One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps
One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps

One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps

by Kevin Griffin

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Overview

One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps by Kevin Griffin

Merging Buddhist mindfulness practices with the Twelve Step program, this updated edition of the bestselling recovery guide One Breath at a Time will inspire and enlighten you to live a better, healthier life.

Many in recovery turn to the Twelve Steps to overcome their addictions, but struggle with the spiritual program. But what they might not realize is that Buddhist teachings are intrinsically intertwined with the lessons of the Twelve Steps, and offer time-tested methods for addressing the challenges of sobriety.

In what is considered the cornerstone of the most significant recovery movement of the 21st century, Kevin Griffin shares his own extraordinary journey to sobriety and how he integrated the Twelve Steps of recovery with Buddhist mindfulness practices. With a new foreword by William Alexander, the author of Ordinary Recovery, One Breath at a Time takes you on a journey through the Steps, examining critical ideas like Powerlessness, Higher Power, and Moral Inventory through the lens of the core concepts of Buddhism—the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, mindfulness, loving-kindness, and more. The result is a book that presents techniques and meditations for finding clarity and awareness in your life, just as it has for thousands of addicts and alcoholics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781635651805
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 02/06/2018
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 98,482
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Kevin Griffin is the author of One Breath at a Time, Recovering Joy, and A Burning Desire. A longtime Buddhist practitioner and Twelve Step participant, he is a leader in the mindful recovery movement and one of the founders of the Buddhist Recovery Network. Griffin teaches nationally in Buddhist centers, treatment centers, and academic settings. He specializes in helping people in recovery connect with meditation and a progressive understanding of the Twelve Steps.

Read an Excerpt

Part One

SURRENDER

Steps One through Three can be characterized as the Surrender Steps. First, a surrender to the truth of our disease and our inability to control it; then surrendering to a Higher Power, seeing that we will have to depend on something besides our own will and knowledge to stay sober and develop spiritually.

No one wants to surrender. The word itself implies failure and vanquishment on the field of battle. But as we enter the process, we often find that it's the battle itself--with drugs and alcohol, with the world, with ourselves--that has crippled us in many ways. In this case, surrender becomes preferable to going on fighting.

Surrender is a traditional element of every spiritual journey. Before we can begin to realize our potential, we must break out of limiting concepts of who and what we are and what we think is possible. This may mean giving up long-held beliefs and comfortable behavior patterns. Cynicism or fantasy, fear or control, anger or grief--many of us cling to these patterns and others. As we begin to surrender, we see that we will have to let go of these destructive habits of mind before we can move toward freedom.

The Twelve Steps are a great tool in this movement. While many people tend to think of spirituality as looking up, toward the heights of perfection or saintliness, the Steps remind us that we must first look down, into the darkness of our souls, and see and accept our shadow before we attain an honest and authentic spiritual life. Until we explore the difficult side of our nature, our spiritual work will always lack depth and integrity. Our hearts and minds are complex and mysterious; they can only be known through the heroic work that begins with surrender.

STEP ONE

"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol; that our lives had become unmanageable."

In Twelve Step parlance, we "work" the Steps. There's effort involved, action--we're not just thinking about them or meditating on them--and the work of Step One is quitting drinking--or drugging, overeating, gambling, or whatever activity brought us to this point. We don't just "admit" we've got a problem, we do something about it. Often what precedes that action is what's called a "moment of clarity," that brief flash where we suddenly see the truth of our situation. In that moment we can no longer hide from the suffering we are experiencing--and causing. The light of awareness shines, sometimes blindingly, on our devastated lives.

In Buddhism, this moment of clarity is called "Right View," and is the first stage of the Eightfold Path--the Buddha's practical blueprint for spiritual development. With Right View we more generally see the truth of suffering--our own and that of others, and we also start to develop a vision of the possibility of freedom.

