The BookStand: Cool Water

Book Review By Lena H.

If you’d like serenity to settle into your daily tasks – say, washing dishes, making a stew, answering the phone or taking out the garbage – read this book. Maybe you could use simple suggestions for letting go of an addictive habit, or for adopting short breathing or meditation sessions: This book is shot through with them. Follow cues in the chapter called “Keep Coming Back”, and you might read – or write – a verse that will “bring you back to life”. This book could be a thirst quencher on many counts.

Cool Water: Alcoholism, Mindfulness, and Ordinary Recovery by William Alexander

William Alexander has packed these 145 pages with little ado about everything to do with traveling a serene lifelong path, and the book flows like cool water. Rip-roaring stories from the author’s alcoholic past splash among calming Buddhist principles and precepts from AA’s Twelve Step program in such a way that they blend into a soothing stream from beginning to end.

The notion of ordinary recovery came as a revelation to Alexander. He realized that “…recovery from addiction was a gift, and that the gift was revealed to [him] in the ordinary stuff of daily life. So ordinary, this extraordinary gift…” He says it’s simple: “Ordinary recovery is about waking up to what is real.” In grappling with the need for a God of his understanding, he settles on the power of things-as-they-are. The ordinary is miraculous.

Such paradoxes abound. “AA is a selfish program,” the author says, but also, “…selfless.” Contrary to AA’s teachings, he believes that one does not remain in recovery, but that recovery ends – and then recovered life can begin. “Drinking causes suffering, and suffering causes drinking,” he admits. But he also says, “The lotus flower blooms best from the mud.”

Bill Alexander learned with the great Zen Buddhist Thich Naht Hanh; he also learned with dozens of resilient AA members, some of whom he quotes. He continues both these practices within the support of community, believing we all depend on inter-being.

As you read this book, you will inter-be with the author – and I believe you will experience, through the gentle stream of words, life made clear and tranquil as cool water.

Original: Cool Water: Alcoholism, Mindfulness, and Ordinary Recovery, 1997
Current Edition: Ordinary Recovery: Mindfulness, Addiction, and the Path of Lifelong Sobriety, 2010
Both editions are available online

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