Monday, June 1, 2009

Dharma of Recovery Retreat

Last week I taught my first retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center ( in Marin County. It was a remarkable event, only the second time they’ve had a recovery retreat there. (Last year’s was led by Noah Levine). 36 participants, three teachers, and the beautiful Spirit Rock land.

I was teaching with Heather Sundberg, with whom I’ve taught the Buddhism/12 Step retreat at Vajrapani for the past several years, and John Travis, one of the senior Spirit Rock teachers, and a remarkable Buddhist teacher. (All of our talks from the retreat are now available on Heather and I have developed a hybrid retreat form, using a blend of silent and non-silent practice. The morning starts with an hour sitting from 6:15-7:15, followed by breakfast and open time until 9am. From 9-12:30 we alternate periods of sitting meditation and walking meditation. After the 9am sitting there is a period for questions.

Afternoons have a period of 1 ½ hours for mindful speech exercises in which we offer people 12 Step topics to explore in dyads and small groups. After the silent practice time, these workshops tend to be very powerful. The workshop is followed by a period of guided lovingkindness meditation. The evening has another sitting, a dharma talk, and ends with an hour long 12 Step meeting. The meetings are really remarkable. Because we have people from many different 12 Step communities, there’s a sense of openness and sharing that’s unparalleled in my experience. This year, besides the usual alcohol and drug programs, we had folks from OA, SLAA, Al-Anon, CODA, and probably others. People would read from literature from their home program, which was very educational.

A retreat like this allows openings that are powerful and moving. Several people were in crisis around their addiction and the retreat had a hugely healing effect for them. Many others found themselves opening to deeper meditation experiences than they’d ever had.

Each participant got three teacher interviews over the week, one in a group and two personal interviews. In the brief one-on-one meetings a lot of work gets done. I was very moved by my encounters with the participants. It’s a gift to be able to connect with people when they are in this place of openness.

Heather and I will be teaching another retreat in September. For information, see my website,