Some of you are aware I am working on a book for addiction recovery, combining current knowledge in the field with my experience as an addiction counselor for the last 17 years or so. One of the chapter is on mindfulness, and I am including the very short chapter here. As an aside, I will soon be selling the workbook I wrote with a colleague on this site, and submitting it for consideration for publishing again. Once it is ready for sale, I’ll post it here. Thanks for bearing with me through this very busy time and continuing to read my site. I’ll keep you posted when the new site is launched as well, hopefully in a month or so.
Recently there has been a movement in the field of psychology toward Eastern philosophy and mindfulness and its benefit to individuals’ psyche. Mindfulness has been an Eastern technique since before the written word. Religions that utilize and purport the importance of mindfulness include Buddhism and Taoism, as well as their offspring Zen Buddhism. In regard to the Judeo-Christian religions, I once had an ex-priest supervisor who believed “praying is asking God, and meditation is listening”.
Now it is not the purpose of this book to convert anyone to Eastern Religions or philosophies. But there is great benefit in the use of the technique of mindfulness in improving mood, state of mind, and as such, behavior. This practice can vastly improve the techniques discussed above.
There is often a lot of mystery that centers on mindfulness, Eastern Philosophy and meditation. Meditation is often simply the practice of mindfulness. What I often hear from clients or peers when I discuss meditation is that they are no good at it. This is absurd. No one is good at meditation, especially in the beginning (well, the Dalai Lama probably is). Meditation can be difficult despite the simplicity of its nature. After all, it is simply sitting (or walking, or many other activities, but we will stick with sitting for now) and monitoring your thoughts. You don’t have to sit in a particular way, although it is suggested you have your back straight, as certain positions are more able to remind you of your purpose and help you stay focused. Once sitting, it is often suggested that you imagine your mind as a blank movie screen. From that point on you simply watch your thoughts appear and disappear from the screen.
Now this sounds simple, but it is often very difficult. It is our nature to grab onto these thoughts and play with them, the thoughts taking on a life of their own, we guiding their path, and this interplay dominating thought. In meditation, the goal is to catch this game in action, come back to the breath, or a chant, or to the blank screen, and simply watch the thoughts.
Most people who try and give up on meditation give as their reasoning the difficulty in maintaining focus on the breath and simply watching their thoughts. But again, this is our nature. In meditation we are returning to a deeper state, where thoughts are born. It is difficult to maintain this focus on the breath, but that is okay. It is normal. It is the practice that brings more success. More success is simply catching the wandering mind faster, and maintaining focus longer. There is no perfection in meditation. It is not necessary to become great at meditating. The practice of watching your thoughts in and of itself brings a more objective view of them. And with this objective view comes more peace, and less acting on impulse and less being directed by mere thoughts, rather than thinking the situation through.
Mindfulness is the result of this practice. It is the ability to be aware of your thinking while being somewhat detached from it. It is recognizing thoughts are simply thoughts, not truths, not demands for action. Meditation helps bring about mindfulness. And mindfulness helps bring about better decision-making. This can be unparalleled in its benefit to addiction recovery (as well as many other dilemmas).
I realize this may seem strange to many readers. But mindfulness has demonstrated positive effects throughout psychology recently. A wonderful book on using these techniques to help those with depression is “The Mindful Way Through Depression”. There are many more, including those that use Buddhist beliefs to challenge addiction. One that is quite well known is “Zen Recovery”. Again, it is not the purpose of this book to convert people to any religion or set of religious or philosophical beliefs. But the practice of meditation and mindfulness can be of great benefit. Give it a try for a little while, and see it if it helps create more awareness of your thinking.
I have been practicing mindfulness for quite some time. I am by no means an expert. Nor has it completely rid me of poor decision-making. But it has definitely improved my life. I am calmer more of the time, I have the ability more often to be detached from my thoughts and not get caught in the emotional turmoil that comes with some interactions. This is not to say I am not emotional, or that I never get in an argument. But there are times my practice has spared me these emotional exchanges. And there are other times it has shortened them, or at least kept me from getting too emotional too quickly. But bear in mind that no one confuses me with the Dalai Lama or any Buddha.