using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Lions Roar : May 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 87 THESE ARE HARD TIMES for memoir, particularly those about drinking and recovery. Memoir still outsells fiction by a wide margin, but the genre has taken a bit of a beating since James Frey’s best seller A Million Little Pieces was unmasked as a souped-up version of his ad- diction story. The bits about rehab are mostly fabrication, it seems. This is too bad, because Frey notwithstanding, one of the few places left you can count on hearing close to the unvarnished truth is in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics stay sober by telling one another their stories— cautionary tales of descent and redemp- tion. By the time most people reach AA they’ve suffered enough shame and degra- dation, and created enough damage, that their stories need no embellishment. Why lie when the raw truth is so compelling? The tempest around Frey is precisely what AA’s founders strove to avoid when they urged its members to maintain ano- nymity at the public level. That way, they reasoned, any individual notoriety wouldn’t affect the fellowship’s collective mission to help suffering alcoholics. This tradition— “ever reminding us to place principles be- fore personalities,” as the AA literature puts it—prompted the au- thor of a new memoir, 12 Steps on Buddha’s Path: Bill, Buddha, and We , to publish anonymously, as “Laura S.” For reasons less clear, she’s gone under even deeper cover: “Laura S.” is a pseudonym. The recent furor might be enough to make any memoirist duck for cover, but here the layers of secrecy are somewhat puzzling. There’s not much in these pages to feel ashamed of: no searing admissions, no poignant confrontations with the damage drinking wrought. Just a laundry list of transgressions that are common among active alco- holics: promiscuous sex, suicide attempts, job loss, family problems, runaway emotions, bad judgment. This is not to say Laura S. didn’t suffer mightily—just that we don’t really know what happened. What’s missing here is the narrative, the anecdotes with details that invite identification—the source of AA’s power to heal. Ms. S. seems less interested in a trip down memory lane, however, than in the material that makes up the bulk of the book: a step- by-step reading of AA’s Twelve Steps to recovery (the “Bill” in the subtitle is AA cofounder Bill Wilson); a point-by-point examination of basic buddhadharma; and a section weaving together the two (“We” refers to the collective support of the AA fellowship and the Buddhist sangha). The focus here is a disquisition of how AA and Buddhism mesh, not the nuts-and-bolts of the author’s practice. We never find out, for example, who her teachers are. Had Laura S. been more self-revealing, she would have given every recovering drunk who sits down to meditate reassurance that the Buddha really, truly knew a lot about addiction and how to spring the trap of desire. Like an alcoholic who’s done it all and lived to tell the tale, the Bud- dha had street cred. He was the real deal. Whatever you believe about his past lives and the Jataka stories, as far as we know the Awakened One didn’t just invent his deep realization under the Bodhi tree. Spiritual awakening is the essence of the AA recovery pro- gram. The Twelve Steps, like the Buddha’s teachings, come from direct experience— what AA’s founding members did to stay sober. Without a connection to a “Higher Power,” they said, recovery is unlikely. Evi- dently, the program works: after 70 years, AA has arguably the highest success rate of any recovery model, and its principles help with a range of addictive behaviors. Still, for some newcomers, the “God-talk” can be a hurdle. Early on, AA was influenced by the Oxford Group, an evangelical Chris- tian fellowship, and although the program evolved along ecumenical lines, the idea of surrendering one’s ego to “God as we under- stood Him” remains. When the Sixties gen- eration started getting sober, many were al- ready practicing meditation, or soon latched on to it as an alternative to the childhood faith they’d abandoned. It was this crew who concluded that AA and Buddhism had a lot in common. Buddhist meditation became an accepted way to practice AA’s 11th Step: “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 it out.” Today, no one doubts it’s possible to stay sober without believing in a Higher Power, at least as traditionally defined. Some substitute “Good Orderly Direction” for God, or the spiritual force of the fel- lowship. Laura S. solved the God problem for herself by changing G.O.D. to “Group of Drunks” and praying to “Honey Pie”—an homage to her favorite Beatles song, about a music-hall star. She en- visioned Honey Pie as a “fluffy, warm, older woman”—the better for intimate chats, it seems. (This was before Laura S. discovered Bud- dhism, though Honey Pie seems to live on in her heart.) Laura S. is not the first author to parse AA’s steps in light of Bud- dhism, or to link recovery and meditation. Dharma teacher Mel Ash (The Zen of Recovery) and Bill Alexander (Cool Water: Alcohol- ism, Mindfulness, and Ordinary Recovery), a workshop leader, both At AA, the Buddha’s Got Cred 12 STEPS ON BUDDHA’S PATH: Bill, Buddha, and We By Laura S. Wisdom Publications, 2006; 176 pp., $12.95 (paper) REVIEWED BY JOAN DUNCAN OLIVER ILLUSTRATIONBYMOLLYNUDELL