversy revolves around accusations against Noah of sexual misconduct. Legally speaking, currently, there’s no legal case against Noah from the police that’s ongoing or that seems like it’s going to terminate in any kind of conviction. But the Against The Stream (ATS) board did a review of the stories — they did an investigation with a third party. Noah participated and the conclusion was that he was guilty of some kind of sexual misconduct, within the terms he agreed to as the ethics guidelines of ATS.
Jer: In this process he has left ATS and ATS has unfortunately closed. I won’t try and summarize that whole issue right now.
Just to clarify, he was removed from ATS. He didn’t leave voluntarily. Because of this preponderance of evidence to his misconduct.
Jer: What seems to be an overwhelming amount of evidence. A lot of people who’ve looked carefully and thought about it, it strikes them that there must be something. I don’t want to say my own opinions about it, but he was ejected from ATS you might say and in a similar way he is no longer on the board of directors of Refuge Recovery.
[CORRECTION: As of 2018-11-04 Noah is still technically on the board of RefugeRecovery.org, but is on a “voluntary leave of absence”]
Jer: And that is probably a good thing because it is dangerous in our sangha to have this as a source of bad reputation for us.
The desire and need to distance RR from Noah 29:20
Jer: And a lot of people, based on Facebook groups, based on talking to people in my own sangha in Montreal, want to distance themselves from Noah. They don’t want to consider him as their teacher because they don’t feel that there’s the trust there at this point.
Jer: I bring that up because we’re talking about the book. So here’s my book [holds up iPad with Refuge Recovery cover showing], I have the paper one at home, it’s so full of notes, it’s filthy and I love it, but I didn’t bring it here to Mexico so I just have the Kindle version which is nice and cheap right now so that’s a good thing.
The book is the heart of the program, and it’s tough because people feel — and I think I understand why — they feel an urge to boycott Noah at this point.
Sure. Totally understand.
Jer: His behavior and his reaction to the whole situation leave a lot to be desired [especially] for such a beautiful teacher, who we put so much trust in.
And just to contextualize, Noah really specifically spoke to me deeply. I was listening to the podcast — the 2013 episodes from right about when the Refuge Recovery book came out — and it really changed my life. And so it was disturbing to learn this news. But we shouldn’t try and live in a way that protects our heroes when they are dishonest with themselves.
Yeah! No way. We need to protect the community as a whole.
Getting specific about how the book was co-written because reading Noah’s words is a problem for some people 30:56
Jer: Yeah. Alright. So there’s a challenge that comes up. For example, in Montreal, one of our meeting leaders decided not to use the book at all. She felt that the book itself was the source of strain and pain for her, especially once the increasing preponderance of evidence with the two different Jezebel articles [see links above] — which I’ll include their links with the video, so people can read up on the details that were slowly exposed and leaked out to the community — It became unacceptable for her to read the words [in the RR book].
If you read the words of someone, it’s sort of like a prayer to them on a very personal level. And at RR meetings, we really do read the words over and over and over. And so [it’s like] the idea of a recovery meeting where you watch Woody Allen movies over and over or quote Louis CK. Rightfully people are worried about this. And so that’s to contextualize why I think it’s really important to get specific about how the book was co-written.
The introduction to the book, which maybe I’ll just read it quickly here because I think it’s interesting. Noah says:
Although I am credited with writing the book, the large community at Refuge Recovery is the inspirational and creative force behind it. This community has helped shape, inform, and enhance the program with their direct experience of practicing these principles. This book, then, should be viewed as a collaborative effort, a book written for the plural rather than the singular—the “we” instead of the “I,” since it speaks for Buddhists and addicts everywhere.
Jer: And this is one of the first pages of the book. When I read it I thought “That’s beautiful! I love this book even more.” I was lucky enough to read it a couple of months before the scandal, so I got to have a pure heart with it.
For those who haven’t read the book, or don’t remember, it really does follow through on that premise I think, in the way it’s written. It says “we”, we believe, we have found.
I’ve heard people say “you can hear Noah’s voice”, it’s unmistakably written by Noah. To some degree they feel that, but at the same time I think it’s carefully written to try and subvert that, and the fact that the second half — just for anyone unfamiliar with the structure, the first half is the teachings themselves and the inventories, and then the second half is [very beautiful] testimonials by different people, seemingly everyone but you Gary.
You know what, I didn’t get mine in time for the publishing! I was a slacker. It’s somewhere on my computer still.
Jer: Okay cool, ha ha. Well luckily you’re still out there teaching so lots of people get to hear your story over the years.
So then the second half [of the RR book] literally is written by multiple people. So to me one of the issues with that beautiful quote I just read is that it doesn’t mention anyone. Like a random novel will often have more specific credit given to people who helped the author than the RR book. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons for that. Do you want to say anything about that in particular?
Noah has a big ego?
Jer: … Noah has a big ego? Ok…
That’s a little bit of a joke but it’s also a little bit of the truth so that too. (ha ha) I don’t think that was a discussion, I think it was just done. He was the one with the book deal and it is what it is.