For me, a "moment of clarity" and "Right View" both are pointing to a kind of seeing, something visual. To bring this metaphor together, the type of meditation that I practice and teach is called Vipassana, usually translated as "insight meditation." Vipassana means to "see clearly." Rather than understanding wisdom as an intellectual process, this language points to the senses, grounding our understanding of the truth in the body, rather than the mind. Right View means the blinders are taken away and we see the truth clearly; a moment of clarity is when the lies we've lived with fall away and the stark reality of our disease is revealed to us. This vision is the beginning of recovery and the beginning of the path of awakening.

A BOTTOM

JUNE 6, 1985

Every alcoholic or addict reaches a bottom, a moment when the misery of addiction becomes so overwhelming that it's impossible to ignore any longer. Unfortunately, for me it took another three years after the Cambridge wedding to reach that point. My bottom didn't come in one of my many blackouts or incidents of driving drunk; it didn't come during the violent fights with my girlfriend in my twenties, or when I was arrested for possession of methadrine at nineteen. It came quietly in my own moment of clarity at age thirty-five.

I was standing in the doorway of the Red Robin, a restaurant in a suburban L.A. mini-mall. My friend Steve was making a final trip out to his car after packing up his drums. The last-call lights in the bar shone brightly as the waitress cleaned the semicircular red leatherette booths and blew out the teardrop candles.

"Now I remember why I don't like playing in bars," said Steve. He carried his snare drum case in one hand, his stick bag in the other. "I hate drunks." He waved his sticks toward three stragglers hanging on their barstools. The one on the end was arguing with the bartender about getting one more drink. The other two were squabbling about a spilled beer, which one of them was wiping off with the other's sweater.

I tried to conceal my own state of inebriation, shamefully aware of the cold, green bottle of Heineken I was holding in my hand. I had no idea this would be my last drink of alcohol.

We had just been fired from the gig because I'd tried to throw an unrehearsed band together on a moment's notice out of desperation. Steve, a drummer good enough to do studio work in L.A.'s highly competitive recording scene, had only been playing with me as a favor.

When Steve said he hated drunks, he wasn't talking about me, but I still heard it that way.

For a long time I'd been telling myself that drinking wasn't my problem. Neither was smoking pot, which I did as often as I drank. No, my problems were women, money, depression; my lack of spiritual attainment; my failure as a musician. If only I could solve these issues, I thought, the drinking and drugs wouldn't be a problem.

But I couldn't solve these problems, and they'd only increased over the past three years. After the wedding in Cambridge I ran off with a New Age guru who promised instant enlightenment. After three months of "living on faith" with him in a mad crisscrossing of North America, I bailed out-- losing faith not only in him, but in myself. He had insisted I stop practicing Buddhism, so even that support was lost for a time. While living on the streets of Venice Beach, I fell back more and more into drinking and taking drugs.

Finally I found a job, and then another band. I moved in with a new girlfriend, Margaret. But soon she was accusing me of being an alcoholic. One day I promised her I would stop. That night the drummer in the band got me stoned in the parking lot of the club we were playing. I wasn't drinking, so I thought it was okay. Before long, though, with a beer here and a shot there, I was back to daily drinking, along with the pot.

Margaret persisted in her accusations. Angry with her, I began an affair with the waitress at the Red Robin, and after a few months my life had lost all semblance of sanity: every night I drove Margaret's car for an hour to the Red Robin where I drank beer, smoked pot, snorted cocaine, and made out with the waitress in her blue Corvette on my breaks. Oh yeah, I also played old rock 'n' roll songs for a bored audience.

And all the while I was thinking that I was a spiritual person.

When the band wanted to go on the road, I quit and tried to hold the same gig with Steve on drums and some pickup musicians. We went in without rehearsing and quickly got fired.

Although I was still unconvinced that drugs and drinking were my real problem, it seemed like my whole life had become too much of a mess. I had to stop.

I was lucky. When I woke up the morning after the Red Robin, my hangover was slight but my resolve was strong. That first surrender--the first of many--seemed effortless. I'd finally given up fighting the idea that I was an alcoholic. I felt the great burden of addiction and compulsion lifted and a confidence in my decision. Somehow I knew it would stick. This was one of those mysterious moments of grace that come to so many recovering alcoholics. I had no idea where my life was headed, but I knew instinctively that I was going in the right direction, that I'd be okay.

