How the Fear of Rejection Can Destroy Relationships

2017-01-18

Image by Chirag Rathod

by Paul Garrigan

Hiding Mister Nice

A friend once told me I had this vibe about me that pushed other people away. I was hurt by this comment, and it bothered me for years afterwards. Why couldn’t other people just see I was a nice guy? Sure, I could be a bit arrogant, and I was cautious about those who felt like a threat to me (almost everyone), but surely those who knew me could see beyond that to the ‘real me’.

It seems so obvious now, but it took me a long time to understand that people judged me based on how I behaved rather than how I saw myself. If I acted cold and judgmental, it meant others would just assume that was who I was and they would probably not want to be around me too much. It was unreasonable to expect others to understand I was just protecting myself – it was unrealistic to just expect people to see beyond my defenses.

The Fear of Rejection

The feeling of rejection can be one of the most difficult things we have to deal with in life. The fear of it may be hardwired into our psyche over millennia because in the past rejection could easily mean death (e.g. it may have been almost impossible to survive if you were kicked out of your tribe).

One study at Columbia University used an MRI scan to see what changes occurred in the brain when people experienced rejection. The results showed the parts of the brain that lit up were the same as for physical pain. Rejection really does hurt us.

Handling Rejection Badly

The fear of rejection is likely within all of us and perhaps the main way we differ is how we handle it. Some of the strategies I used over the years included:

• Using alcohol to numb the pain of rejection
• Keeping people at a distance
• Never fully opening my heart to friends – always holding something back
• Arrogance
• Regularly changing social circles
• Reverse-snobbery (e.g. believing educated people had no common sense)
• Pre-emptive ending of relationships if I felt there was a risk of rejection
• Ignoring people if I suspected they might ‘look down’ on me
• Always ‘doing my own thing’ even when it meant being lonely
• Pretending I didn’t care what people thought even though I actually felt incredibly sensitive

These strategies may have seemed to work at the time, but it also meant damaging my relationships. It meant I didn’t develop long-lasting friendships, and I never felt fully comfortable around even those I considered friends. My reaction to the fear of rejection impoverished my life, and I could never find peace until I found better strategies for dealing with it.

How to Deal with the Pain of Rejection

The following two strategies allowed me to better deal with the fear of rejection

• Self-soothing the somatic feeling of rejection when it arises and not getting lost in the story of what has triggered it
• Realizing that it is far more important for me to like others than for them to like me

I will go into more detail about these strategies in the next post

Motivated Reasoning

2016-11-19

fog_surrounding_standing_man

by Paul Garrigan

Building a Case for Relapse

I remember during one of my early attempts to quit alcohol developing an interest in research and testimonials related to ‘controlled drinking’. I had been sober around 20 months at this stage, my life was going well, and I had started my nursing training. I told myself this sudden interest in the topic was purely academic, but I was unconsciously collecting evidence to support an unspoken desire to relapse.

The more I researched the topic, the more evidence I found to support my theory that I would be able to safely use alcohol again. This was during the early days of the internet (1996) but even back then, there was plenty of websites willing to provide evidence to support almost any cause. I also had access to medical and scientific journals at my university, and if I looked at this material the right way, there did seem to be rational support for an experiment with controlled drinking.

I built a strong case for relapse so this meant that when I eventually took the plunge a few months later, I felt rationally justified – even though my gut was screaming ‘no’. I did manage some controlled drinking for a few months, but it wasn’t something I could maintain and my life began to fall apart again. So much for the evidence.

Motivated Reasoning

It used to feel troubled and dismayed at the way seemingly intelligent people could arrive at such different conclusions about life. Surely, if we all just calmly examined the evidence, we would all see things the ‘right’ way. It is only in recent years that I have come to see how intelligence and evidence are no guarantee of a consensus.

One way to explain why equally intelligent people can end up on different sides of a debate is motivated reasoning. When it comes to certain topics, it may not even be possible for any of us to look at the data in an unbiased way. For example, our personal sense of right/wrong gives us a bias as to where we stand on issues, and we will be more favorably inclined towards certain arguments and conclusions. This means there is going to be an unconscious motivation to find evidence to support our worldview and downplay evidence that doesn’t.