Sidenote: RR meetings should make decisions about reading material communally 34:41
So there’s a few things I’ll say about this as an issue. #1 the situation where you’re at in Montreal, where one person got to decide for the whole community that you’re not going to use the book; that’s not cool. The way our program recommends it in the guiding principles is that each meeting is autonomous, very much like the 12-step model, but each meeting as a whole has to decide these changes to a format, changes about material. The community needs to decide that for the greater good of the community, not just one person. A meeting should not be one person’s meeting. That’s why we have a six month commitment for everything. This truly is a grassroots, peer-led program. Now maybe that’s not exactly how the situation is there, but that’s how it sounded to me.
REFERENCE: Refuge Recovery Guiding Principles
Noah was not central to the early development of meetings, and had lots of help with the book 35:44
So #2, you know I’ll acknowledge that there are definitely parts of the book that are written in Noah’s voice. He is the one that kind of put it together, but like I said, I gave you the names of the people that truly helped put this together.
I’ll also say, that first four years of me leading the meeting at Melrose with some other people in the beginning, and Joseph and Enrique leading their meeting for four years at Santa Monica. And then us turning it over to the community and having a group conscience of voting in this new leader every six months. Noah maybe went to a couple of those meetings through those years.
You know, it was us. The community were the ones that shaped these meetings. It started with this community in Los Angeles, but like I said we passed it up to all these Dharma Punx groups and they started their own RR groups. So we workshopped this as a community.
Noah wasn’t there taking notes. Yeah he kind of put everything together and put this book together, but we’re the ones that really edited it and put it all together and whittled it down.
The core ideas of the program aren’t original, they are Buddhism 37:11
The other big issue here is that thing that I told you our program is made about. The four noble truths and the eightfold path. This is the Buddhist program. It really is only a slight — it’s not this acrobatic bending and contorting like you’ve got to do with some other programs — it’s just slight little twist of adapting the Buddha’s teachings to recovery. We’re not re-inventing the wheel here. Noah didn’t do anything, we as a community just did a slight change of these teachings.
So I hear it when people have all kinds of different traumas. People have sexual trauma and this has triggered them and affected them. I don’t want to negate that or downplay that. I don’t want to tell you to not have your feelings.
But I do want to just throw this [story about the group creating the book] out here — And I’m thankful Jer that you’ve given me this opportunity to talk about the reality of the situation — Yeah it’s in the book and there’s a slight nod to it in the beginning of the book, but [this is] what happened.
Noah was quickly removed from power after scandal arose 38:18
This is over six months ago that these allegations came out and Noah was put on suspension from the ATS teachers ethics committee and the grievance council. He was taken off the board at Refuge Recovery. This program is bigger than any one person. It’s bigger than Noah, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than all of us founders that started it. It’s developed into this beautiful, enormous thing.
REFERENCE: Lion’s Roar (2018-04-05) Refuge Recovery addresses sexual misconduct allegations against founder Noah Levine
Dharma is for troubled people, we are imperfect 38:53
And again, acknowledging all of us that show up at recovery meetings, and even dharma groups. I’d say 99.9% of us that show up, we don’t show up because our lives are great. We don’t show up because we’re completely healthy and happy. We show up because we’re fucking suffering — excuse my language here — we’re desperate. That was my thing. I dragged myself into a meditation center because I was desperate. So we’re imperfect people with trauma that are putting this thing together and running it. So of course we’re going to have problems.
RR has less problems with abuse than some other fellowships 39:30
I will say — I brought up the tradition of predatory behavior in 12-step — I’ve been at this since day one with Refuge. I’ve helped people all over the world start meetings. Before we got organized — now I’m the rep for Pacific crest region 1 for refuge recovery. I’m one of the reps, whatever that means. I have access to another email address, that’s about all it means… ha ha ha
Jer: Be nice! It’s a wonderful new program to increase democracy in the organization, right?
No no, I’m kind of downplaying it because we’re still trying to figure out what to do right now. It’s important, I’m just making light of the situation.
But I have not heard a preponderance of accusations about predatory behavior in meetings. I have not heard about people getting violent in meetings. I have not heard about people getting their purses ripped off in meetings.
I mean, we have had problems, but if I’m speaking for myself, personally it seems like the numbers are way way down from other programs. Not just 12-step, but whatever else is out there, it just seems like it’s a lot more compassionate, it’s a lot safer, and people are really thriving from it, and finding freedom from it.
And again, it’s this community. And now we’ve linked up, we have these different regions, we have region reps. There’s a non-profit board for Refuge Recovery — which is different than the for-profit treatment center that Noah also called “Refuge Recovery”, which definitely caused confusion in the marketplace. I think that’s since closed, just within the last week or two. So we’re specifically talking about the RR non-profit peer-led program.
REFERENCE: 2018-10-05 RR Treatment Centers Facebook announcement that they are closing
Refuge Recovery the organization has been responsible in their handling of the situation so far 41:40
Jer: So if I can jump in there, one thing I wanted to say was, really, the point here is to convince people to not give up on the program because of this controversy. So that is my agenda. Anyone who’s watched for 41 minutes maybe figured it out already.
I’ll point out that when I think about ATS and RR, which in this context are very linked up — ATS, the source organization that represented the community and RR, sort of a spinoff. I know that’s not accurate, but conceptually there’s a truth there.