I was wary of joining a Twelve Step program--I wasn't much of a joiner--but I felt that it would be unlucky at least, dangerous at worst, to refuse to at least check it out. While I felt confident in my commitment to stop drinking and using, I'd seen myself through enough binge cycles to know that there's always the possibility of falling back.

Still, a couple of weeks passed before I went to my first Twelve Step gathering, and then only because Margaret was going. I shook no one's hand and didn't raise my own hand; I took no phone numbers and spoke to no one but Margaret. I was there; that was going to have to be enough for now. A banner with the Steps printed on it hung by the podium where the speakers stood. I read through them, trying to figure out if the program made any sense. I saw Step Eleven: "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him." So, these people were into meditation, too. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Meditation was something I trusted. I first heard about it when the Beatles got involved with Hinduism in the 1960s, and anything the Beatles did was good enough for me. I didn't get around to actually learning to meditate for years, but when I did my addictive impulses served me well for once, as I stuck religiously to the twice-daily routine. Soon I discovered Buddhism and embarked on a series of meditation retreats, culminating in the three-month silent intensive. The irony of my arrival at the retreat with a terrific hangover was lost on me at the time.

In the years since, things had slipped a little, what with the drinking, drugs, and general disaster of my life. But now I got back to meditating more regularly. These Twelve Step people didn't seem very spiritual, really; for one thing, they couldn't sit still during the meetings. And they were always talking. Buddhists are very good at stillness and silence, and that's what I thought of as spiritual. But the alcoholics did seem kind of happy, and they knew how to stay sober. I decided to take the helpful information and try to integrate it into what I thought was my more sophisticated Buddhist practice.

POWERLESSNESS OVER ALCOHOL AND DRUGS

At that first gathering I bought a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous (known as the Big Book) and began to study the Steps. Step One, "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol; that our lives had become unmanageable," took time to sink in.

I'd always worked at controlling my drinking and drugging, often counting drinks, even counting hits of weed. In one band I was known as "Mr. Toke" because of my habit of stopping rehearsal to take a single drag off my little pipe. It always seemed to me that if I was able to moderate and (usually) control how I smoked dope and drank, it meant I didn't have a real problem.

Because I was often working at night and didn't have the constitution to drink constantly, I rarely drank during the day. But, right after breakfast I would smoke pot to get myself ready to write songs. Writing and practicing the guitar, I would maintain my high until dinnertime, then stop. I wouldn't smoke again until after the first set of my band's gig. That way I'd have the energy to get through the night. After the second or third set I'd start drinking beer, keeping close track of how many I'd had and timing it so that I wouldn't be too drunk to play the last set. After the gig, if there were any kind of party, I'd drink Tequila with my beer or snort cocaine if it was around, always punctuating everything with more pot.

After getting sober I began to see that the very need to try to control showed my powerlessness. If I didn't have a problem, I wouldn't have to think about controlling--counting, pacing, mixing proper proportions. And then there were the times when I didn't control myself, nights when a feeling came over me like a tidal wave, a craving so strong there seemed no choice but to drown myself in drink. And I would, going wild in a kind of hysteria until I'd blacked out, like the night at the wedding in Cambridge. This happened many times over my twenty year drinking career. Afterward I'd be wiped out and need days to recover. Then I'd start the cycle of control, pacing, mixing again.

One friend went through a similar cycle. A bright, stylish woman in her late fifties, Paulette's son had died in a drunk-driving accident some years ago. While she'd been a serious meditator and worked with her grief in various groups and workshops, she'd never dealt with her own alcoholism. Recently she wrote me an e-mail about her struggle. "Most of the time I have no trouble with alcohol. Occasionally, something happens and I drink with a feeling of omnipotence and abandon. Such was last evening."

