Mindfulness is a buzzword that seems to be popping up all over the place nowadays. But what does it mean exactly and how can we relate it to the addiction recovery process?
It turns out that mindfulness has its roots in the Buddhist religion, although one does not have to be Buddhist to practice mindfulness. In fact, many psychologists now recommend using mindfulness when dealing with deep-rooted issues such as addiction or even obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Most people have had the experience of going through a period of anxiety in which someone urged them to “take a breath.” As simple as it seems, this is mindfulness. Taking a breath allows someone to root themselves in the present moment. It is difficult to focus upon past mistakes and future worries when one is focused upon the breath.
Mindfulness is the practice of accepting the present moment into our lives without judgment. This can be more difficult that it seems. Our egos and “reptile brain” (the unsophisticated part of our brains that is only concerned with survival) want to force us to anticipate events and constantly be on alert for predators. While our survival instinct was extremely helpful to our ancestors and can be helpful to us at times, it can also distract us from living in the present moment and shunning past addiction episodes.
Dealing with addiction recovery often means that we are faced with many hurdles. Whether it’s the shame of something that we did while under the influence, or a future apology that needs to be made, our minds can often go spinning off in directions that aren’t necessarily healthy for us in the moment. When one is practicing mindfulness, one recognizes that the present moment is the only moment that matters. We cannot control what we did in the past, or even what is going to happen in the future sometimes. The only factor that we can control is the current moment, and this is where our true power lies.
When faced with temptation or a craving to return to the old ways of addiction, the best thing to do is to focus on the body. Notice the feelings that are manifesting without judgment. This is crucial, because our bodies and minds give us the best answers to our problems when we surrender completely. This runs contradictory to the American ethos, which often urges us to probe deeper and criticize ourselves. It is imperative to realize that this is not where happiness lies. Happiness occurs as a result of a feeling that forms within, not as a result of outside circumstances. Most addicts have spent a great deal of their lives seeking fulfillment outside of themselves. Mindfulness teaches us that this is not the answer.
To be mindful is to tune into everything that surrounds us, every sound, every whisper of wind, every feeling that comes up. Addiction is often something that occurs as a result of discomfort, and then it exacerbates the discomfort as it runs its course, making everything worse. When we’re being mindful, we can make truly exciting discoveries about where the discomfort is, and even why it has appeared. When we abandon judgment and harsh criticism, the mind and body allow us to access deeper levels of self, and this in turn informs our recovery from addiction.
Although it can seem quite daunting at first, developing mindfulness can be an extraordinary tool. It is completely acceptable to start small, spending a few minutes each day just focusing in on the breath and noticing one’s surroundings. Mindfulness is like a muscle; the more you exercise it and the more aware you become, the easier it gets.