With so much to learn from Johny Widell, Turning Point of Addison County’s Emergency Department Recovery Coach Supervisor, I wanted to kick off our first newsletter by interviewing Johny about his path to recovery and how he got to Turning Point.
Me: What brought you to Turning Point Center of Addison County?
Johny: I moved to Vermont from New Mexico to become a part of a new Zen Buddhist intentional community called Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community.
Me: What made you interested in Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community?
Johny: I practiced daily meditation for about 12 years prior to moving to Vermont. I was practicing as part of the local Sangha at Upaya Zen Center in Sante Fe, New Mexico and really enjoyed the simple connection I made there. Brian Byrnes, who was then the Vice Abbott at Upaya, was starting an affiliate in Vermont and asked me to be one of the first residents.
Me: What does Upaya mean? What is Sangha?
Johny: Upaya is a Sanskrit word, often translated as “Skillful Means.” It refers to the Buddhist concept that practitioners can use their own techniques or methods appropriate to their own situation to bring about liberation. Maezumi Roshi, who founded the White Plum lineage that Upaya and Bread Loaf are both part of, told his successors that it was up to them to adapt the Zen he had brought from Japan and figure out what North American Zen would look like. U.S. Zen should be different from Japanese Zen. Zen in New Mexico should be different from Zen in Los Angeles.
It’s the name Roshi Joan Halifax gave to her Zen center, which trains thousands of people in a setting that is, in many ways, more like a university than a monastery, although it certainly has elements of both. At Bread Loaf, we practice what we call “kitchen table Zen,” a little less formal with an emphasis on inclusion of folks at the margins, especially folks affected by poverty and economic injustice. That’s our own skillful means. Sangha just means our community of wise friends on the path.
Me: How did you get involved in recovery work?
Johny: A good friend of mine, a member of the Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community local sangha, asked me to help facilitate the Recovery Dharma group that was meeting at the Turning Point Center of Addison County. I am a person in recovery, and I was thrilled to be involved in a group especially for those seeking a Buddhist approach to recovery. After a year or so of co-facilitating the Tuesday night mindful recovery group, I was asked to attend the recovery coaching academy and started doing some recovery coaching. Then I attended the training for recovery coaching in the emergency department and helped start Turning Point’s Recovery Coaching in the Emergency Department program at Porter Hospital, which is a partnership of the Turning Point Center of Addison.
Me: Tell me about Recovery Dharma
Johny: Recovery Dharma uses Buddhist Practices and Principles to heal the suffering of addiction. We don’t ask people to believe in anything other than their own potential to transform and heal.
Me: Can you tell me a bit about some of these practices? I have always been fascinated with Buddhist practices but have struggled with meditation through the years.
Johny: It’s about embracing the unfolding process that we are all a part of. It’s about living fully each moment and appreciating our lives.
Me: How do you meditate? I’ve always had a hard time focusing and was taught to clear your mind and any time your mind drifts to a thought just come back to clearing your mind. How do you do it?)
Johny: Meditation can be different for everyone, for me it’s about being in the moment and getting myself centered, just feeling my feet on the floor and being grounded. It’s not about pushing away thoughts. But we create a little space from the constant chatter of thought by resting our attention on the breath or another object of meditation such as a word or a phrase. Some folks find Metta – the phrases of loving kindness – to be helpful.
Me: What is Metta, what does that mean?
Johny: Metta is an active form of meditation where instead of focusing on the breath, we focus on sending benevolent thoughts and wishes out into the world, and we imagine that the people—or animals—in our minds are touched by our good will. In some forms of this meditation, we go a step further and imagine that whoever the object of our Metta may be (and this includes ourselves) is relieved of their particular form of discomfort, unease or pain as they are touched by the power of our goodwill.
Me: How does Yoga tie into Mediation and Buddhist practices?
Johny: Yoga includes many practices, one of which is meditation. The movement and asanas or postures of yoga were designed to assist meditators in sitting comfortably.
Me: Can you tell me a bit about the Mindful Recovery you facilitate at Turning Point?
Johny: Mindful Recovery is the Addison Country affiliate of Recovery Dharma, a Buddhist-inspired approach to recovery from addiction of all kinds. We are peer-led and do not follow any one leader or teacher, but trust in the wisdom of Buddha (the potential for our own awakening), Dharma (the truth, or the teachings), and Sangha (our community of wise friends on this path). It’s a program of empowerment and doesn’t ask us to believe in anything other than our own potential to change and heal. We understand that ours is not the only path to recovery and many may choose to combine practices with other recovery programs. Many of our members are also members of Twelve Step Fellowships and other recovery groups such as Writers For Recovery. (See below for a more detailed description of the Mindful Recovery Group.)
Me: What else can you tell me about your work here at Turning Point?
Johny: Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community is partnering with Turning Point here and in Rutland to do Food Truck Friday events all summer. We are alternating Fridays between Middlebury and Rutland. We have live music, play cornhole, eat a bunch of yummy backyard BBQ style food. It’s been a great success so far. Everyone is welcome, and it’s free! I am a certified recovery coach. I do one on one weekly coaching with a few people, and I run our Recovery Coaching in the Emergency Department program, which provides coaching and ten days of follow up to anyone who comes to Porter Hospital’s emergency room for substance use.
In closing, when I first met Johny I really appreciated his calming energy and could tell he is a person I could (and would) learn a lot from. Not just about Recovery but about being happy sitting with yourself, happy in this life, no matter what might be going on. He inspires me to have a calmer energy, to be more open to learning from others, to listen mindfully and to think before I speak. He’s really great about staying in the moment, staying in the day, being on time and is such a mindful listener, which are just a few of the things that make him an amazing Recovery Coach especially in the Emergency Department Program, a supportive and caring Co-Worker, and a beautiful Friend!
More about Mindful Recovery –
We follow the Recovery Dharma meeting format, which we read at the beginning of each meeting. Our practice includes committing to our shared intentions to abstain from drugs, alcohol, and addictive behaviors, develop a daily meditation practice, attend meetings, understanding the Four Noble Truths, following the Eightfold Path, inquiry and investigation, cultivating relationships, and undertaking a lifelong journey of growth and awakening. After reading a description of our practice, the Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path, we introduce ourselves with no need to identify ourselves by anything other than our name and (while we are on Zoom) where we are calling from.
Then we meditate together for about 25 minutes, just sitting still and in silence and allowing our attention to rest on our breath.
After meditation, we have a brief reading and engage in Way of Council practice. The Way of Council is a form of deep listening with four intentions: 1. Listen from the heart. 2. Speak from the heart. 3.Spontaneity: we don’t rehearse what we will say but speak to what is alive for us in the moment. 4.Leanness of expression: no one is required to speak, but everyone is given a chance to speak, and we are always mindful of time, so we go to essence without too much story. We also commit to complete confidentiality (what is said in Council stays in Council) and to not engaging in discussion, advice giving, or cross talk.
Following Way of Council, we read a dedication. The meeting lasts exactly one hour. Tuesdays 6-7pm. We never go late.
We have been holding this meeting together for close to four years. We started with just two or three of us every single Tuesday. Over the years, the meeting grew to between five and ten. With COVID restrictions, we shifted to Zoom meetings in March 2020 and now have 15-20 members, most of whom show up every single week.
For more information about Mindful Recovery at the Turning Point Center of Addison County, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.