Yeah, well [RR] was born out of [the ATS community].
So RR didn’t do an investigation because they trusted ATS to do that investigation and in this case — if what we’re looking at is “is this a reliable organization, where we can trust them?” — what more could they conceivably do than turf their founder and spiritual leader? It’s terrible for business, it’s extremely “edgy”, and it shows that they are legitimate because it’s the legitimate thing to do. They found problems and they made the hardest possible decision they could make, which in the short term might hurt them, but I’m confident in the long term for RR it was the right decision. And if [RR] IS going to succeed — and I’m sure it will — it’ll be because we know we can trust them.
[CORRECTION: As of 2018-11-04 Noah is still technically on the board of RefugeRecovery.org, but is on a “voluntary leave of absence”. My apologies for getting this wrong.]
That’s really important, and there’s also that fun fact about the history of AA where the leader of AA also exhibited similar predatory behavior as the accusations against Noah and was tolerated and was still going to conferences and had bodyguards following him around to make sure he didn’t harass women. I think that’s true, right, I’ve definitely heard that in the comments recently.
Yeah I think his mistress still gets a portion of profits from the book.
REFERENCE: AA Agnostica (2014-10-01): Bill Wilson and Other Women (Note: no endorsement implied, but I wanted to include a link)
Jer: So when we look at RR, we see a very modern organization that’s doing everything they possibly can in this context, where hopefully — especially in this new structure that’s more independent from Noah, that’s more about Jean and Chris the current leads of the organization, as far as I understand.
Yeah, they’re on the board of directors.
Jer: That their interest is definitely in keeping RR clean, in dealing with any ethical violations at the local level in a really responsible way. And at least personally I think that if that is our concern — this idea that the actual space isn’t safe — we should work with them and build an organization that’s strong. And it’s almost impossible — it IS impossible to create a completely safe space — it’s almost impossible to really do that without making any mistakes.
But they haven’t done anything that shows that they will be making big mistakes. In fact they’ve done the opposite and made really hard decisions in the name of safety.
Yeah. And you know, the one thing I’ll say. I know in my heart of hearts: If it wasn’t this thing, it would have been something else. It’s not about organizations like this not having any problems. That’s just not going to happen. There will be problems, it’s about how do we pick up the pieces after something big happens. After the shit hits the fan, how do we act as an organization? How helpful are we? How supportive are we when things go wrong, because things WILL go wrong.
All things are impermanent which means there’s going to be an ebb and flow to everything. The Buddha talked about the 8 worldly winds — praise and blame, loss and gain, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute — it’s just going to happen. So can we find health, support, community within this all? And the answer is yes. So far so good.
Jer: Alright, so [hand gesture: perfect], this is going so well. Going back to my questions, sorry if it gets a little boring as I go into some of the details.
Buddhism and Recovery Conference details 45:54
So Joseph Rogers — Another one of the links I’ll include with this video is by Joseph Rogers, the history of RR — So he talks about the “Buddhism and Recovery conference” as a founding point. Do you want to say anything about that.
- Joseph Rogers – “THE EARLY HISTORY OF REFUGE RECOVERY”
- Link to the Buddhist Recovery Network – Inaugural Conference 2009 website archive
- PDF Brochure of the BRN 2009 conference
- Dave Smith interview with Renew Everyday that mentions the conference
- Northwest Dharma News article about the 2009 BRN Inaugural Conference
Well I mentioned it in the beginning. There was this conversation at the “Buddhist Recovery Network“, that’s one and the same. The conference was the conference for the Buddhist Recovery Network. So Kevin Griffin was a part of that and Marlatt, who passed away.
Jer: Alan Marlatt from the University of Washington
Yeah. So there’s just this conversation — Hey, do we really need to continue to use 12-step or whatever else? Can we just use the Buddha’s original teachings. And so we did that as an experiment at ATS.
Jer: Ok, so Alan Marlatt had some research finding that meditation helped people in recovery, but only if it was consistent, and he proposed that what was needed was ongoing meetings to stay consistent in their meditation as part of recovery. So that’s an idea that inspired all of you and… wasn’t from Noah.
Five-week course and Joseph writing the inventory questions 47:13
So the five-week course was the next step. And Joseph says that he wrote the original draft of the inventories which included in it, it seems like, the seed of the four noble truths methodology that you described above.
Jer: And that was something you used in your sort of prototype meetings around 2008?
[NOTE: The BRN conference took place in October 2009, after the early “Buddhist Recovery” groups were already running]
It was offered as a supplement to these meetings that were already going on. We held this workshop at Santa Monica and we really worked on the questions while we were there. We partnered up with somebody else.
Disagreement around the terms “inventory questions” and “mentor” 48:00
What is interesting is that back then we did this kalyanamitta idea — this peer-led, non-hierarchical, person to person [setup]– working on these questions together. You know the book came out and there’s this mention of the term “mentor”. Which to be honest…
There’s a few things Joseph Rogers and I — I’ll point this out because he didn’t put this in his article — both Joseph Rogers and I had been crying, SCREAMING at the top of our lungs: “Don’t call these inventory questions!” And Joseph’s the one that wrote them! It sounds too much like 12-step. These are “investigation” questions or “inquiries”. And I’m hoping that maybe the next version of the book — or if we have to write a new book — that we refer to these things as investigations or inquiries, which is more of a proper term for contemplative work.
