February 7, 2012 | Back to: News

Meditation: It's not what you think

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Thinking is what the mind likes to do best. It likes to tell you every single thought it has, an endless stream of chatter that names everything and describes everything even when it's obvious. It likes to judge everything, plan everything; to worry about what has already happened and what might happen in the future. But it seems to enjoy criticizing the best. And we could all use a little medicine for that chronic form of dis-ease.

Noah Levine, Buddhist teacher, speaker and author is coming to Truckee for the second time to teach us about releasing the addiction to the mind. For Goodness Sake in collaboration Sierra Agape Center will bring Noah back for a Dharma talk, “Breaking the Addiction to the Mind,” Friday evening, Feb. 10 followed by a full day workshop entitled, “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness,” Saturday, Feb. 11.

Dharma, put simply, means following the laws of nature, living according to moral precepts flowing out of nature in order to live in harmony and balance with nature and all sentient beings.

Noah Levine did not fit what I thought of as a practicing Buddhist. My mind fixated on an image of an older man with white hair (or none at all), wearing saffron colored robes and speaking with an accent. So when I first laid eyes on Noah, I was a little stunned. And … my mind began to think again. “He has tattoos. How can he be a Buddhist and have all those tattoos?” I told my mind to be quiet as I must to do at least 500 times every time I sit to meditate.

When I heard Noah Levine begin last year's talk by being silent and looking around the room thoughtfully at his audience, greeting us and then grounding us through some breathing and silence, my mind stopped arguing and my heart opened. He then began to speak of his journey from substance addiction and chronic trouble with the law to learning how to quiet his very turbulent mind. He didn't use unreachable vernacular, he told his story as if the 200 people in his audience were his closest friends. And that is one of the foundational concepts of Buddhism, our connectedness. In a culture that subjugates connection in favor of being independent and separate, otherizing each other into isolation, the teachings and philosophies of yoga and Buddhism bring us back to connection with our bodies, our souls and with one another.

In order to be connected from our hearts, Levine teaches us the Buddhist way of working with our minds to subdue the addiction we have to thinking. In the quiet of meditation, we learn to be the watchers and witnesses of the thoughts rather than being carried off by them as if our thoughts were always “the truth.”

When I spoke with Noah Levine by phone, he said one of his main concerns is the confusion around Buddhism and its association for so many with religion. “It is not religion in the usual sense that people tend to think about it because there is no Godhead or higher power,” he said. “However, if religion is thought of as a practice of living according to the moral precepts of loving kindness, generosity, compassion and equanimity, then it is a religion.”

When asked if there is a particular area he felt more called about which to speak Levine said, “All the teachings are so interconnected that they all lead to the same place which is learning mindfulness, awareness and thus learning to quiet the mind in order to find one's way to the heart.” In all the teachings, there are lessons about how we create and protract our suffering through attachment, attachment to our thoughts, things, behaviors, substances and people. Levine's teachings offer simple tools through which anyone can learn how to develop a practice of meditation and cultivate a life path where loving kindness, compassion, generosity and equanimity (living according the laws of nature) inform our behavior.

Substance addiction and recovery based in Buddhism

Levine has started a movement called Refuge Recovery, which he says is “a way of working with addiction from a Buddhist perspective.” He spoke about the success of the 12-step program developed in the 1930s by Bill Wilson in overcoming substance addiction, however, he said, “Many are resistant to the notion of a higher power or God even though it is made clear in the 12-step program that ‘God' can be one's own understanding of God. I agree that a spiritual solution is needed (as the 12-step program teaches), but Refuge Recovery is based in the idea that there is a non-theistic spiritual solution. In addition, the philosophy and the language of the traditional 12-step program and the Big Book can be difficult for a lot of younger people and teenagers to relate to because it was developed in the 1930s.”

Levine's book, “Refuge Recovery” serves as the program's main resource. Levine says there has been a positive response to the Refuge Recovery groups thus far and he continues to put his energy into building more momentum behind the program.

In addition to speaking and teaching world-wide, Noah Levine has published four books: “Dharma Punx,” a memoir; “Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries;” “The Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha's Radical teachings on Forgiveness, Compassion and Kindness” and the latest book on the Buddhist way of recovery for substance addiction, “Refuge Recovery.”

Levine lives in Los Angeles with his wife Amy, their 3-1/2-year-old daughter, Hazel and 2-month-old son, Stevie Ray Strummer, named after Joe Strummer, the lead guitarist from British punk rock band, The Clash.

— Submitted to aedgett@sierrasun.com

Kimball C. Pier
Special to the Sun


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 7, 2012 03:37PM Published Feb 7, 2012 03:20PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.