In his book ‘The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion’, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talks about how we reach our conclusions about life. He uses the ‘rider on an elephant’ metaphor to describe the relationship between the conscious rational mind (the rider) and the unconscious irrational mind (the elephant). The elephant is far more powerful than the rider, so the rider must learn to work with it.

Our way of seeing the world is strongly governed by our inner elephant (unfortunately, most of us feel disconnected from our elephants, so there is a lot of miscommunication.). When it comes to morality and beliefs, it is the job of the rider to promote and defend the elephant’s sense of things. This is where motivated reasoning comes in. It explains how I could convince myself that controlled drinking was possible even though there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.

How Understanding Motivated Reasoning Helps Us

It can be easy to see how motivated reasoning is used by other people, but it is harder to admit we do this ourselves. I have concluded that if I can’t understand the perspective of the other side, it is only because of my own biases. It is not good enough to console myself with the idea that those who think differently from me are ‘stupid’ or ‘evil’ because none of us are free of bias and all sides have a point to make.

So, one of the ways an understanding of motivated reasoning helps us is by making it easier to appreciate the other side in a debate. It is not intelligence our ‘goodness’ that causes us see things differently, but our experiences, culture, and maybe even our genetics. I have become far less interested in what people believe and more interested in why they believe it because there I can discover some common ground – this has made me less judgmental and more compassionate.

It is important that we are aware of how motivated reasoning can get us into trouble. There may still be a part of your thinking that is attempting to build a case for a return to addiction or other maladaptive behaviors. For example, if you go looking for evidence to support a relapse, you will surely find it, but this doesn’t change the fact that it is most likely a terrible idea.

Neurosis, Addiction, and Self-Compassion

2016-09-07

Jugendwohnheim Fritz Tarnow in Frankfurt am Main - Dornbüsch/Tarnowstr. 21

Jugendwohnheim Fritz Tarnow in Frankfurt am Main - Dornbüsch/Tarnowstr. 21

by Paul Garrigan

What is Neurosis?

The psychologist Carl Jung described neurosis as a price we pay when we attempt to escape legitimate pain. It includes symptoms such as obsessive thinking, chronic anxiety, compulsive behaviors, phobias, impulsive behavior, avoidance, and over-dependence on other people.

Neurotic behaviors become a substitute for the yucky emotions and mental states we don’t want to deal with. It can be a long time before we notice the negative effects of this ‘remedy’ are far worse than the thing we are trying to avoid. Reality does not like to be ignored, and the more we do it, the more painful our life becomes.


Are Addictive Behaviors a Type of Neurosis?

Addiction is a complex condition involving many factors, but it was the opportunity of escape that made drugs such a tempting proposition for many of us. For those of us struggling to feel comfortable in our own skin, or who were dealing with emotional trauma, it provided a ‘way out’- something to numb the pain so we could at least temporarily forget our problems.

Even if we didn’t start abusing drugs as an attempt to escape our difficulties, it soon becomes our favorite way of dealing with things. If the boss is giving us grief, we can always ‘take the edge off’ with a bottle of whiskey. If life is becoming a bit bumpy, we can find an oasis of peace through an opiate haze.

Drug abuse is the most radical thing we can do in our attempts to escape the ups and downs of life. In the beginning, it seems to offer the perfect solution – if reality won’t play ball, we can create our own reality through altering our brain chemistry. What could possibly go wrong? We don’t understand that there is only one reality, and anything that prevents us from fitting in with this reality eventually becomes a source of suffering.

When I discovered the ‘blessed numbness’ of being drunk as a young teenager, I was genuinely baffled by the fact that everyone wasn’t doing it. Who wouldn’t want this? It felt like I had found the ultimate ‘free pass’ for life, and I was convinced all the bad days were behind me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It was only when I fully accepted that alcohol was incapable of making things better that I was able to quit for good. There is no free pass for life and reality doesn’t like to be ignored. I then discovered the freedom and peace I yearned for was to be found in the opposite direction – not by trying to escape reality but by learning to live with it (‘absolute cooperation with the inevitable’ as the mystic Anthony de Mello once described it).