So that’s number 1 and number 2 is this “mentor” idea. Again, we all had 12-step conditioning. Sponsor/sponsee, big daddy tells you how to wipe your butt, big daddy tells you how to mow the lawn, big daddy tells you what to say to your wife when you’re fighting. And that’s not what we have here. And so using that term “mentor” has that same sort of idea, that hierarchy idea.
Requirements for being a “mentor” in the book are too strict, Noah has said “mentor each other” 49:33
And I’ll also say that what Noah put as the requirements for mentors in the book were way too strict. At that time in LA we had enough people that were trained facilitators and deep practitioners that met these requirements. But that wasn’t the case everywhere else, and when the book came out, and there’s all these brand new people, nobody met the requirements of what a mentor is.
So when we held the very first annual, international RR conference — which was held at the Melrose ATS — that was one of the biggest things that everybody kept saying. “Uh we want to work the program but we don’t have anybody that’s qualified to be a mentor.” So at the very end of the conference Noah got up and was doing the closing thing and he said “I just want to address this, the requirements that we put in the book were way too strict, just go ahead and mentor each other.”
So that was the charge: Mentor each other. And people are still stuck on the idea that even though that’s been said, even though that’s been passed around it’s still in the book. It says that.. whatever.. you’ve got to have done both inventories and go on X amount of retreats and walk on water and you know, speak in tongues.
Jer: HA HA HA knowing look
Kalyanamitta — Spiritual friends — alternate concept to mentorship 50:49
But what is more helpful, what is more supportive, what is more sustainable is to just work on this stuff together. And whether it’s just a one on one — and I use that term kalyanamitta, that’s a traditional term in Pali, the original language from the first recorded teachings of the Buddha.
Kalyanamitta means “spiritual friend”, and there’s this one passage in the Pali cannon, where Ananda — which is the Buddha’s cousin, he was the guy that remembered everything word for word, he’s also like the perfect “straight man”, and I mean that in the old comedian sense, he was the Laurel to Buddha’s Harvey kind of thing — So one day Ananda came up to the Buddha and said “Hey Buddha, tell me brother, having a spiritual friend, is it maybe half the spiritual life? Half the practice?” And the Buddha, in the way he talks, says “No Ananda, having a spiritual friend is not half the practice, having a spiritual friend is the WHOLE of the practice or spiritual life”.
So having a spiritual friend — and again the Pali term is kalyanamitta — that’s more of what we’re talking about in this program. This one on one, level playing field, not a hierarchy, not somebody telling you what to do. You’re working on this together, you’re waking up together. That’s what the whole path is about, taking refuge in sangha. We get to wake up together. So whether it’s one on one, some groups are calling them “Dharma Buddies”, and groups — and when I say groups, I mean meetings — in some meetings people are doing small groups of like 3 or 4 people together, all working on this thing together, keeping each other accountable.
Sidenote: Starting a daily practice and concentration v. metta as initial meditation focus 52:35
One of the things that I will offer — you know a lot of people come to the program and are just like “what do I do?” There’s a lot of suggestions out there. One of the biggest things is getting a daily practice, and I think it says that in the book.
You know in the book it says you should start with concentration practice with breath awareness. Personally I tell people in recovery, if they’re brand new to it, to start with metta, start with lovingkindness. Because we come into recovery and we are so full of resentment and shame and blame, against ourself and against everybody else. We need this loving friendliness practice, lovingkindness practice to address that much poison that’s coursing through our veins — figuratively anyway.
Sidenote: Ongoing mutual support among “kalyanamitta”/Dharma Buddies 53:21
So anyway! I recommend, finding somebody to work on these questions together, and somebody to help you stay accountable with your daily practice. So find one or three or four other people, and after you’re done meditating every day send a text to each other: “Alright I just sat for 20 minutes” or 30 minutes. I’ve found that has been really really helpful to start a sustainable daily practice.
You [should] work on your questions together, and my suggestion, because the questions are admittedly ridiculously long — there is a crapload of questions — don’t wait to do the whole thing before you read it to somebody else. Do it in 5-question chunks. Each of you, whether it’s one on one or three other people, work on your questions together in little chunks. Palatable, bite size little chunks.
Really double down on metta practice and forgiveness while you’re answering these questions. Because in these first “investigation questions”, the first section, we are looking at the causes of suffering in our lives. And if you haven’t done the questions yet, spoiler alert [Gary points at himself with both hands] we’re the cause of our own suffering, nobody else! This isn’t to say other people haven’t done horrible things to us, but there’s a difference between pain and suffering.
The old line I think the Dalai Lama says “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. So all this extra suffering that we heap on top of experience. “I don’t like this, I don’t want this to happen, this shouldn’t be like this.” We can address that. We can’t address the pain but we can address the suffering. And we can do it together, and be really kind to ourself during these questions while we’re looking at the cause of our suffering.
And yeah, support each other, that’s it, like Noah said at the first conference.
