Souls Center
Photo Courtesy of Julia Hayes

Spokane’s Souls Center Provides a Buddhist-Inspired Approach for the Road to Recovery


Spokane’s Souls Center Provides a Buddhist-Inspired Approach for the Road to Recovery

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News Story by Puneet Bsanti

Mindfulness, acceptance and compassion are some values that Recovery Dharma practices in their Buddhist-inspired approach to help those on the path to recovery from addiction. 

Recovery Dharma is a world-wide program used at Souls Center in Spokane, a ‘spiritual classroom’ created by founder Julia Hayes. Souls Center is a community of women seeking spiritual empowerment through meetings and workshops.

souls center
Souls Center community members volunteering to make Ramysorala prayer bead necklaces. / Photo Courtesy of Julia Hayes

How Recovery Dharma Began

The journey to Recovery Dharma started when Hayes let a refuge recovery group use the center’s space at 707 N. Cedar for their meetings that were done in Buddhist tradition. Hayes attended the meeting to see if it aligned with the Souls Center’s Buddhist practices. 

“I fell in love with this practice and this program and suddenly I realized, ‘Oh, this could be really helpful to me to better understand the people in my life who are suffering with substance use disorder.’ So I started attending regularly and learning a lot about recovery and substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder and did that for about three years,” she said. 

When there was a split in the refuge recovery community, Hayes decided to take the opportunity to offer Recovery Dharma. 

“My main motivator was my dad at the time because my dad was drinking heavily and I had family members who were very frustrated by that, obviously. And my attitude about it at the time was that my dad’s in his 80s and why are we pushing him to quit drinking and he doesn’t want to and everybody’s frustrated because he’s not doing what we all want him to do. Why don’t we try to love him where he’s at?” she said. 

Seeing ‘People for Who They Are’

Hayes said the Buddhist practices have been important in the recovery part of the meetings. It is a way to see people for who they are instead of just seeing the guilt and shame. 

The meetings are five days a week, and they average from 30 to 50 people. There are meetings online and in-person, with those online attending from across the country and around the world. 

Hayes also created a program called Sati Seva, which means mindful service. Sati Seva has 16 mindfulness practices, and it was created to encourage family, friends, allies and those in recovery to learn how to better support loved ones who are suffering from a “negative habit energy.” 

“That’s my word for addiction: negative habit energy. We all have it, whether you drink too much, you eat too much, you exercise too much, you sleep too much, you watch too much social media, you have too many negative thoughts. We all have negative habit energy,” she said. 

Recovery Dharma for Addicts’ Family Members and Loved Ones

Hayes encourages family members and loved ones to come to Recovery Dharma meetings so they can learn about an addict’s experience. 

“I think that we benefit when we hear each other’s stories, when we come together in a shared experience,” she said. “When I started attending meetings, it was incredibly humbling and heart softening and mind opening. So it’s a wonderful opportunity for family members to really gain access to what the addict’s experience is.” 

The Recovery Dharma meetings are run by volunteers, including technical support mastermind Laureen O’Hanlon, otherwise known as Loh.

O’Hanlon, who was already involved with the Souls Center, decided to help out during the COVID-19 pandemic when the center had to go online. O’Hanlon manages the website and does the technical support for the meetings and recordings. 

“I’m also doing audio editing and putting all the meditations for Recovery Dharma on Spotify. You can find them under Souls Center, Spokane Reimagining Recovery,” she said. 

Recovery Dharma Encourages Kindness and Wholeness

O’Hanlon said the Recovery Dharma community is encouraging and authentic. 

“There’s not a lot of encouragement in the world to practice presence to your life and the world we live in is particularly distracting and not necessarily very encouraging of heart and tenderness and forgiveness and we sit there at every meeting and I experience a genuine encouragement from everybody in the room and online, to continue to practice compassion, kindness, gentleness,” she said. “So recovery is, quote, unquote, the topic, but it’s really about encouraging each other to be whole, kind human beings.” 

Hayes said Recovery Dharma is a different approach to recovery and is for anyone, including those who attend traditional 12-step meetings. 

“There is more available out there than just traditional AA or Al-Anon meetings,” she said. “The journey of recovery is very long and winding and arduous. It is not a linear straight line by any means. And for some people, recurrences are normal, they’re predictable. For some people they have to happen before they gain any real understanding of their habits, but they come back, and this is a community of some of the most courageous people you’ll ever meet.”

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