“Our lives unfold moment to moment,” wrote Jon Kabat-Zin, one of the first modern advocates of the ancient Buddhist practice of mindfulness.
The concept of mindfulness is simple: it means closely paying attention to what is happening to you right now, in the moment, without judging yourself or reacting in any way. In a mindfulness practice, we move through stressful emotions without reacting to them.
But how to achieve that? The power of mindfulness is in its practice, which is again is perhaps easy to understand, but must be learned…. by practice we speak of what is called mindful meditation, along with yoga, creative pursuits, and including the everyday details of life, and your body. “Concentrate on your breathing” is something that one will almost always hear in mindfulness meditation; an immensely simple yet powerful way to calm and to heal.
Mindfulness, in short, is connection. Connection with whatever is happening in the moment, ignoring your internal chatter of worry or regret. Yes—easy to say, hard to do, especially when one is under stress, especially when one is in recovery. For all of us, what can often grab at our mind are the regrets and sometimes anger about the past, and worry and sometimes fear about the future. But these disconnect us from the present moment. And this present moment, paraphrasing Kabat-Zinn, is all we really have.
Those of us struggling with substance use, or learning to prevent relapse as we recover, have become very very good at not being connected. We use, we drink, we worry, we stress out. One way or another, we are not here. As a Strive clinician puts it, “substance use is an illness of disconnection.”
Many of us, in recovery or not, think of ourselves as too busy, or too worried, or too stressed to deeply notice the present moment. The result can be that we may live in a sort of dream world, where the present passes by almost unnoticed, as we miss the richness and pleasure of life itself. If there is anything that puts it in a nutshell, it is the ancient expression: “mindfulness explores the deep meaning of life. “
Importantly, studies reveal that substance use and the emotions and cravings which drive it, actually change the functioning of the brain. The thoughts, and habits that drive us to substance use train the brain in a way that prevents us from the critical experience of mindfulness, happiness, the relief of a peaceful mind.
The good news is, mindfulness practice, such as meditation can reshape the brain in a healthy way, in a way that can help us handle the stress of every day life, and the emotional burden of substance use.
Mindfulness is not necessarily religious or ideological. Some recent forms of mindfulness practice are distinctly secular, although still have their roots in the ancient Buddhist practice. These include Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and more recently, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) and Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery.
We will describe some forms of mindfulness practice in a next installment.
“The important thing is to find whatever works for you—your special connection to that quiet place in which to listen to your heart and renew your spirit again and again.”
Beverly Conyers, author of Addict in the Family, Stories of Loss, Hope and Recovery
Addiction Science and Clinical Practice
Eric L. Garland1 and Matthew O. Howard
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are, Hachette Press, p. 258
This month, May, is Mental Health Awareness Month. Strive, and our sister company Veteran & First Responder Healthcare, are dedicating our Facebook, blogs and other social media channels to highlight the meaning and the practice of Mental Health Awareness. While at Strive our focus is on treating substance use, overwhelmingly trauma and its resulting mental health issues are at the root of the disease. And they are–both mental health issues and Substance Use Disorder (SUD), a disease and not a choice.