"Omnipotence and abandon," that's just how it feels--until you do something you regret. She goes on. "At a party last night, under the influence of too much champagne, I revealed someone's secret to those who should not have heard it. So a huge can of worms is open at my doing . . . Over my life, there have been far too many mornings filled with remorse and no memory. Even of last night, there are things I don't recall, but I completely recall this inappropriate secret revelation--and the tone and attitude with which it was done--and I just ache with self-loathing and guilt and shame. I realize I must not drink."

This note captures so well the darkness and despair of a bottom. When Paulette shared this with me, I felt strangely happy because I could see what she couldn't: that rather than a terrible failure, what she was experiencing was the beginning of a new life. With grace and luck, things would only get better from here.

DENIAL AND PURIFICATION

Denial is what keeps us from taking the First Step. Until we acknowledge that we have a problem--that indeed we are powerless--we can't even begin to recover.

Table of Contents

Foreword viii

Preface x

Introduction xii

Part 1 Surrender 5

Step 1 "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol; that our lives had become unmanageable.":Meditation Exercise: Vipassana 28

Step 2 "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." 30

Step 3 "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." 51

Part 2 Investigation and Responsibility 89

Step 4 "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.": Meditation Exercise: Noting The Hindrances 116

Step 5 "Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." 119

Step 6 "Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character." 137

Step 7 "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings." 157

Step 8 "Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all." 179

Step 9 "Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others." 190

Part 3 Fulfillment 207

Step 10 "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it." 225

Step 11 "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.": Meditation Exercise: Cultivating The Wholsome: Mudita and Karuna 248

Step 12 "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs." 250

Back to Step One 277

Afterword 279

Gratitude and Appreciation 282

Credits 284

Introduction

Introduction

I knew when I started writing this book that I wanted it to follow the Twelve Steps, exploring them one by one in a linear way. As it unfolds, nothing else is linear about the book. I write about the distant past, the near past, and the present whenever they serve to illustrate the ideas I want to talk about. My driving questions were, How does this Step relate to Buddhism and its practices, and what practical use can be made of these connections? Some of the connections surprised even me; the book is a true exploration in this way-I didn't follow a map and I didn't know how I would get to my destination. So, for instance, I find myself talking about the first Twelve Step gathering I ever attended in Step Five because Step Five involves sharing.

One of the things that I explore is the language in the Steps. Most of the chapters do this in one way or another, trying to take apart the meaning of terms like powerlessness or defects of character and put them back together again from a Buddhist perspective.

Anticipating that many of my readers are new to Buddhism, I have tried to cover many of the foundation elements of the teachings as I understand them. Again, because I'm following the Steps and not the Buddhist teachings as a framework, this isn't linear either.
In the spirit of nonlinearity, I start near the end of the story . . .
* * *
Two weddings
July 3, 1997
I'm rushing down the flagstone path, straightening my yellow-striped tie, when James comes out from behind the tall hedge to catch me.
"Are you okay?" he asks. He puts his hands on my shoulders and looks me in the eye.
"Fine," I say, although I'm actually in something ofa daze.
"Okay, take a breath," he says.
I do as he suggests. My heart starts to slow, my shoulders un-hunch.
James leads me around the hedge onto the patio of the Brazil Building. We're in Tilden Park, in the wooded hills above Berkeley. We're here for a wedding. Mine. And I'm late.
Beyond us is a lawn, which falls away down a hill to the botanical garden. I turn around to look at the crowd and smile broadly. There are the faces of my family, the old one and the new one: two of my brothers, their families, and my soon-to-be in-laws; a group of Buddhist friends who attend the local meditation group with me; and lots of friends from Twelve Step programs who have come to support me on this remarkable day.

James, who has been my meditation teacher and mentor and has fostered my own development as a teacher, is to my right, ready to perform the ceremony. My best man, to my left, is Stephen, my sponsor, who has seen me through the last twelve years of recovery, guiding me through the Steps and through the building of a new life, a life which, on this sunny early July afternoon, includes an event I'd doubted could ever happen.

The piano begins the Pachelbel Canon, and Rosemary and her father emerge. I remember James' admonition to breathe. This is a moment I want to be present for; I feel my heart beating rapidly, the glow of joy in my chest, the sun above the building warming my face. I see the crowd following Rosemary's steps toward me. She looks as giddy as I feel, and as beautiful as a bride could ever look.

