Refuge Recovery

Refuge Recovery

Refuge recovery is a Buddhist approach to recovery following the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

1. Life involves suffering.
2. Suffering is due cravings. Or rather to our addiction to satisfying cravings for pleasure and cravings to avoid pain.
3. There is a solution; get unhooked from cravings.
4. The way to get unhooked from cravings is to follow the Noble 8-fold path.

In Refuge Recovery, the Four Truths are recast as:

1. “We suffer due to our addictions and the general difficulties of being human in this world of constant change and loss.
2. Craving is a natural phenomenon; it is not all our fault, but we are fully responsible for our healing and recovery.
3. We can fully recover and enjoy a life of sanity and well-being.
4. This is the Path.”

“Cravings” refers not only to cravings for drugs, but also to cravings to feel different and for things to be different. We crave for Reality to be different than it is so that we can feel better. This is natural, as no one wants to be uncomfortable. Yet the reality of things is that we don’t always feel good. We spend a lot of time doing things to feel better or to keep feeling good, such as eating when we are hungry.

We fall into the trap of addiction when we use pleasure-inducing addictive substances or behaviors to feel good or to stop feeling bad. Unfortunately, it is impossible to achieve a state of permanent intoxicated bliss or oblivion. Since we only feel better for the brief time we are using a drug or engaging in an addictive behavior, we soon are left feeling uncomfortable again. This leads to more cravings for the object of our addiction.

In Refuge Recovery, the cure for addiction begins with acceptance. Desire is not the problem. We may desire something, but we let go of having to have it. If we can unhook ourselves from our cravings and accept when we don’t feel good or don’t have what we want, then our suffering goes away. If we can accept the reality of things—that how we feel constantly changes and that life includes inevitable distress, then we can be at peace even when we are in pain.

Getting unhooked from our cravings and accepting the way things are even as we act to make the next moment better (non-addictively) takes effort and practice. In Refuge Recovery, the way we get unhooked is to practice the Noble 8-fold path:

1. Right Understanding: This is an understanding of the Four Noble Truths. We see that everything is ruled by cause and effect. We see that actions have consequences. We see that everything, including how we feel, is impermanent. Life entails change, loss, and resulting pain. We see that the relentless pursuit of pleasure is unsatisfactory. We see the impersonal nature of life. We also see the necessity of forgiving ourselves, others, and life itself for being the way we and they are. We see the need for compassionate acceptance of ourselves and the need to develop a reverence for Realty.
2. Right Intention (thought): We renounce greed (cravings), hatred (of the way things are, including how we and others are), and delusion (not seeing the impermanent and unsatisfactory nature of Reality/Life). Through meditative practice, we embrace our pain with self-compassion and acceptance, and savor the many pleasures of life without grasping. We cultivate generosity, compassion, respect for all of life, and kindness towards ourselves and others. We also commit to living a no-harm life of honesty, integrity, and humility. We make the intention both to not harm and to help others. Renouncing negative intentions and embracing positive intentions results in greater happiness, wellbeing, and contentment. This promotes recovery.
3. Right Relationship (speech): We immerse ourselves in healthy spiritual and recovery communities. We seek out recovery mentors to challenge and support us. We work to create a positive recovery environment for ourselves by minimizing toxic stresses and triggers to use. We work to create healthy, loving relationships. We do this in part by protecting ourselves from the negative influences and behaviors of others through boundaries, limit-setting, and assertiveness. We also take accountability for our own behavior by being positive, loving people ourselves. We practice being honest, wise, supportive, and careful not to harm others by what we say. We practice saying what is true and useful, with kindness and with appropriate timing. We refrain from slander, gossip, or abusive speech. We are open, honest, humble, respectfully authentic, and caring.
4. Right Action: We take the “No Harm” vow. We renounce harming ourselves or anyone else by addicting, by being violent, dishonest, or otherwise hurtful to others. This includes sexual misconduct. We renounce addicting, using any mind-altering intoxicants, or other overindulgences in sensual pleasure. We work to live according to our right intentions every day. Thus we act with compassion, kindness, honesty, and integrity. We obey the law. We embrace Life’s mandate to nurture Life. Thus we devote ourselves to serving others and making the world a better place.
5. Right Livelihood: As part of Right Action, we devote ourselves to work that causes no harm to others. We devote our time, energy, and talents to creating positive change in the world. We cultivate our altruism. The path of recovery is a path of service. We cultivate a transformation of motivation from self-centeredness to a dedication to enhance the well-being of everyone. Thus we commit our lives to the service of Life. We don’t work at jobs that violate or oppress others. We renounce profiting from work that causes suffering or confusion for others. Engaging in positive work increases happiness and contentment, which reduces the drive to addict.
6. Right Practice/effort: Recovery takes a steady and relaxed effort. We commit to a daily practice of nurturing our lives and the lives of others. This includes a daily spiritual practice of prayer, meditation, or yoga. It also includes eating healthy, getting plenty of rest, exercising daily, and having fun. It also includes acting with wisdom and compassion. We work to identify negative thoughts and replace them with more positive thoughts. Practitioners are kind, forgiving, nonjudgmental, generous, compassionate, and grateful. Right effort also includes the practice of mindfulness, which is the nonjudgmental awareness and friendly acceptance of our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This includes our cravings to addict. Through the practice of mindfulness, we gradually develop the freedom and wisdom to act wisely with inner and outer peace in all circumstances.
7. Right Mindfulness: As part of right effort, we practice being present with nonjudgmental, friendly acceptance of our thoughts, feelings, and experience. I call this practicing “Nowing,” or being one with the Now. In this state, we minimize being lost in thought, or daydreaming. We experience our Awareness as separate from the contents of our Awareness. We come to identify ourselves as the Silent Witness, as beings that have “thoughts without a Thinker.” This is the Buddhist experience of “No Self” in which we see the illusion of Self as just a coherent flow of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. We stop taking our mind personally, thereby reducing shame. This experience cultivates self-acceptance, self-love, serenity, freedom, and wisdom. Seeing things clearly, we avoid being led astray by addictive cravings, greed, anger, avarice, or anger. We see clearly the root causes of addiction in the compulsive thoughts and feelings that automatically drive our behavior when we are not mindful. We gain to ability to choose how to respond to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. With clarity, we respond intelligently rather than react addictively.
8. Right Concentration: Through the practice of concentrative meditation on one aspect of our experience, such as our breath, we develop the capacity to still the mind and bring Awareness to a one-pointed awareness of this aspect of the present moment. One can also concentrate on thoughts of loving kindness, compassion, or forgiveness. In Refuge Recovery, practitioners practice concentrative meditation when triggered or craving so as to abstain from addicting. Concentrative meditation leads to higher levels of spiritual consciousness and well-being.

