Mindfulness is a word that has received a lot of recognition over the past few years. It was introduced by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago as Sati, the first of the seven factors of spiritual enlightenment. Then in 2014 the cover of TIME magazine heralded, “The Mindful Revolution.” A lot has been lost in translation between now and then. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of our modern understanding of mindfulness, calls it:
“The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Mindfulness in addiction recovery is a powerful tool. But, learning how to use this tool can often feel overwhelming. There are many mindfulness practices and finding the right one to support our recovery is highly personal. This is why the judgement-free nature of mindfulness is so important. While breath-work and meditation can bring about thoughtful contemplation for some, for others this can feel boring, stressful or even triggering. The major tenet of mindfulness isn’t what it looks like, but its ability to bring you to the present moment – and that can occur in many different ways.
Alcohol and drug addiction manifests from the mind’s inability to be in the present moment. The practice of mindfulness trains our brains to exist in the present moment, without judgement. This can last for a few hours, or a few seconds. Either way, the practice of mindfulness creates an environment where we can feel safe to sit with ourselves, just as we are. However, it can be uncomfortable or frightening when we don’t like what we see. Addiction protects us from the guilt, shame and fear that can come from being alone with ourselves. Mindfulness won’t always feel good. But it is the beginning of rebuilding a relationship with our thoughts without substances, and to feel safe enough to stay there for a while.
Mindfulness practices in addiction recovery help to reshape neuropathways that have trained us to fear discomfort. By spending a few moments every day with our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, we can learn to dismiss the fear associated with them and create new thought-patterns in order to generate a greater self-awareness. Mindfulness can be any practice that is intentional, present and allows us to feel comfortable being in our bodies.
There are many different ways to incorporate these practices into our daily life:
- Finding a moment of pause before we hit snooze for the third time, while brushing our teeth, or waiting for the coffee to brew.
- This is a powerful tool that lets us say to ourselves, “this is who I want to be today.”
- Intention-setting gives us a thought we can return to throughout the day when feeling agitated.
- Autopilot is our default human state; by setting a clear intention for the day we can literally take over the driver’s seat of our own lives.
- How easy is it to forget that our bodies are alive? We water our plants, take our dogs for walks and play with our kids but can forget that we need the same kind of attention.
- Finding a new way to move our bodies can also be a form of self-care.
- Taking the stairs. Going for a walk. Touching our toes. Bringing mindful movement back into our bodies can release the thought-patterns that often take over.
- Right now. Take one breath in through the nose. Hold it. Then exhale with a sigh through an open mouth. How long has it been since you did that?
- Mindful meditation is a wonderful goal and is a practice that we can develop over time. But it all starts with us taking that first intentional breath.
- Setting aside judgement, how uncomfortable we may feel or thinking “oh my gosh I’m so bad at this,” just breathe.
- Maybe tomorrow you can do this for two minutes instead of one. The key to any mindfulness practice is to remove judgement and to just be exactly where you are.
If addiction is the inability to be in the present moment, mindfulness is a step towards addiction recovery. By allowing ourselves to sit in the present moment we can discover that it isn’t always what we expected. Many 12 step programs are rooted in the practice of finding stillness in the now, and then moving through it to gain a greater understanding of who we truly are in this universe.