Image by Wes Washington

Image by Wes Washington

Self-Compassion as an Alternative to Neurosis

Self-compassion is the ability to accept the ups and downs of life. It is a skill we develop through facing our pain head on – the more we do this, the easier it becomes to do it the next time. The only thing reality expects of us is that we fully accept what has already happened, and this includes what we are experiencing right now as this too has already happened.

The one thing that prevents us from developing self-compassion is our ‘shoulds’ – e.g. ‘this should not be happening’ or ‘that should not have happened’. Remember, there is only one reality, and it is not going to change to fit in with our expectations. So, rather than thinking ‘that should not have happened’, it is more skillful to think ‘that happened, so what do I do now?’.

Self-compassion includes the ability to self-soothe. We have to be able to fully support and comfort ourselves when times are difficult as this will give us the courage to face the stuff we previously run away from. We are like little children running away from the bogeyman, but when we summon up the courage to face this monster, we are usually amazed at how it is nowhere near as frightening as we once thought.

How to Cope Mindfully with Bereavement

2016-08-27

Image by Bangin

Image by Bangin

by Paul Garrigan

Is There a Right Way to Deal with Death?

There probably is no ‘right’ way to deal with a bereavement, but there are certainly ways of reacting that can the situation much worse for ourselves and other people. This wrong way of dealing with grief could include using it as an excuse to abuse alcohol or drugs, making it all about ourselves (e.g. I perfected the art of being the saddest man at the funeral so people would buy me drinks), or taking our grief out on others.

Mindfulness can help us deal with death in a far more effective way. This approach will not provide us with the means to escape the loss, but it will help us face the pain of bereavement.

The Practice of Compassion

‘Compassion’ is the ability to just allow physical or emotional discomfort without any attempt to run away from it. When someone we know dies, it is normal to go through a process of grieving. Our sense of loss can be intense, but anything we do to avoid or escape this pain (e.g. turning to alcohol or drugs) can just make the process harder and more prolonged.

We might consider bereavement to be a potential downside of caring for someone else. It is a cost worth paying though. Life would be deeply unsatisfying if we refused to get close to other people in case they died on us, so the risk of bereavement is a small price to pay for the gift of friends and family.

Those of us who have developed the habit of always trying to avoid emotional pain (e.g. through substance abuse) can find it particularly hard to cope with bereavement. This is because the ability to handle loss improves through our previous experiences of facing pain – in other words, our failure to strengthen the ‘compassion muscle’ can put us at a bit of a disadvantage.

We pay tribute to those who have died by just allowing our grief to unfold. There is no right way to grieve. We just allow whatever emotions arise to come and go naturally – this is self-compassion in action. We don’t try to make ourselves feel any worse nor do we worry about not feeling ‘enough’ – we just feel what we feel, no more and no less.

Practicing compassion is a bit like weightlifting. If you walk into a gym and immediately start pumping the heaviest weights, you are likely to end up in trouble. If you feel overwhelmed by loss, you might not have sufficient self-compassion to go through the process alone – in this situation, you may benefit from the help of a therapist or GP.

Hope Rehab Center Thailand Meditation

Momento Mori – Death as a Reminder to Never Take Life for Granted

In ancient Rome, it was common for army generals to give attendants the job of carrying banners around containing the words ‘momento mori’ (remember death). These words were there to remind soldiers never to take their lives for granted – it was a invitation for them to treat every moment as precious and potentially the last.

We are all going to die, and it is going to happen a lot sooner than most of us would like given the choice – even if we live to be 100. Knowing this, why do we hold back from fully experiencing and appreciating each and every moment? Why do we waste so much time lost in useless thoughts about a future that will never happen and a past we can never change?

