Buddhist Groups In Chicago Area Attract Addicts Seeking A Different Path

By Victoria Kim 10/14/15

Demand for treatments other than AA have been steadily growing.

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A small but growing movement of meetings based on Buddhist philosophy and meditation is helping people in the Chicago area overcome their substance abuse issues in a way traditional programs have not.

Refuge Recovery, which meets in Woodstock, a city about 60 miles northwest of Chicago, is one example. The self-help program based out of the Blue Lotus Temple and Meditation Center uses Buddhist teachings and meditation to guide attendees toward sobriety.

Refuge Recovery was established seven years ago by Noah Levine, the man behind the Dharma Punx movement, a Buddhist teacher and author who felt unfulfilled by the 12-step program. First established as an outpatient program at the Blvd Center in Los Angeles, the program is peer-based and non authoritative. People all over the country can start their own meetings, Levine told The Fix in an interview last year.

“The Buddha himself was almost like a psychologist,” said Levine. “His own understanding was that suffering is the repetitive craving for pleasure, and that is the cause of all human unhappiness. This proving is what people who are addicted experience in a very heightened way. The challenge is to figure out a way to relate to pleasure with a non-attached attitude.”

The growing demand for a different approach to Alcoholics Anonymous, which understandably cannot work for everyone, has yielded alternatives like SMART Recovery, which aims to use rational thinking instead of a higher power to conquer substance abuse. Mindfulness meditation is another alternative, apart from the Buddhism context, which has seen its own successes.

Levine said he has “nothing bad to say” about 12-step programs. It is simply another option for people seeking a different path. Many people work both programs.

Another group is the Heart of Recovery at Chicago’s Shambhala Meditation Center. Peter McLaughlin, who has led Heart of Recovery for several years, explained how meditation works for addicts.

“Feeding an addiction is like scratching an itch. The practice of meditation might slow us down enough that we actually don’t need to do that,” he said. “We see it, we experience it, we feel the pain of the would, but we don’t immediately start scratching away at it.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr