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Simple Buddhist Concepts for Recovery and Personal Growth

Many years ago a mentor of mine encouraged me to begin to explore simple Buddhist concepts for recovery and personal growth. That started me on a winding path of self discovery through Buddhist, Taoist and other Eastern philosophies that continue today. Below is a brief review of some simple concepts that aren’t typical in Western thought. Even so, they are growing in influence just as practices such as meditation and mindfulness have become more widely accepted.

Everyone experiences highs and lows throughout their lives. But not everyone’s story, self-image, or actions are a reflection of our hardest moments. As people, we are only defined by the current narrative we speak about ourselves and how we live it. Each and every day, we’re given the opportunity to grow and expand beyond what we always have been, allowing ourselves to unfold, heal, and release. If you’ve struggled at some point in your life or feel as if your past actions or choices have kept you from being the person you want to be in this world, following you will find a few key Buddhist practices that may help you achieve this. 

Suffering as Inevitable

All of us will experience pain and suffering, but ongoing suffering is at least partly, our own doing. One concept within Buddhism is that suffering can be overcome. This concept is the key to many intentions behind personal growth, whether you’re wanting to overcome suffering imposed upon you or suffering you impose upon others.

Suffering is an attachment to what is no longer wanted or wanted but no longer available. These may be negative experiences, thoughts or even emotions. When you allow yourself to continue to be attached to these experiences, you continue to empower them within your life. 

Learning to let go of this resistance in your life allows you to view these experiences in neutrality. This means not being swayed or affected by them in a hindering or diminishing way.

Suffering is also about perspective. If you are able to change your perspective of a painful experience, you may be able to dissolve the suffering surrounding it. Learning to find the positive in a situation, or even just the lesson learned, can help you find value in life’s darkest moments. 

Nothing Is Permanent

Life is always changing, flowing, and transforming. The same is true for people. As you move through time, you aren’t the same person as you were ten years ago, a year ago, or even an hour ago. Even if you aren’t aware of the subtle changes happening within you, they’re still happening. This concept can help you learn to release the past, which can sometimes dictate who you believe you are in the present moment. Also, viewing everything in life as temporary teaches you to enjoy the present moment for what it is, a gift. 

Live each moment as if it’s your last. Ask yourself, “what am I willing to let go of in order to embrace this moment?” How would you treat the people in your life? How would you view the world? Being present and allowing life to flow gives you a sense of freedom and empowerment. Stop allowing the past to dictate who you are and letting the fear of the future influence your present actions. 

Nothing Is Lost in The Universe

Everyone’s life has a purpose and experiences a variety of polarizing events. Some are wonderful, magically blissful, and others are painful, draining, and restricting. It’s easy to view these negative experiences as ‘wrong,’ but they are a part of your story, your history at this point. You cannot change them, but you can change from them. What you experience in life is just as important as the sun, the stars, and beyond. It doesn’t matter the life you’ve been dealt – why struggle against history? It matters what you do with it now. Your value is not condemned or diminished because of the failures you’ve experienced, how you’ve suffered or how far you’ve fallen. Your life has purpose. 

Even when you feel lost, some believe that you’re exactly where you need to be in order to awaken to the life lesson that you’ve been guided towards. Growth and expansion can only happen through change. Oftentimes, real change can only happen when you’re pushed out of your comfort zone or stripped from your attachments. (often resulting in suffering or loss.) Learn to look at life and all of the losses or disadvantages you perceive within your life, and recognize how they can motivate you, inspire you, or initiate a desire for positive change.

Embrace Your Life’s Journey

There isn’t a rule book for life and often no true guidance other than what other people have learned from their own experiences. Life isn’t meant to be perfected; there is no competition on who’s life is the greatest. Your life is unique, individual, and expansive. The journey you’ve walked may not look glamorous as someone else’s, but you’ll never truly know what they’ve experienced or gained from the life they’ve dealt with. 

There is meaning beyond the cycle of life and death. The impact and lessons we learn carry through all the lives we touch. That’s the promise if legacy; “plant the seeds even if you never see the trees they become”. Life isn’t perfect, and the lessons our souls crave can only be gained through experience. Learning to let go, accepting your past, and releasing resistance to any suffering you’ve experienced are achievements that few even choose to pursue. Be the exception! Remember that nothing is permanent; life is always changing and transforming. Rather than try to hold onto things that are changing, try instead to fully embrace the moment. Your life has meaning, you have worth! What you’ve experienced is invaluable and could likely have never been gained any other way than it already has.