The death of somebody we are close to is a strong reminder of our own mortality – in fact, it can at least partially this that makes it so hard to face. Thinking about our own death may seem pessimistic, but it can be the perfect wake-up call so we stop wasting our time on bullshit and start appreciating every precious moment while we still can. It can also remind us to cherish those we love while they are still with us.

Why You Need to Love and Respect Yourself Even in the Midst of Addiction

2016-08-03

Hope Rehab Workbook

by Paul Garrigan

How Shame and Self-Loathing Keep Us Trapped

I was never able to manage lasting improvements in my life for so long as I was motivated by shame, self-loathing, and disappointment. These negative thoughts kept me stuck in addiction, and it meant my outer reality became a reflection of the darkness inside of me.

Only shame and self-hatred could make life as a drunk appear a viable option to me. It involved believing I didn’t have it in me to quit or improve my life because I had made too many mistakes, thrown away too many opportunities, and burned too many bridges. This negative attitude towards myself created the perfect soil for addiction and other bad behaviors to blossom.

For so long as self-loathing maintained the upper hand, I never really had a chance of escaping addiction. It was only when I started paying more attention to a different voice in my head, a voice that knew there was a better way of living, that things began to improve for me.


I Will Love and Respect Myself When….

Waiting for your life to improve so you can love and respect yourself is a terrible idea. Your life will improve because you love and respect yourself right now. You need to become your ‘number 1 supporter’ and friend - otherwise you will be actively sabotaging your own happiness through shame, pessimism, and self-criticism.

Don’t kid yourself that being hard on yourself is in any way motivational. How could believing you are a failure ever help you find success? How could feeling such shame ever help you become worthy? How will pessimism about the future encourage you to create a better one?

There is another voice inside of you more worthy of your attention. This voice dares to hope for something better and it knows you are deserving of love and respect right now.

Workbook

Respect Yourself Even If You Relapse

Returning to alcohol or drugs is usually a huge disappointment, but it doesn’t mean you are a failure or a hopeless case. If you use this as an excuse to be overly hard on yourself, you are playing into the hands of the addiction. This is sometimes referred to as the abstinent violation effect - it means rather than minimizing any undesirable consequences of the relapse, you are creating the conditions for a return to full-blown addiction.

Relapse happens. I feel uneasy with the claim ‘relapse is a normal part of recovery’, because I used it so frequently as a justification, but there is some truth in this. Most of us who manage a permanent break from alcohol or drugs have a history of multiple failed attempts at recovery) beforehand.

A return to alcohol or drugs may be a part of your journey, but if you continue to respect and love yourself, it need only be a temporary stage. It is impossible to settle back into hell of addiction unless you believe the thoughts telling you that you deserve to be there.

Deepening Concentration to Achieve Insight and Freedom

2016-06-04

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by Paul Garrigan

The Magician in Your Head

There is a little speech I like to share with clients during our first one-to-one session, and it goes something like this:

“The reason you have ended up so off track in life is because your mind has been tricking you. Now, you can believe or disbelieve what I’m saying here, but to be honest with you, it doesn’t matter much either way because believing your mind is tricking you probably isn’t going to be enough to stop your mind from tricking you – in the same way knowing a trained magician is performing tricks doesn’t stop this person from fooling you. In order for you to stop being tricked by the mind, you need to understand the trick, and this is the goal of our mindfulness program”

The claim that our minds are deliberately tricking us is a bit simplistic (it is more like a misunderstanding), but this way of looking at things does give us an idea of what we are up against. There is something amiss in the way we are perceiving reality, and this is the source of most of our suffering.

How to See the Trick

In my experience, the insight into how the mind has been tricking us is most likely to arise by observing the mind for a sufficient amount of time. In order to be able to do this most effectively, we need to develop deep concentration through practicing meditation. This concentration serves two purposes – it illuminates the mind while also stilling mental processes enough so we can see clearly.