With all the preparation for this day, I didn't expect the sheer happiness that's overtaken me. It's happening; it's happening now, this brave, crazy, inevitable, surprising moment.
We recite our vows- "To hold you dear and to be worthy of your love"-and James leads a Buddhist meditation on lovingkindness, asking everyone to focus kind thoughts on us. "May Rosemary and Kevin be joyful, filled with peace. May their joy touch all beings." And then he asks people to spread this joy outward to all beings, just as the Buddhist sutras suggest. He rings a small Tibetan cymbal and the sound vibrates in the stillness.

Everyone moves inside for the reception, a whirl of food and conversation. There's chicken, which I eat, and wine, which I don't drink. After dinner, a group of my musician friends start to play. Three songs into the set, I join them, changing from my blue suit coat to a shiny lamé jacket, strapping on my Stratocaster and launching into "Blue Suede Shoes." Rosemary twirls across the dance floor, laughing and glowing. This is the happiest day of my life.

May 1982
Another wedding-that of the manager of a rehearsal studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The leader of the band I'm playing for owns the studio, so I'm invited partly as a guest and partly as free entertainment.
We're packed into a suburban banquet room, and the soup comes around.
"Does this have beef stock?" I ask the waiter.
"Yes, it does," he says.
"I'll pass," I say. I've been a vegetarian for five years, and it's important to me to maintain this purity. There's plenty of wine, so I pour myself a glass to keep from feeling too hungry while I wait for the next course.
I'm a bit uncomfortable here, since I know hardly anyone. I have another glass of wine, then go looking for a friend who usually has some pot. Without food, the wine is getting me pretty high, and some pot will take the edge off that and help me slow down drinking.
I find Joey out on the patio.
"Hey, man, have you got anything to smoke?" Two other guys are with him.
"I just finished my last joint," he says. "Sorry."
"Is there any more around?"
"I don't know," says Joey. "I'll check it out-hey, nice jacket."
"Thanks." He hasn't seen me in my tan sport coat, brown slacks, and peach tie before. They're left over from a disco band I played for.
I've never seen him dressed for a wedding before, either, and he looks a little odd, his long, straggly hair hanging over the collar of a blue undertaker's suit. Joey's father owns a funeral home, and his sons drive the hearses and help out around the place. Today they're lending some of the limos to the wedding party.

I go back to my table just as they bring around the main course: beef stroganoff. The noodles are drowned in the meat and the salad is all iceberg lettuce. Not even close to organic. I pour some more wine and slather some butter on a roll. I'm getting edgy, not eating anything substantial, being in this alien environment.

Just one season has passed since I left the fall retreat: three months of silent meditation, an intensive training based on the traditional monastic Rains Retreat held each year in Asia. By the end I felt I'd been washed clean, my meditation had become luminous, fluid, lighter than air. I still practice two hours every day and often get to that same place of vast stillness. Only, today I skipped my afternoon sitting to get here, so I'm not quite as serene as usual. I haven't been drinking much or smoking much dope since the retreat. I've always told myself that as my spiritual life deepened, drinking and drugs wouldn't be a problem anymore. Not that I ever admitted they were a problem.

The musicians are setting up, and I figure I better get my guitar in tune. I stagger up to the stage.
"Where do you want me to stand?" I ask Chris, the bandleader.
"Uh, I don't know," he says, as he runs a wire behind the drum set. He looks at me oddly. "There's a lot of guitar players here, so maybe you should take the night off."
"But I thought you needed me to play lead."
"Don't worry about it," he says.