In Refuge Recovery, right understanding of the suffering of addicting leads practitioners to renounce all addicting in order to reduce suffering. The Eightfold Path provides the method for cessation of all addicting. Members meditate both alone and with each other. They support each other, as almost no one does recovery alone.

Key to Buddhist thinking is that we are all intrinsically good. We are innately whole despite our trauma, disease, and dysfunction. In this sense, there is nothing wrong with us. Buddhism separates the unskillful act from the actor. Unskillful actors driven by greed, hatred, and delusion do unskillful things. As Gnarls Barkley says, “Hurt people hurt people.” Thus kindness towards, compassion for, reverence of, and nonjudgment of ourselves and others is central to the Refuge Recovery approach to healing. Refuge recovery embraces the many paradoxes of recovery: there is nothing wrong with us yet we are completely messed up given our untrained minds and our addictions; we are not responsible for what happened to us growing up yet we are completely responsible for our health and recovery.

Understanding cause and effect allows us to see the need to create the causes of recovery, which are the positive actions of the Eightfold Path, as positive actions have positive effects, which reduce pain and thus the conditions for addicting.
In addiction as in life, craving is not the problem. We all crave to feel good and not feel bad. The problem is our relationship to our craving. The untrained mind that falls into addiction instinctively chases pleasure and runs from pain. In addiction, we are not in charge. Our addiction is in charge.
Through right understanding and intention, ethical living, mindfulness and meditation, we learn to not chase pleasure or to run from pain. We stop making pain an enemy. In fact, we learn to expect pain as an inevitable part of existence. When pain arises (including cravings), we embrace it with compassionate acceptance.

Buddhist practices train the mind to enhance free will, or our freedom to act wisely moment-to-moment apart from our cravings. We learn to let go and let be. The freedom to not compulsively act on our cravings is the root of recovery and the source of the happiness and contentment everyone wants.

Refuge Recovery says that everyone has the ability to recover. The only issues are a need for a strong desire to recover, an intention to change, and a willingness to do the work—to practice living according to the Noble Eightfold Path. We choose long-term peace, freedom, and happiness over short-term satisfaction of cravings. Recovery takes discipline and a deep commitment. The process of healing and growth take a strong, gentle, and persistent effort over time with the help of mentors and a supportive recovery community. Refuge Recovery understands that it is up to us to do the work of recovery; no one can do it for us. With practice, patience, and persistence, recovery is possible for everyone.

For more information on Refuge Recovery, read Noah Levine’s book, “Refuge Recovery. A Buddhist path to recovery from addiction.” You can also learn about refuge recovery at

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