The deeper our concentration, the better we are able to see the magician at work. We are able to experience this increased clarity and mental stillness through letting go of certain obstacles to meditation including sleepiness, restlessness, doubt, desire, and ill-will (read more here) – the ‘opening up’ stage of the Hope mindfulness program is designed for dealing with the final three and the ability to deal with sleepiness and restlessness arises with practice.

dylan-kerr-rocks-the-house

The Tricks our Mind Plays

By observing the mind from deep states of concentration, we begin to gain insights that lead to permanent changes in our behavior and increase our sense of well-being. We get to understand how the mind has been tricking us and we lose the ability to be fooled by those tricks. There are three key insights that once we have fully experienced them lead to complete freedom from mental suffering and these are:

Impermanence

Life is in a constant state of change, yet we humans tend to want things to remain the same. This can put us in a state of conflict with reality. Life is never going to conform to our desire for stability – it doesn’t matter how much effort we put into building our sandcastle, eventually the tide is going to come and wash it away. It is only by fully accepting impermanence, not just believing it intellectually, but by living our life in accord with this insight that we can end our war with reality.

Non-self

One of the most profound insights we gain through this practice is that we cannot be our thoughts – at least not in the way we generally think we are. We assume there is a person (me) doing the thinking, but this belief doesn’t hold up when we observe the mind in deep concentration. It comes as a shock to see how thoughts are just arising in much the same was as sound arises – rather than creating the thoughts, we are only observing them. This insight can feel disturbing at first, but once the full implication of it hit us, it leads to the ‘peace that passes all understanding’.

Non-self is not something I would expect anyone to just believe in – it has to be experienced. I paid lip-service to the idea of non-self for years because it was part of my identity as a ‘Buddhist’, but it was only when I set out to disprove it that I began to gain insight into it. Be skeptical. I ask you to ponder these questions though – if you really are your thoughts, why can’t you control them? What process do you use to create a thought (e.g. when I speak it involves movement in my voice box)? If you sometimes disown certain thoughts as not being ‘you’ (e.g. cravings), why should the other thoughts be you?

Nature of Suffering

The insight into the nature of suffering arises due to our understanding of non-self and impermanence. We now see how it has been our relationship with thoughts that is the real source of our suffering. Once we have gained this insight, we lose the ability to delude ourselves – we are free.

A Four Level Mindful Approach to Addiction Cravings

2016-05-31

Hope Rehab Thailand Thai House

Mindful Steps to Freedom from Craving

by Paul Garrigan

A Path to Freedom from Addiction Cravings

The meditation path we follow at Hope has four levels:

• Resting in the body
• Opening up
• Deepening concentration
• Insight

Each of these levels provides a particular way for dealing with addiction cravings, and we will now look at how these different approaches work in practice. Those of us who are new to mediation will probably only be able to work with the first two levels (at least in the beginning), but the last option offers the possibility of complete freedom from addiction cravings.

Level 1 – Resting in the Body Makes Cravings Much Easier to Manage

An addiction craving can trigger physical symptoms and uncomfortable feelings, but it is thinking aspect of the urge that make it so hard to manage. To be more precise – it is a thought pleading with us to escape these unpleasant symptoms by using your drug of choice that makes cravings unbearable.

An addiction craving rarely lasts for more than 15 minutes – the exception to this is if it keeps on being retriggered (e.g. you are in withdrawals or you are sitting in a bar). This means if you can just sit it out, the desire to drink or use will pass, and your new life will still be on track. The ability to sit with cravings is sometimes referred to as ‘urge surfing’, and it is a skill you can develop.

Sitting with the thought aspect of a craving is incredibly tricky – it is just too easy to be swept away unless we have developed a high level of mental clarity and focus. The good news is if we able to put our attention on the physical aspects of the craving, which are much easier to deal with, we are far less likely to be caught up by the thoughts. This is because our attention can only be on one thing at a time. It is then just a case of sitting with the physical sensation as much as possible until the craving passes.