Jer: Ok, so let me grab this back for a second. I’ll second your motion to do the inventory questions. I know there’s a lot of people at my sangha who just never got around to it — I think they read it and then moved on — and it’s really worthwhile doing it. I think I did them all over the course of a week and my hand was really hurting, so maybe that’s too fast.
Ha ha, you probably wrote a book!
Jer: Yeah I have like 50 pages ohandwritten in my little book. But taking care of yourself, yeah! I lit some candles, I put on some cheesy music, and it really worked out and it meant a lot, so definitely there’s value there, don’t skip it.
Your point about mentors — It’s not really about the history of the book but I completely agree with you. In our sangha when I got there there was literally no one who could have qualified to be my mentor. And then as people theoretically came “online” as potential mentors, the likelihood that their recovery was troubled within the meantime, or that they just weren’t coming to meetings anymore…
On the action guide section of the RR website I know there’s special meeting scripts designed to do a whole afternoon and work on your questions together, and I’m definitely planning when I get back to Montreal I’m going to do some of that. And I think moving in that direction is really a wholesome thing, especially because there’s so many new meetings and we want there to be new meetings, and it is weird in the book.
Acknowledging flaws in the book, and that some of them come from Noah not being deeply involved in the early meetings 56:58
Hearing that that was something Noah sort of “inserted” — one of the non-workshopped elements — is interesting because it really is a strange aspect of it and something you might expect from someone who wasn’t going to meetings every week. And something you might expect in a book that was a little rushed too, which is a fair reason for a lot of the flaws in the book. We don’t want to attack the book too much.
We almost need like a set of constitutional amendments that is just really easy to find, where we say “ok, in this year it was declared mentoring should not have such high standards, and in this year it was declared that chapter 10, the guide to when you should have to do things and you should have gone to a 3 month retreat in your second year of recovery” — a lot of people feel alienated by that.
Jer: In our group I just say “ignore that”. It’s just a recommendation. As if you should way 60 days to do your inventory, which is terrible advice but for some reason it’s in that section.
So there IS evidence that not all of the book was workshopped by the whole team, but it almost proves the point indirectly to hear the story from you, so it’s really valuable.
The book isn’t infallible! Like we said, there’s grammatical errors, there’s spelling errors. Certainly there’s some things that could be written a little better. There’s some things that are way too strict. It is what it is. It was a slice of a moment in time when this came out. The biggest demand was to get a book out to this public that wanted something.
Possibilities for new books/materials going forward 58:34
So here we are all these years later and maybe there’s going to be a — There’s these legal things about getting intellectual rights on the name name and the book. However that goes, maybe the book will be edited and adapted and there will be a second edition. Or maybe we’ll just write something completely new. Or maybe the first thing we’ll do as a community is write a supplemental thing — which I know Jean has been putting the bat signal out for people to write stories about how… I can’t remember what she was asking people to write about, how they did their mentorship, or how they did their questions.
REFERENCE: Refuge Recovery Literature Committee
Jer: They wanted testimonials about the inventories and mentorship. And I was like “I don’t know, I never had a mentor, no one else ever saw my questions, which is kind of weird. So I can’t write one, but I have this story about the inventory…”
Maybe you should interview me, and then you could transcribe it, and then we’ll have my story. I’d love to have it.
Jer: Ha ha yeah, finally published.
Okay so you hinted at a new book. I want to come back to that and what you think that would be like [later].
So a couple more little questions: Were there drafts of the book that went around that people got to look at and influence?
Yeah. 100%. On my Kindle I have what was called the “Refuge Recovery – MS” for “manuscript”. Some stuff got kind of moved around. Yeah, that [early manuscripts of the book] was stuff that was passed around.
Jer: And do you have anything to say about the influence people had on the book at that point. What kind of conversations went down.
You know, through the whole process — I wouldn’t say just at that point but through the whole process — piecing it together, putting it together, editing it, changing the order and whatever.
There was heated debates. George Haas — who was part of that stuff — was big and he was on Alan Marlatt’s side. George Haas was big into the “harm reduction” model, while Noah and to be honest me and Joseph and Enrique were all about “no man, total abstinence”. We’ve got some of our 12-step total abstinence. So there was a big heated debate about that.
Group process of resolving disagreements about the book 1:01:08
And then I can’t remember… Pablo had a big argument about… I can’t remember. It was so long ago! He was really passionate about something and, you know, it was heard and it was taken on. There was a lot of input to it. And sometimes to great debate and lots of passion.
It wasn’t just people standing around, listening to Noah read and going “yeah that’s good that’s good!”. It was a group process.
Jer: And do you feel like at that point, when there was a debate, that there was consensus found? Who arbitrated the debate, was it Noah that made the final call?
Well we were all trained facilitators or teachers, so we’re talking about skillful people, who have the resources of being able to debate without shutting down the whole thing. So yeah, there were things that were heard and there was consensus made and everyone said “yeah, I totally agree with that” and it was brought in. Then there were other things that, you know, somebody brought something up and then the consensus said, “nah we don’t really agree with that”.
So it was a group process, just like the meetings today, it’s all a group process.
Jer: Ok. Cool. Alright, that’s really interesting, thank you for those examples of the controversies. The one about total abstinence is really interesting because it’s so decisive in the book. And I agree with it, I think it’s really right.
