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founded by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin






The Cyrenian House Programme

-By Richard Hammersley and John Cregan

Cyrenian House is one of the leading drug rehabilitation centres in Western Australia and is the only one that is drug free. It was founded in 1981 by Richard Hammersley and has treated over 600 addicts on an inpatient basis and over 400 on an outpatient basis.

The therapeutic programme consists of:

  • Individual counselling
  • Group therapy
  • Promotion of physical and mental well being through yoga, relaxation, meditation, sport and drama
  • Attendance at Narcotics Anonymous meetings
  • Participation in arts and crafts projects and household work programmes.

Cyrenian House helps addicts not only to free themselves of drug use but also to reintegrate into society by finding employment, education opportunities, accommodation, etc. It is one of an umbrella group of organisations operating under the aegis of the Western Australia Council on Addictions. The Council itself is directed by Vipassana meditators, and for three years it has made time available for addicts undergoing treatment, and for staff to attend Vipassana courses. At present 80% of the staff have taken at least one ten-day course. The results are encouraging among the addicts who have taken Vipassana courses in the final part of their rehabilitation programme.

Vipassana benefits recovering addicts both directly through their participation in meditation courses, and indirectly as well. Nearly all the counsellors at Cyrenian House are ex-addicts who have passed through its programme themselves. Once they are firmly established in the Dhamma, they provide excellent role models for recovering addicts, inspiring them through such virtues as honesty and compassion, acquired and cultivated by the practice of Vipassana.

Cyrenian House treats addiction as a family illness and provides support for members of the addict's family, particularly through the Narcotics Anonymous programme.

Using drugs is a way of suppressing reality, whatever the reality may be; a difficult financial situation, an unhappy relationship, or simply uncomfortable bodily sensations. This suppression leaves a mark on the mind. Vipassana meditation is the only technique we know that removes these deep mental impressions totally. Of course over a long period of time other methods may be helpful, such as giving positive reinforcement to the conscious mind; in fact, to a large extent the Cyrenian House programme works in this way. But the speed with which Vipassana works means that addicts can virtually clear their minds and start again free of the conditioning of this terrible period of their lives.

Drug addiction is an addiction to bodily sensations. Someone may start taking drugs for any number of reasons, but eventually it is the dreadful sensations and their accompanying thoughts that drive a true addict to continue using drugs. The addict becomes caught in the web of craving and aversion. By fostering equanimity toward sensations and thoughts, Vipassana opens a way out of this web.

An important part of the rehabilitation process at Cyrenian House is the Narcotics Anonymous programme, based on the tried and tested methods of Alcoholics Anonymous. This programme encourages self-evolvement through self-awareness and understanding. Addicts learn to accept themselves and others as they are, to bring honesty into their everyday lives. As with Vipassana, the understanding of impermanence is of central importance to the Narcotics Anonymous programme. Addicts base their recovery on the understanding that things are changing and that life is manageable by taking it one day at a time. Vipassana reinforces this approach by showing how to take life one moment at a time.

During their stay at Cyrenian House, addicts realise that they and no one else are responsible for their recovery. This realisation plus the observation of successful role models (former addicts who have learned Vipassana) provide the impetus to undertake a ten-day course.

Confidence building is an essential part of the programme, from detoxification through sharing household duties and the halfway house experience.

Simply having completed a Vipassana course is itself a great boost to the confidence and self-esteem of an addict. Still more importantly, the technique fosters self-dependence and inner strength. By continuing the practice, the addict develops these qualities to achieve positive results.

Vipassana shows the addict that there are alternatives to using drugs, by providing the example of the peace and tranquillity that is attainable within oneself through meditation. A course thus gives an understanding of harmony that is experiential rather than merely intellectual.

When people have used drugs for long periods of time, they become numb to feelings. When they stop using drugs, it is important for them to have time to experience and identify feelings, and to accept the feeling of isolation and low self-esteem that is common among addicts. To attend a Vipassana course when one has just stopped using drugs is to do a course as an addict, with the values and outlook of an addict. To do a course after a period of sobriety, having learned to accept oneself, is to do a course honestly as a human being. For this reason we believe that a Vipassana course is a perfect conclusion to the Cyrenian House programme.

The continuing practice of Vipassana assists in times of stress which could have led to a relapse in the past.

Addiction goes to the deepest level of the mind, and if it is not to recur it must be removed by the roots. The deepest level of the mind is constantly in touch with bodily sensations. Through Vipassana one can learn to observe these sensations with equanimity, and by doing so eradicate addiction from the depths of the mind.

From numerous examples it appears to us that after undergoing a Vipassana course, an addict shows dramatic behavioural improvement, far more so than an average person with no dependencies. Recovered addicts who have passed through the Cyrenian House programme and a Vipassana course show exceptional willingness to help other addicts.