Everyone says that mindfulness is essential to your emotional well being in addiction recovery….but how exactly are you supposed to achieve this thing called “mindfulness?” How does one attain this state of serenity while also dealing with everyday life, not to mention the complication of striving for personal growth (which is bound to involve some struggle and even failure)?
It’s a tall order for the struggling addict or alcoholic, especially in early recovery. So let’s look at a few suggestions to see how you might achieve this inner state of peacefulness (if that’s what it really is!).
My first suggestion is that you explore various forms of meditation, which is often synonymous with the idea of mindfulness itself. So the question becomes, how can I slow down and pay attention to the present moment, without just rushing through life and reacting to everything like a crazy person?
The key is that you actually explore the various forms and techniques, not just think about them and dismiss them as being ineffective. Meditation is not something that you think about as a mere idea of something helpful, instead it is something that you actually engage in. You have to practice. You must take real action in order to get the benefits…not just think about the idea or entertain it in your mind.
So you might ask your peers in recovery, your therapist or your sponsor how they do meditation. Take their suggestions and test them out for yourself. Find what works best for you and then get into a routine with it. Do it every day on a consistent basis and you will start to see amazing results from your practice.
I have several ideas that have worked well for me. The first was seated meditation, in a very traditional sort of style, with eyes closed, simply watching the breath. I did this usually for five to ten minutes per session, but once did 25 minutes straight, which had an impressive impact on my mind for the duration of that particular day. In other words, you should experiment not only with different techniques, but also with different times of the day, and also the duration of your session. You may discover some powerful techniques this way.
Seated meditation did quite a lot for me, especially in terms of regulating my emotional state and my obsessive thinking for the rest of my day, but it was not the end of my research. Later on in my recovery, it was suggested to me that I exercise. I am talking about physical exercise in this case. I started distance running at one point, and it became a habit that stuck with me for over a decade now. What I noticed while distance running was that jogging outdoors, with no headphones or anything to listen to, really was a powerful form of meditation. I think doing longer runs of 6 miles also helped in this regard. At first, your brain will start to go through the typical daily tasks, the to do list, the things you need from the grocery store later. But after it exhausts those topics, the mind realizes that there is not anything purposeful to think about any longer, and you simply start watching the landscape as you jog along. Your mind drifts into a zone and you are not necessarily thinking about anything in particular, and yet you are fully present in your run, taking each step very deliberately, and just enjoying the countryside as you move along. This is meditative, and I found it to be more powerful and effective for me than the seated meditation was.
However, this is likely due to the fact that I did not really pursue seated meditation all that deeply–I never pushed myself to do a longer session, I never did multiple sessions per day, I stopped studying the concepts and the breathing and all of those things in terms of seated meditation. So there is probably an untapped potential there if I ever chose to go back to it.
My guess is that nearly any form of meditation or mindfulness can be effective for you, but it is all up to your own practice and discipline level. For example, jogging outdoors was not meditative for me when I was out of shape. It was only after a few solid months of building my fitness level that I had this “breakthrough” and suddenly running became easy, light, and emotionally uplifting for me. It didn’t really function as meditation until I whipped myself into shape, a process that took discipline. As such, it is likely exactly the same with seated meditation–you won’t get the full benefits just by dropping down on your couch on day one and trying it out. You have to practice, you have to keep doing it, working the discipline angle until you unlock that next level of whatever it is you are exploring and opening up to.
Mindfulness is about doing the right things, and doing them purposefully, rather than simply reacting to things as they pop up in your life. As such, you may consider the idea that single-tasking is a better way to approach productivity. Everyone wants to multi-task and get as much done as possible, but the things that are truly important often cannot be done while multi-tasking. Instead, you must put your full focus and attention on something that is truly important to you, and that is exactly how mindfulness works. You are mindful of each and every thing that you do.
So when you eat, for example, you can slow down and fully savor each bite of food, taking the time to fully chew and savor the flavors. There are many benefits of doing this, not the least of which is that you will enjoy the meal more while eating less overall. But this concept isn’t just limited to food–you should try to practice mindfulness in everything that you do. When you are sitting in an AA meeting, you should try to be mindful of each person who shares, and try to figure out how to best apply their story into your own life, or see how it might fit. If you just listen casually or browse the Internet on your phone absently while doing such things, you may miss out on a valuable insight that could pay huge dividends to you later on.
Being mindful can help you in other ways in your recovery journey. While listening to your peers, really listen to them and deeply engage with them, not only to try to help them better but to help yourself as well. So many of us are rushing through life, trying to get to the next thing (whatever that may be for us) and we forget to appreciate the gifts that are right in front of us. Therefore practicing gratitude is a great way to get into some mindfulness training on a regular basis. If you are truly grateful then it proves that you are in the moment, you are staying in the present moment, because anyone who is ungrateful is “time traveling,” wishing that things were different, or that they could go back to the past or jump into the future, anything to escape the present moment that they disprove of.
Instead, embrace the present moment with mindfulness, and do it with gratitude. This is the path to serenity in addiction recovery.