Origins of the emphasis on process addictions 1:02:42
That emphasis on process addictions, which you hinted at earlier, and which is really one of the most amazing things about Refuge Recovery. The total abstinence really helps with that because it pushes you to dig deeper and deeper into your problems.
Who had that idea [focus on process addictions], where did that influence come from?
That was just out of necessity because of our meetings.
I will say, us dudes — you know, it was a lot of dudes in the beginning — And I forgot to mention Shannon Smith, who was Dave Smith’s wife, she was part of some of those early meetings and the committee putting the book together along with Mary Stancavage.
Jer: And Joseph’s wife helped too?
Yeah, she was more a part of the meetings and everything, the early meetings.
Jer: Sorry to refer to people based on their romantic affiliations, I just don’t have her name written down here.
Yeah. Sarit, big shout out to Sarit! Sarit is amazing, she is doing yoga Refuge Recovery meetings down in LA, and now there’s Yoga RR up here in Portland that’s pretty successful.
But, as far as process addiction — It was just because we started those meetings — us dudes, it was a boys club unfortunately, maybe that’s part of the downfall of the whole thing… ha ha of ATS and that but… We all came with drug and alcohol addiction.
So we created this program for ALL addictions, but this other stuff wasn’t really our main thing, our original primary addictions. So we created these meetings and a lot of people started showing up with sex addiction, with porn addiction, with gambling, with co-dependence — that’s been a big thing, co-dependence issues have really brought up how that’s just another process addiction, and so the community DEMANDED this. And so we had to address it.
And it’s not addressed as well as it should be, I mean it’s pretty minimal in the book, and you know there’s that supplemental PDF that’s available on the website about process addiction. Still probably not enough but it’s what’s here currently — and our process addiction meetings throughout the country.
REFERENCE: RR Process Addiction PDF
Jer: Yeah, it’s too bad the sex and sex addiction [section in the book] is just so short. It’s almost like we all could’ve used more of that at the time, but luckily there’s lots of other material..
Maybe somebody wasn’t ready to look at that part of their lives at the time.
Jer: Yeah, well, HINT HINT HINT.
How were the eightfold path chapters written? 1:05:33
So let’s see. Joseph talked about his having written the draft for the four truths. You already clarified that really was like a workshopped thing in a lot of ways. It was a group effort.
The eightfold path section, each of the chapters. Any details about how those were written?
Well again, that’s all one thing. The four noble truths unfold into the eightfold path, that’s the fourth noble truth. There’s freedom from dukkha, from addiction, from suffering, from dissatisfaction, through this path, and that’s what the eightfold path is. So it’s just all the same, same same.
And the original format that’s in the book and available on the website, those original smaller sections on the four noble truths and the eightfold path, that’s what we had originally, and then the book just expanded that, that’s all.
Jer: And there’s some creativity there in terms of interpreting them — having studied the eightfold path, the concepts are very specific to things like developing jhana and samadhi, which obviously Refuge Recovery doesn’t get into. But yeah, so those short descriptions were pre-existing, you say, but filled out by Noah to write the book.
It was all workshopped together. That’s the thing. The first part of the book is only a hundred pages. We’re not talking a lot of material, so it was all workshopped together. These little sections were brought in, we whittled it away, we changed things.
Again, I don’t know how much more I could say about it. It all was totally a group process.
Jer: Okay, cool, thank you and sorry to try to dig into the specific things. I’m kind of “mining for gold” here.
What would the cover of the book ideally have said, rather than Noah’s name? 1:07:41
So you already talked about putting Noah’s name on the book. Noah was against it, was everyone against it.
What was the idea, if you had to describe the consensus in the group of what you would have LIKED that cover of the book to look like. What do you think it would say?
Well everybody wanted it without a name on it, cause again RR is not just one person, it’s a community. So that was the idea, [but the fact is that] his publisher demanded [his name on the book] and they wouldn’t [consider leaving it off] at all, and that no publisher would do that, because it’s this unknown thing.
It was just a necessary evil at the time. The book needed to come out, the people wanted it. So be it, for better or worse.
Was there consideration of making the book free online? 1:08:31
Jer: A side question: The book costs money, and for the foreseeable future it will continue to cost money. Would having that book for free have been something that could’ve happened at the time?
No, there wasn’t any benefactors that were wealthy enough to take care of that.
Jer: And you didn’t consider publishing it digitally?
I think you could see that that limits what’s available — Sorry it limits the REACH of how far it can get. It’s just not promoted that much, it’s overlooked easily. So yeah, it wasn’t a thing.
Jer: It wasn’t a thing. Ok. Because now MY fantasy would be that whatever the next thing would be, it would be something we could just hand out as a PDF to people, without any resources getting used up at all. But I understand the motivations for having it be published. And certainly I’m sure RR got a lot of promotional press and stuff form having Harper Collins be the publisher at the time.
For sure, yeah, totally.
Jer: Okay so you already answered about the disagreements and that was fascinating…
So in terms of this future for the book. Some people would really rather have an entirely new book. I think the goal of this [conversation] was — as long as we don’t have a new book, I’m hoping we can find peace with the current book, and though understanding it for what it is, accept it as something that can help us, and that we can use to help other people.