I'm a little disappointed and surprised, but I go back to the table and have some more wine. The band plays through a set of old Beatles and Beach Boys songs while I continue to drink.
During the next set a conga line starts, and I slip behind the bride, who is quite attractive. I enjoy holding her hips as we slither around the room. I think I'm a little drunk now, but I can tell she likes me. Of course, I probably shouldn't hit on her right now. Things begin to get a little foggy, and the bar starts charging for drinks. I'm broke, so I sidle up, trying to find someone who'll spot me a five. There's a half-drunk cocktail no one's attending to on the end of the bar. I look around, then pick it up and guzzle it. It tastes like crap-it's got gin in it, which I hate-but it's pretty strong.
"Kev, whatcha doin'?" It's Joey beside me.
"Buy me a beer," I say.
"We gotta get going," he says.
"Come on," I say. "Just one beer."
He pays for the beer and I take a big gulp. The wine isn't mixing so well with the cocktail and the beer, but I manage to get it down.
Joey drags me down the steps where the bride and bridegroom are seeing people off.
"Hey," I say to them. "What sign are you guys?" I figure the bride as a water sign, compatible with me.

They laugh as though I've made some joke and Joey pulls me away. Everyone seems to be treating me as if I were wearing polka-dot pants.
We get in Joey's white limousine and head back toward Cambridge. My stomach's queasy as a squabble breaks out among the wine, beer, and gin.
"Where's my beer?" I ask Joey.
"You finished it," he says.
We come onto the bridge across the Charles going into Cambridge. I'm really nauseous now.
"Roll down my window!" I shout.
The window goes down and I lean out of the car. I vomit down the side of the sparkling white limousine.

Hours later I wake up, still dressed in the tan sport coat and brown slacks. My peach tie is still on, though loosened. I'm lying on my futon. I open my eyes. Something smells awful. Then I see it: I'm covered in vomit. I've thrown up in my sleep. Gingerly, I move to get up; then the shattering headache explodes. I want to fall back onto the bed but the pillow is also coated in puke. I roll over, trying not to touch anything. I go into the bathroom, strip, and turn on the shower. I choke down four aspirin and climb in the steaming water. Vague memories of the night pop up and I groan at the images, each one more humiliating than the last.

I think of Jimi Hendrix, who vomited in his sleep, choked, and died. That could have happened to me. Only I wouldn't be remembered as the greatest guitar player in the world, just some guy who never got it together.

If only they'd had a vegetarian option on the menu, I think, or if only Joey had had some pot.
Who, me?

It's amazing the lengths of convoluted thinking to which an alcoholic will go to avoid the truth. Getting drunk, hitting on the bride, blacking out, and waking up in your own vomit is not "normal" drinking. But on that day I wrote it all off as a small glitch.

Although I'd been practicing meditation for four years, and Buddhist meditation for two, I was still far from the serenity that Buddhism promised. The blind spots in my spiritual development were glaring-or at least should have been. Something wasn't falling into place for me, and I couldn't see what it was.

Over the next three years I would fall back, ending up lost in a fog of booze and drugs, barely hanging on to the semblance of a meditation practice, much less a spiritual life. I would flounder in my career, bumble through relationships, and finally lose all sense of integrity and morality.

Still, the idea that I was an alcoholic and addict was unfathomable to me. My associations with those words-a drunk collapsed in an alley, a junkie with a needle hanging out of his arm-seemed much more extreme than my case. I kept telling myself I was going to get it together in my own way, that some magical event like rock stardom or enlightenment would save me. Of course, it didn't.

Putting it together
It may be more common that people come to meditation and Buddhism after working with the Twelve Steps, rather than, like me, practicing Buddhism first. The Eleventh Step encourages people to make meditation a regular part of their lives, and Buddhism is known for its effective meditation techniques. Also, Buddhism offers an alternative to the Judeo-Christian slant found in the Twelve Step literature. Issues of God and faith, of prayer and powerlessness can alienate people who have never had a religious training, or who have rejected their religious upbringing.

As I began a life without drugs and booze, I joined a support group where I had to make sense of the Steps for myself. At first I tried to suspend my discomfort with the Christian tenor of the literature. I saw that the authors of the Twelve Steps used their Protestant background very skillfully in building a spiritual program, at times touching the deepest meanings of this tradition. But, finally, that wasn't a tradition that touched my heart, and I had to bring an authentic understanding of the Steps into alignment with my Buddhist training and beliefs.
At first it seemed that admitting my alcoholism didn't fit with my search for the perfection of nirvana. Digging around in my past by doing the Fourth Step inventory seemed opposed to the idea of living fully in the present. Going to meetings and talking about my pain and the difficulties of sobriety seemed negative and self-indulgent.

