I learned the principles of meditation at AA meetings long before I encountered Zen: to sit still in those decrepit old coffee-stained chairs and really listen; to pour my whole heart and attention into being there for people without trying to figure out, judge, or control them; to be unflinchingly honest about who and how I was. Learning to do this was the basis of my recovery from addiction. I’ve been practicing and teaching Zen Buddhism and secular mindfulness practices for many years now, and I see that the practice of 12 step recovery and the meditation and ethical life of Zen are rooted in the same radical commitments: wholehearted, non-judgmental presence, interpersonal connection, and deeply authentic personal expression. I see that they both lay out a clear set of practices for healing and recovery that are available to people of any religious or non-religious persuasion. I wasn’t interested in meditation when I came to recovery, I just wanted the horror show to end. With a couple trips to rehab and near-daily 12 step meetings, I found I didn’t have to drink and use drugs, and my life started to improve. I found deliverance from the shouting matches, the stacks of ignored voicemail, the suicide attempts I couldn’t even recall due to blackouts, nights in the joint, and crippling emotional anguish. With recovery, I encountered periods of contentment that I hadn’t even known were possible. Several years into recovery, though, I still struggled with depression and rage. All the Twelve Step work was helping, but I knew from personal experience that greater transformation was possible and I figured it was time to keep growing. I began what became years of mental health treatment, and I walked over to the Zen center in my neighborhood to try meditation. It was still dark when morning meditation began, and no one spoke. Some bells rang. We sat still and drew our attention to the breathing, the sound of birds, the chattering of our minds, the ebb and flow of the condition of our hearts. I immediately sensed the peace and authenticity available in just staying put, but if you would have told me then that I’d end up being ordained and spending most of time teaching meditation and Zen I would have thought you were pulling my leg. When I first started meditation, I went to the Zen center on Thursday mornings and one of my regular AA meetings on Thursday night. One of those Thursday nights as I was sharing at the meeting, I realized that every Thursday night I’d told my recovery friends how today had been absolutely extraordinary. I realized the profound effect that morning meditation had on my well-being and my ability to do the things that really mattered to me. That was a tipping point, and over the next several years, I just kept doing more meditation and focusing more on Zen Buddhist practice and study. Things just kept looking up. The first time I was asked to speak at a Buddhism and 12 Step group I was skeptical. I take the tradition that AA is not allied with any sect or denomination seriously. I had always kept the two separate and that had worked fine. When I sat down with the group and heard them share, though, it seemed clear that these people were finding something powerful and liberating in combining the two practices. Still, I was concerned we might be watering down the power of AA. I talked to a few friends who work professionally in addiction counseling and they were resoundingly clear. They told me that people need to have access to a wide variety of roads to recovery, and Buddhism and 12 Step meetings are a great addition to what’s out there. Nowadays, I also I find a lot of people asking me to come teach mindfulness meditation in a secular context. Many of the techniques I teach come from training in Zen, but also draw from other religious and non-religious traditions from all over the world. I can articulate differences between AA, secular mindfulness, and Zen Buddhism. But at the core, they all share deep and common threads: healing people and communities through individual empowerment and commitment to community; openness to religious or non-religious beliefs; love, compassion, and energetic engagement with the world as it is. I am so grateful to have found traditions, communities, and practices that have allowed me to experience profound transformation, and experience a peace and joyfulness I couldn’t imagine when I was deep in addiction. I am so grateful to get to spend time with people who dive into their lives through meditation and 12 Step work, and share with me their courageous work of liberation. Ben Connelly is a Soto Zen Buddhist priest and dharma heir with 20 years of experience in the Twelve Step community. Author of Inside the Grass Hut, he travels across the U.S. teaching Zen and secular mindfulness. Join Ben in his retreat, Buddhism and the Twelve Steps, December 8-10 at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center in Center City, MN.