Level 2 – Opening up Allows Us to Just Be with the Cravings

Those of us who fall into addiction tend to perform poorly when it comes to dealing with discomfort. This is because our tendency has been to run away from the messy stuff in life through using drugs. Our habit of avoiding pain means we will not have developed much self-compassion, and this makes it much harder for us to deal with addiction cravings.

Self-compassion refers to the willingness to face any inner discomfort and self-soothe. We can only develop this ability through practice – we start by choosing to turn towards the messy stuff, rather than trying to avoid it, and the more we do this, the better we get at dealing with these challenges. Our increased self-compassion then gives us the ability to just sit with the cravings.

Hope Rehab Center Thailand Meditation

Meditate to Escape Cravings


Level 3 -Deepening Concentration Takes the Sting Out of Addiction Cravings

Once we have developed sufficient concentration through practicing meditation, we may then have the ability to deal directly with the thinking aspect of addiction cravings. We clearly see how thoughts have an impersonal quality (i.e. we don’t choose to crave), and so long as we don’t latch onto these thoughts, by giving them our attention, they pass away by their own accord like clouds moving through the sky.

Level 4 – Insight into Addiction Cravings

In a way, our mind has been tricking us, and for as long as we don’t understand the trick, we will always be susceptible to it. Knowing your mind is tricking you is not enough – you have to see the trick.

Insight means we see the nature of this craving trick in such a way that we can never be fooled by it again. The best way to develop this insight is by observing the mind from a state of deep concentration, as this means there will be sufficient mental clarity for us to be able to see what is going on.

Escape Excessive Thinking by Opening Up to the World

2016-05-28

Hope Rehab Thailand Monkey

The local monkeys have an open relationship with reality – maybe too much!

by Paul Garrigan

Finding Peace in the Body

Most of us intuitively know we can find peace by deliberately moving our attention away from thinking to physical sensation – this is why we pace up and down or go for a long walk when we feel overwhelmed by mental chatter. What would happen though, if instead of waiting until we hit some type of mental rock bottom, we began resting in the body as part of our daily routine?


Here is what I found:

Over the years, I got to see how focusing my attention on the body (physical sensation) caused me to feel more at ease in the world – the more I did it, the more at ease I became.

Resting in the body didn’t seem like much of a big deal at first, but over time, I developed a deep yearning to experience this state of inner peace – it made life so much more enjoyable. It eventually dawned on me that it had been the desire to experience this serenity that led me into addiction – I had wanted to ‘feel comfortable in my own skin’, and by moving my attention away from thinking to physical sensation, this began to happen.

Once we experience the benefits of resting in the body, shouldn’t it then just be a simple case of remembering to switch our focus to physical sensation regularly throughout the day?

Unfortunately, it is not usually so easy to do in practice. The problem is there are certain patterns of thinking that hook us every time. These thoughts are often related to our desire to protect ourselves from suffering – we’ve been hurt before, and we can’t let it happen again. It is only by ‘removing the sting’ from these thoughts that we can more easily rest in the body.


The Link Between Trauma and Excessive Thinking

There is nothing wrong with thinking – it is vital for our survival and prosperity. The problem is that much of our thinking is useless at best and harmful at worst. A lot of these troublesome mental chatter arises as a result of past trauma. Bad things happen to us, we get hurt, and we respond by creating mental defenses – these defenses are kept in place through excessive thinking (e.g. planning, anticipating, and ‘acting’ in certain ways).

The more trauma we experience, the more thinking we need to do to protect ourselves – everything can begin to feel like a potential threat. All this thinking means we become so disconnected from our body that almost every physical sensation can trigger a new bout of excessive thinking (e.g. we respond to a bit of normal anxiety by becoming anxious about it). This is why it can be so hard to rest in the body for any length of time.


Opening Up to Escape Excessive Thinking

The key to being able to rest more easily in the body is to begin lowering our mental defenses. We become willing to open up like this once we clearly see how this excessive thinking is keeping us trapped in misery. We find better ways to deal with the ups and downs of life (e.g. compassion), and this gives us the courage to open up more and more.

