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2020, The Year of the Breath

Meet LOTUS Tribe member Jenny as she takes you on her journey of how meditation and breathing has changed her life.

I never knew I could be as un-social as I have been this past year. I have my little family, my video chats and group texts, and of course I check in with social media daily, probably too much, but I’m home almost all the time for the first time in my life since childhood. My car sits in the driveway for days as evident by it’s collection of snow, pollen, leaves, or cat foot prints, depending on the season.

I used to go out a lot for someone who works as a stay-at-home-mom. I’d send the kids off to school and then run to the grocery, yoga, volunteer, meet other moms for coffee... everyday was something.

I used to go to meetings too. I’m a person in recovery from alcoholism. In the beginning, I’d hit 3-5 meetings a week but in recent years, I’m doing a cool one or two a week. I spent many years determining this balance of meetings and life.

I started recovery as a 12-stepper but swayed toward a Buddhist recovery program around my four year soberversary. Buddhism appealed to me since high school but I never pursued it till sobriety. Successful people in recovery encouraged me to find a spirituality, ANY spirituality, and for me Buddhism was it!

Buddhism unlocked a new level in my teetotaling game. The twelve steps taught me that faith and belief could save me from my own thinking, but I wanted to know more about this thinking. Where did it come from? Where does it go? Can I control my thoughts? I read books and articles by Buddhist teachers like the Dalai Lama and Jack Kornfield. I heard about a Buddhist recovery meeting over an hour away in Wilmington. I made the trip to the city weekly for about three months.

This meeting really kicked off my mediation practice. It was small but I met people with the same spiritual interests as me and that was incredibly encouraging. Wilmington was too far of a drive for me to continue and maintain a good balance for meetings and family life, so I studied at home with more books, podcasts, articles and a new discovery: meditation apps! Through free apps I was able to explore and practice all types of meditation. I continued reading and listening to audiobooks and dharma talks by Tara Brach, Sharon Salzburg, Noah Levine, Josh Korda, and more.

Over a year later, I was given an opportunity to begin my own Buddhist recovery meeting with a local non-profit advocacy group in Elkton called Voices of Hope. They paved the way for me to start the meeting near my home at a rehab. Voices of Hope promoted it and cheered me on the whole way.

The rehab that hosted us could not have been more gracious. During this time, I met dozens of local people in recovery and patients at the rehab. I started the meeting so that I could find people like me, people who want to study and practice Buddhism and apply it to their own recovery. I wanted an in-person Sangha, so I created it. Throughout this, I tried to never think of myself as anything but a student. Even though I started the meeting and most often led the meeting, being forever-a-student keeps me open and curious, and most importantly, keeps my ego in check.

As often as possible, I attended day retreats in Philadelphia and Lancaster with other people in the Buddhist recovery community. When I quit drinking, I thought I had found my people, but now with all my new meditation friends, I felt like I had REALLY found my people.

In January 2020 I attended a day retreat with Hugh Byrne. This began my relationship with Chestertown Insight Meditation Community. I was delighted to meet other practicing Buddhists who were not in recovery from addiction. These are regular people just perusing their spiritual passions and not necessarily to save their own life. But my attendance to those meetings were cut short by Covid.

The Chestertown meetings halted by mid March 2020. My meeting at the rehab closed too. In fact all meetings in all recovery arenas closed. For the first time in seven plus years I wasn’t checking in with people in recovery face-to-face on a regular basis. It was just me and my own mind now, and no one knew how long this would last. Eventually online meetings started but there were weeks of pause and wondering “what’s next?”

I still had my meditation practice though. Breathe. Check in with the body. Watch what the mind is doing. Respond, rather than react. Sense any tension, give that area what it needs. Nurture. Breathe.

Quarantine continued. We all stayed home. Breathe. News of civil unrest came. Heart wrenching collisions between the police and Black Lives Matter. Friends are taking sides online and pointing fingers. Breathe. George Floyd couldn’t breathe. The terror of police violence and rioting. Breathe. 10,000 dead, 50,000 dead, 100,000 dead from a respiratory illness. They can’t breathe. They’re on ventilators. We don’t have enough ventilators. I’m crying. I feel alone and I’m afraid. All I can do is breathe. Go back to my practice. One day at a time. One breathe at a time. 2020 - the year of the breath. There were moments when I wanted to drink, to escape, to be obliterated, but I didn’t leave. I just stayed and breathed. Those moments of craving passed like all moments. Buddhism and meditation has taught me the impermanence of all things, good and bad.

Today, now one year later, vaccinations are rolling out and I breathe a sigh of relief. I practice patience as restrictions are eased and safety increases. My recovery sangha began meeting again at a new outdoor location a few months ago, and with the exception of a handful of snowy frigid days, has continued to meet in-person to discuss Buddhism and meditation. We sit six feet apart and respect the current restrictions.

My meditation is daily - sometimes big, sometimes small. I do what I can with two kids in virtual school and a household to run. Meditation supports mindfulness, and mindfulness supports me. This is the practice that saved me this past year and I’m betting it will save me for the rest of my life. I think we are all on some level of addiction. We are all craving something whether it be a material item, a taste, a feeling, an achievement, and if we also want less suffering, practicing mindfulness along with compassion is key. I preach but I’m not perfect. (Remember that part about ego and forever-a-student?) It’s natural to fear violence and the unknown, to be sad and afraid, but today it doesn’t send me to a drink. I can still breathe.

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