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is, to some extent chosen. This doesn’t mean it’s your fault. It means you have the power within yourself to step out from the suffering and really live. We all need help with this from time to time in our lives. If you are suffering, get help; whether it be your physician, a professional counselor or someone else. To evolve and grow, it really does take a village. You don’t have to do it alone.


How Buddhism and Addiction Recovery Can Work Together

Many different avenues are available when you’re choosing a path of recovery. Addiction counseling is often a significant help for those looking for a long-term solution. Buddhism and addiction recovery can work together. And they go hand-in-hand more than most people might think.

It’s natural to wonder how Buddhism and addiction recovery connected. While many in the world practice Buddhism as a religion, in fact it is a philosophy and there are many people from other faiths who practice it as such. In the West, Buddhism in this practice is seen as a “life philosophy” or path to whole living. If you are familiar with the 12Steps and Alcoholics Anonymous the idea of a path to whole living may sound very familiar.

No matter how you look at it, though, the basic principals of Buddhism are centered in moderation, acceptance, gratitude, personal accountability and truth. Again, sound familiar?

Anyone can use these principals to address suffering and move from a life of mere existing into one that is spiritually rewarding. You only need to be open to how they work and how they can benefit you. And you do not need to abandon any faith tradition you already hold.

Let’s look at some of these principals to learn more about how Buddhism and addiction recovery work together.

Understanding the Four Noble Truths

At the core of Buddhism, there are “Four Noble Truths of Suffering.” Understanding these noble truths will make it easier to overcome them. In Buddhist teachings, these truths are critical because people who don’t master them will have to live a life repeating them over and over again.

The four noble truths are:

  • Suffering exists
  • Selfishness causes suffering
  • You can end your suffering
  • Following the noble eightfold path is the way to end suffering

When it comes to addiction, it’s safe to say that the ideas of Buddhism point to selfish choices causing you to suffer. But, you can overcome these decisions. It may seem like a harsh reality, and yet, sometimes, that’s what we need to jumpstart treatment.

Finding an End to Suffering and Addiction

The goal of Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment. You could keep the same goal in mind as you work toward addiction recovery. While you don’t necessarily need to reach “enlightenment,” you can reach a place that allows you to embrace freedom from it – so you can move forward in your life.

The eight steps Buddhism uses to end the cycle of suffering include:

  • Right understanding
  • Correct thought
  • Right speech
  • Right conduct
  • Right effort
  • Correct focus
  • Right mindfulness

These steps build off of one another until you enter a state where you can fully understand what you’ve been doing, why you got there, and what you can do to overcome it.

Correct understanding and thought give you the wisdom you need to wrap your mind around your addiction. What started it, what caused it to take over? Knowing the cause of, or what continues to sustain your addiction are significant keys to beginning to heal. These steps can help you to get there.

Right speech, conduct, and effort help you to improve your virtue and individual morality. Correct focus and right mindfulness allow you to remain in the present. These help to keep you from drifting back into old habits or worrying about what’s going to happen.

Buddhism helps you develop a discipline that you can use to fight against your addiction, damaging behaviors, and negative thoughts of the past.

Can I Try Buddhism for Addiction Recovery?

Again, you don’t necessarily have to be a Buddhist to link Buddhism and addiction recovery. Though the teachings can help you. Buddhism can start you on the right path toward beating your addiction once and for all. There are a lot of great books and podcasts available that can help you line these up and get you started. There is even a community support organization that uses the Buddhist 8 Fold Path in support of addiction recovery.

If you want to learn more about Buddhism or addiction recovery and how it can help you, feel free to contact me. Or, visit my page on addiction counseling to learn more about how I can help. On my resources page you can find links to various approaches to addiction recovery; secular, Christian, Buddhist and more.

I understand that practicing Buddhism might feel a little strange to someone who has never done it before. Thanks to the principals of the practice, however, it’s a great model for an addiction recovery program from which most addicts can benefit.