Some of the ways we can begin to open up include:

• Focusing on the physical component of our feelings rather than the thoughts generated by these feelings – e.g. if you feel sad, focus on the physical sensational associated with this feeling in the body
• Practice metta (loving kindness) meditation as this is a fantastic practice for developing a sense of openness and reducing our sense of living in hostile world
• Develop compassion (this gives us the ability to sit with discomfort rather than retreat into thinking) through practices like tonglen

Why You Need to Practice Unconditional Positivity

2016-04-27

Hope Rehab Monk Luuks photos

by Paul Garrigan

The Difference Between ‘Being Positive’ and Unconditional Positivity

For me, ‘being positive’ was always about trying to manipulate reality into meeting my expectations – e.g. ‘here’s the deal universe, I’ll pretend to be super-positive so long as you keep giving me what I want, but just make sure don’t leave me waiting too long’. Other people may have a more mature relationship with ‘being positive’, but in my experience, it is usually about behaving in a certain way in order to get a specific result.

Unconditional positivity differs from ‘being positive’ in that it doesn’t involve any expectations about the future. It is an attitude that develops as a result of opening up to the world, and it is based on the insight that reality is supportive to life even when it doesn’t behave as we want to.

The Danger of ‘Being Positive’

In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, Victor Frankl describes his experience of being an inmate in a Nazi concentration camp. One of his observations was that those prisoners who tried be positive (e.g. ‘it’s all been a big mistake, and we will be set free soon) were usually the first to die because they were unable to adjust to the reality of the situation –their expectations were so out of sync with what was happening that it meant they eventually became hopeless.

Victor Frankl believed we humans thrive when we have an authentic relationship with reality. This means we learn to fit in with the universe rather than trying to bend the universe to our will (a battle we can never win).

“…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us”
Victor Frankl

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A few years ago, I lost an important client, and for a while, it looked certain that my ability to financially take care of my family would disappear. I tried my best to be positive – I convinced myself good news was just around the corner, and all I had to do was wait for the next email where a client would be offering me a new project. But as each day came and went, with no sign of anyone coming to save me, it became impossible to ignore the rising panic and what felt like a stone in my stomach.

Being positive brought me to the brink of a nervous breakdown. By ignoring the reality of my situation, I was just suppressing my anxiety, and the tension built up like steam inside a pressure cooker. This meant that I became hopeless and ineffective at a time when I needed to be out hustling for more work. Luckily, I woke up to what was happening before it was too late, but I dread to think what would have happened if I had continued to just ‘be positive’.

How to Practice Unconditional Positivity

Unconditional positivity is all about letting go of our expectations and instead just trusting life. We focus on doing our best in this moment because it is our only real hope of happiness right now and for the future. Unconditional positivity means being authentic because there is no way we can fool reality.

Unconditional positivity is not some type of artificial practice like ‘being positive’ but instead it is a realization – we develop this attitude once we surrender to reality. It is all about waking up to our situation. The Christian mystic Anthony de Mello described ‘unconditional positivity’ beautifully with his words “absolute cooperation with the inevitable”.

The Stages of Meditation at Hope Rehab

2016-04-23

dylan-kerr-rocks-the-house

by Paul Garrigan

The Goal of the Hope Meditation Program

One of the first things I suggest to newcomers at Hope is their brain has been tricking them and that this is the real cause of their suffering. Most clients have no problem accepting my theory, in fact, it’s usually something they have figured out for themselves already. The problem is that just knowing that your brain is tricking you is not enough to stop your brain from tricking you.

I doubt there are many of us who believe that someone like Derren Brown (famous UK magician) has any actual magical powers. We know he is fooling us in some way, and there is a rational explanation for his amazing feats. Unfortunately, (or fortunately if you like being amazed) this knowing he is a trickster doesn’t stop him fooling us every time– in order to stop being fooled by Derren, we would need to first understand the trick.

It’s the same with brain, if you want to stop being fooled by your brain, you need to understand the trick. The goal of the Hope mindfulness program is for you to develop the ability to see how these tricks are being performed – once you gain insight into a trick, you can never be fooled by it again. The more of these tricks of the mind you understand, the more freedom you gain.