Over time, though, I found that the ideas behind the Steps have parallels in the Buddhist tradition, and that using the two together brought a deeper experience to my Buddhist meditation and a more satisfying, integrated understanding to the Steps.

What makes Buddhism and the Twelve Steps so compatible? The Buddha said that the cause of suffering is desire, and the Twelve Steps try to heal people from desire gone mad: addiction. This connection is the gateway into integrating the two systems. Both ask you to look at the painful realities of life, to understand them, and to use this understanding as the foundation for developing peace, wisdom, faith, and compassion. Both systems culminate in an "awakening" or "enlightenment."

Their respective means may seem very different at times: for the Twelve Steps, support groups, dependence on a higher power, writing inventory; for Buddhism, sitting meditation, developing mindfulness and lovingkindness, following the precepts. But I have found that as I learned more about both traditions, the deeper means and purposes of each came into harmony: understanding powerlessness helps me let go in my meditation practice; investigating my mind in meditation helps me do inventory work; listening to the suffering of others in self-help groups develops my heart of compassion. This book begins an exploration of the many connections between these two traditions, and I hope it will help you to develop the understanding and tools to harmonize them for yourself.

I believe that even if you are not an alcoholic or addict, these tools can serve your meditation practice. The stories of alcoholism and drug addiction can even be thought of as dramatizations of common, subtler behaviors and mind states which meditators often see in their practice. The integration of the Steps with Buddhism can still be applied skillfully to these behaviors and states.

Who needs it?
Although my writing is often directed toward the person in recovery or the Buddhist practitioner, the heart of this book is the timeless truth that speaks to every spiritual seeker. Beyond the needs of recovery, the Twelve Steps can be seen as an archetypal journey, just as the Buddhist teachings seek to solve the human dilemma of suffering.

Not everyone will feel the need to combine these traditions. As a practitioner and teacher of Buddhist meditation I've met many people who didn't need anything more than those teachings to fulfill their spiritual lives. In my years of recovery, I've also met many people whose spiritual aspirations were completely fulfilled by the Steps. I admire and respect these people. But I needed a strong dose of both remedies to find fulfillment. I need the discipline and depth of concentration and mindfulness which Buddhist practice has brought me; I need the honest self-appraisal and practical tools for living that I learned in recovery. I need the wisdom of the Buddha to absorb the realities and mysteries of life; and I need the voices of a thousand alcoholics and addicts to keep me on track today.

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One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
fwnation More than 1 year ago
I have believed for a long time that 12 steppers will reach a point in the recovery process where a deeper look at "Living the Spiritual life is not a Theory, we have to live it" found in AA literature. This book provides a means to do that for those who use Buddhist Practice as thier Higher Power. Although not conference approved, it is used as a text for groups who need a non-theistic approach to the 12 steps. It will not replace the Big Book, or the Steps, or a Sponsor but is a terrific way to deepen Spiritual Growth. Kevin Griffin is to be congratualted both for his understanding of the AA program and Buddhist Dharma.
SugarTorch More than 1 year ago
I didn't know when I bought this book that it was aligned with the Twelve Step Program of AA. I thought it was just on Buddhism. When I started to read even just the first few pages I realized I'd stumbled onto a great book with great insight. It's pointed out that we all have addictions and we can all get something from the AA program if there is something in our lives that has a grip on us. It could even be as simple as negative thinking patterns - that's an addiction though not a physical one. This books is beautifully written by someone who didn't know he could write. Well he does, and very well without ego or preaching but with understanding and sharing. If you're interested at all in Buddhism and meditation, this is a good book to read. Its simple language and guidance allows the reader to open their mind to ways to adapt the teachings to their own life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although I've only scratched the surface of this book by Kevin Griffin, it has added new dimension and insights to strengthen my AA program. It complements the principles I've embraced over the last 20+ years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoy this book.