What do you think is likely for the future of RR book-wise? 1:10:27
But what do you think for the future? What do you think is likely for the new reading material for to go with the program, and what would you love to see, what would your fantasy be?
Well I already mentioned that currently the RR non-profit board is in negotiations with Noah and I think his lawyer about the ownership of the name “Refuge Recovery” and the book itself. So it depends on how that goes. If the non-profit gets control of both then maybe we could edit the book, we could re-do it with some skillful edits and take the name off. That’s certainly one possibility. Or if the negotiations don’t go well, and we need to create a new book, that’s certainly a possibility.
Like we mentioned earlier, there’s already the request out to the community to bring in their stories and experiences within RR, to create some supplemental material. So the next book that comes out might be a supplemental book, a resource book.
I guess the worst case scenario would be that the intellectual property negotiations don’t go well at all, and maybe there’s a demand that we can no longer use the name. We might need to change the name from Refuge Recovery to something else, then obviously create a whole new book.
This is our practice. This is how life goes. Things don’t go smoothly and easily, there’s an ebb and flow to everything. Like I said, if it wasn’t this, it would be something else. So be it.
And Jer, the one thing I’ll say too: If people listen to this and still have a problem with the book, so be it. That’s totally their prerogative. I don’t want to negate anybody’s pain, anybody’s suffering. If somebody feels that strongly about the book that it’s going to stumble them from sobriety, don’t use it! Please don’t. If you still want to come to the meetings, more than welcome. If you need to go to something else, I’ll go there with you. That’s the thing, there’s a lot of possibilities and it’ll all play out one way or another.
Discussing other books being used in RR meetings 1:13:03
Jer: Hmm. So that’s beautiful, and I almost want to end there, but I also want to ask [Gary: ha ha ha] a separate question which feels like an active controversy, and there’s sort of a lack of clarity, and I understand why right now. It’s really hard for the organization, in the midst of legal proceedings, to say almost ANYTHING.
Jer: But this question of — you brought up this group in Montreal, and I don’t want to throw my co-organizer under the bus…
But… Ha ha ha.
Jer: Oh no, see I DON’T [want to throw her under the bus] but it sounded like I did, and I’m not.
She had started a whole new meeting, with a lot of new people, and was running it tentatively without the book, waiting to see more information. It happens that this most recent news article from Jezebel tipped the scales for her. And so she had a vote with [her group], and they discussed together whether to change the book — and in fact it was One Breath at a Time [by Kevin Griffin], the book you mentioned that helped you before Refuge.
Jer: So they decided that would be the book they would do the readings from. They keep the [RR] script, but they do the readings from that book until RR has a new book. And it’s tricky, because the people in that meeting aren’t experienced RR people who’ve done their inventories…
The only thing I’ll say about that Jer, and they are more than welcome to do that, but that’s not a RR meeting anymore. And as a regional rep, if I found out that that was happening within my region, we would have to do something about it. If you’re calling yourself RR, just like AA, just like NA, just like CA. If you go to any of those meetings anywhere in the world, they’re all going to look very very similar. They’re all going to have the main text as their source, the formats are going to be very similar to each other.
So within RR, we really need to have that the same way. If you’re not reading the Refuge book — and in fact I LOVE Kevin’s book, and I still work 12-step, and if I’m gonna sponsor in 12-step I want them to read Kevin’s book, so there’s nothing wrong with that — but that is a totally different program, that’s not Refuge Recovery. So I hate to be a hardass, but that’s not a Refuge meeting. It shouldn’t be called that, you shouldn’t be using the script unless you’re using the book.
Jer: So then I think that’s the answer I knew you’d give, based on your previous comments.
And “hardass” is true because you’re telling people to go away. Like in your previous comment you said “If you don’t wanna read the book, I understand your pain”, but in the next one you’re saying “if there’s no other Buddhist recovery group in your city, I’m sorry go back to AA”.
It’s a tough line to walk where someone who is uncomfortable with the book really has no options. Which if anything is why I’m saying, you sort of disagreed with me in saying “do what you want, don’t feel like you have to read the book”. I’m saying actually, “No no, read the book! You’ve got to let go of this aversion to the Noah problem because in so many cases there is nowhere else with the right kind of sangha, with all the benefits you’ve expounded. So it’s a tricky line.
I hope we can come up with enough material so that someone who doesn’t want to read the book can go straight to the inventory/investigation questions, which are on the website and don’t have Noah’s name on them. That they can find all the most important pieces and then maybe just grit through it when we read from the book in the meetings.
It might surprise you to know that Jean Tuller specifically, in conversation with that organizer, said that it would be okay for them to use a different book if they got consent of the whole group.
Jer: I feel like it’s actually in flux right now, and there’s no [conclusive] answer, because our regional rep was disturbed by this, and had the exact same reaction as you, and I think that is the historical reality, but maybe this is a different moment where a little more flexibility is called for.
But ultimately I think you make a good point! What a RR meeting is, is people who read this book and believed the lessons developed by the community back in the day, that you were a part of. And those parts ring so true, and they come out in the book and you can feel them.