The Stages of Meditation at Hope Rehab

Stage 1 – Resting in the Body
Stage 2 – Opening Up
Stage 3 – Deep Concentration
Stage 4 – Insight

Stage 1 – Resting in the Body

By the time we arrive at rehab, we are usually completely disconnected from the body. We have spent years fluctuating between chemically induced numbness and out-of-control thinking. Some mental numbness may last for the first few days or weeks of rehab, but once it wears off, we can find ourselves completely at the mercy of thoughts.

One of our first goals when we meditate is begin resting in the body. At Hope, we use mala beads to help us do this. By focusing on the sensation of holding a bead, we direct our attention away from thinking to the physical body. There are a number of reasons we want to do this including:

• By deliberately directing our attention to where we want it to go, we are developing concentration
• Our attention can only be on one thing at a time – when we are focusing on the body, we are not caught up excessive thinking (which is the cause of most of our suffering)
• We find amazing peace by resting in the body – when we are exposed to enough of this peace, we realize it was what we were looking for all along (the need to abuse alcohol or drugs then falls away)
• We gain insight into the fact that we have no real control over thinking, and this means we begin to identify less with thoughts.

Stage 2 – Opening Up

Concentration is like a flashlight that allows us to see what is happening in the mind. The more of this mental stuff we can see, the more likely we are to develop insight.

Just sitting down to meditate every day is probably not going to be enough to guarantee access the deepest states of meditation. This is because there are certain thinking patterns blocking the way.

One of the most difficult of these mental roadblocks to overcome is ‘ill-will’ – this refers to a distrust we have of ourselves, other people, and the world in general. So long as this roadblock remains, our mind will probably never become still enough to develop powerful concentration.

Being ‘closed off’ from the world means we have built strong defenses around ourselves that require excessing thinking to maintain. Our mind is in a state of siege, so it is no wonder that when we sit down to meditate, we find it hard to concentrate.

The practice of the Brahma Viharas (divide abodes) is probably the most powerful way to begin letting go of those powerful patterns of thinking that are blocking our way to deep concentration. Meditations based on the Brahma Viharas include:

Metta (loving kindness) allows us to develop a sense of openness towards the world
Karuna (compassion) allows us to just be with discomfort rather than escaping into obsessive thinking
Mudita (sympathetic joy) is the cure for patterns of thinking associated with jealousy, competiveness, envy, and conceit
Upekkha (equanimity) is to ability to just be with what is rather than escaping into thoughts about how things should or shouldn’t be

Hope Rehab Center Thailand Meditation

Stage 3 – Deep Concentration

Once we have begun to overcome the obstacles to concertation, we can start to access the deepest states of concentration. Here we will discover amazing bliss and peace – comfort and ease way beyond what we have achieved using any drug. At this stage, meditating for an hour or more becomes effortless, and the wonderful feelings we enjoy in meditation will start to follow us into our daily lives.

For a lot of people, achieving deep states of concentration is the goal of meditation, but settling just for this may be selling yourself short. The problem is that even when you are easily able to access the jhana states (deepest states of meditation), it doesn’t stop you from behaving like an asshole when you are not meditating – e.g. I had my first taste of jhana as a teenager, but I still ended up addicted to alcohol (and all the misery that went with that) for almost two decades!

Stage 4 – Insight

Deep states of concentration give us a taste of freedom, but it is insight (vipassana) that makes this freedom a reality – it is through insight that we get to understand the trick so we can never be fooled again. If we want to begin understanding the mind, we need to use our high level of concentration to observe it in action. This means we just sit and look. We can also use self-inquiry (e.g. who is experiencing this?) to guide our exploration of the mind.

It may take many years to progress from stage one to stage four of meditation, and it is not a journey you are going to complete during your time at Hope. Don’t worry – you can begin to notice amazing improvements to your life even at stage one of meditation (in fact, you may never feel the need to go beyond stage one).