And I hope we can just make a little space and ALSO keep it Refuge Recovery, because [RR] is the right answer, and there’s so much useful truth.
Like you, I think the point is that you worry about a meeting where they’re not following RR at all. Where they’re calling it that and doing something really different there and they’re going to alienate people, maybe it becomes theistic — there’s too many bodhisattvas getting mentioned…
And it’s already happening, there’s some groups where — it usually starts when somebody starts a meeting somewhere and it becomes THEIR meeting. There’s egos involved, there’s ownership involved. And they start running the things and maybe they’ve got Hindu background, or maybe they’re new-agey or whatever. I’ve heard about these people that run meetings start changing the format, they start bringing in wacky chakra clearing things. I had somebody early on, they had somebody in their community who wanted to bring in acupuncture. Somebody had their heart in the right place and they said “this is great you’re doing this Buddhist recovery thing, I want to come in there and offer acupuncture to help all these people to find some relief from their addictions!”. But dude! You can’t bring in needles to a frickin’ recovery meeting! What a liability that is.
So people have their hearts in the right place, but the problem is that most of the time they don’t have a deep enough practice where they have a proper skillful discernment to know what’s skillful and what’s not. When people start bringing in other meditations, that’s when you start getting these chakra things and divine light and whatever else. Those are not what RR is about. RR is much closer to a secular program than anything that’s ethical [NOTE: “ethical” can’t be what he intended to say],or new-agey or airy-fairy or whatever.
So bringing in supplemental readings is really scary. If there’s proper discernment you bring in something that’s “insight tradition”, or something about the four noble truths and the eightfold path, you’re probably pretty safe. But again if you don’t have the right discernment that could go right off the rails pretty quickly.
And it is what it is. The big thing is that we’ve got to make sure that newcomers come in and they’re getting what they need to hear. They’re coming in and they’re getting a good meditation, they’re getting good recommendations and they’re walking away with some tools. If you’re starting to stray then I’m worried about the newcomers.
Jer: Yeah. Well that is best possible argument for this kind of RR fundamentalism that I could come up with [if I tried]. So thank you.
For anyone thinking about it, you know, Gary makes great points! And hopefully we can all be flexible with the rules of what RR really should be, and the value of keeping it safe for everyone.
And it will all develop into what it needs to be. Absolutely.
Jer: And there’s ways to discuss and communicate, and it’s actively growing as an organization. So there’s lots of opportunities.
Thanks to Gary and how to find him 01:21:13
Alright! Well, if anyone has watched all of this. Thank you so much! And Gary, I thank you so much for humoring me, and being such a good sport. And for everything you do for Refuge Recovery.
I think you just added me on Facebook one day, and I guess it’s because I posted on the group or something. But I immediately felt a sense of being supported, and that there was an international sangha, and it just means a lot what you’re doing.
This whole meeting came about because you were making comments on the Facebook group that were just really insightful and showed so much knowledge. So making yourself accessible, for this, for all those Portland meetings — oh my god — all the things you do.
So thank you so much and thank you to all the founders and people who worked on Refuge Recovery over the years. It’s been amazing, you saved my life and you saved a lot of other lives. So hopefully we can all keep that in mind as we think about the book. [Reacting to Gary] Yeah, you had your own life saved…
100%. If not my life, at least my sanity and my well being. And I do want to just throw this out there: Any communities that are strong enough, that are big enough and have a demand, I am more than happy to come out and lead daylongs and workshops, wherever you’re at. I’ve been doing that for a lot of communities. It’s a great way to help strengthen and build and foster community as well. Hit me up if you’re interested.
Jer: Well that’s beautiful. And thank you. And is there anything else you want to pitch before we go?
Well you know, I’m a teacher at Portland Insight meditation community, so we’re found at portlandinsight.org, my teacher Robert Beatty is one of the most beautiful and loving and compassionate men on earth. I can’t feel any more gratitude and appreciation than I do. Our talks get livestreamed on Sunday and it goes to his YouTube page. If you just look up “Robert Beatty Portland” on YouTube some of my talks are on there. I should be getting a website pretty soon myself. So yeah.
As a teacher too I do offer private instruction one on one, like this kind of thing, video conferencing. So find me on Facebook at my name Gary Sanders. There’s a cartoon of me meditating on a pile of dynamite so… ha ha ha, look for that.
NOTE: Gary is @jacklope on Twitter
Dedication of merit 01:23:55
Jer: Alright! Well this wasn’t practice, so it’s a dedication of merit, but… may… Oh wait you wanna give us one?
You know, I’ve been reading for awhile now, there’s a quote from Norm Fischer that, summarized, he says that one day you realize that practice becomes your life and life becomes your practice. So this conversation was practice, this was mindful communication, this was a sharing of hearts, this was a connection. I feel even more connected to you now, and this was a beautiful conversation so I appreciate what you’ve offered.
*If anything wholesome, anything pure, anything true has arisen out of our conversation, our practice, may it be offered up to all beings everywhere. *
May all beings find happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings find peace and the causes of peace.
May all beings find freedom from suffering, freedom from all addictions.
May we all wake up together. [bows]
Jer: Thank you so much!