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

The 7 Factors on Enlightenment

2016-10-08

Marble Buddha

by Paul Garrigan

Seeing that Frees Us from Addiction

I used to wonder if my brain was deliberately working against me. How else could I explain the regular transitions from sincere determination to quit alcohol one minute to deciding to go on another bender the next? I now understand it was not that my brain was defective or trying to harm me, it had just fallen victim to a trick.

My brain had been tricked in much the same way as a naïve investor might get caught out by a sophisticated pyramid scheme. The saddest thing in this situation is that by the time investors become suspicious, they are usually too heavily invested to pay heed to these suspicions – it’s the same with addiction.

Knowing your brain has been the victim of trick may be helpful, but it is usually only when we understand the trick that we can fully escape and avoid falling into the same trap again in the future. The goal of mindfulness/insight practice is to give us the ability to see how we have been tricked.

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

If you wish to protect your brain from harmful delusions, you will need to gain insight into how you are being tricked. This type of understanding is far more likely to arise in a state of mental clarity, focus, and non-reactivity (i.e. we need to put aside our tendency to habitually react prior to investigation).

The easiest way to promote the growth of insight is to meditate regularly. This needs to be done in a certain way if we hope to achieve the best results. The ‘7 factors of enlightenment’ are attitudes and mental states that together will greatly increase the likelihood of insight during meditation and include:

Mindfulness means recognizing what your brain is doing at any given moment (e.g. fantasizing, getting angry, or listening)

Curiosity means investigating what is arising in our mind in a fresh way

Energy gives us the ability to make progress towards insight (it can be increased through other factors such as curiosity and joy)

Joy arises in meditation as we develop deeper concentration (see my previous post on jhanas). Focusing on this joy can move us even into a deeper state of single-pointed concentration.

Tranquility arises as we calm down mental activity through concentration and equanimity

Concentration requires keeping your attention on the object of the meditation (e.g. the sensation of the breath). Concentration is like a lamp, the stronger it is, the more of the mind we can see

Equanimity is the non-judgmental and non-reactive mind state that facilitates curiosity, concentration, and tranquility

How Mental Absorption (jhana) Can Free Us from Addiction

2016-09-28

Hope Rehab Center Thailand Meditation

by Paul Garrigan

What is Jhana?

Jhana (Thai: ฌาน/chaan) is a strong state of concentration we can learn to enter while meditating. Once we are able to access jhana, we can then deepen it through a process of letting go.

Jhana covers a spectrum of meditation experiences which can be broken up into stages. These stages are traditionally labelled as first jhana, second jhana, third jhana, fourth jhana (there are another five jhana states to explore, but the first four are sufficient for our purposes). As we progress from one stage to the next, the potential for developing insight increases.

How the Jhanas Can Help Free Us from Addiction

The jhanas are delightful. When we first encounter them, we are usually amazed such states of consciousness actually exist – it is like living for years in poverty, but then finding a huge casket of gold under your bed.

The Jhanas can help keep us free from addiction (and ultimately free us from all types of suffering) because:

• It allows us to safely experience states of concentration that are more pleasurable than drugs (and without the nasty side-effects)
• It allows us to experience happiness that is not dependent on external conditions
• We discover the freedom of a still mind so we become less obsessed with external experiences as a way to make us happy
• We stop blaming other people for our suffering once we gain insight into how we create our own suffering
• From this stillness of mind, we develop can other insights that completely change our relationship with reality
• We know without doubt that the more we let go, the more freedom we enjoy

How to Use Jhana Effectively

I would say there is no danger from jhana so long as we don’t access these states as a way to avoid our life. This is a mistake I made. I began experimenting with deep states of concentration as a teenager, but I was using it as a way to escape family problems. Even though I would occasionally fall into light jhanas, I didn’t benefit from the experience because my intention was wrong.

Luangpor Teean (หลวงพ่อเทียน) advised us that jhana without insight is like placing a rock over weeds. While the rock remains, the weeds won’t grow, but as soon as we remove the rock, the weeds will come back. It is perfectly possible to become skilled at entering wonderful meditation states, yet still behave badly when we are not meditating.

To get the most out of the jhana experience, we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve. We need to have the right intention or we could end up completely lost. So what would be the right intention? Our minds have been tricking us, and this is why we end up so lost in addiction, so I would suggest the right intention would be to learn how we are being tricked – this is something we will see more easily with deep states of concentration.

 

Meditation program at Hope Rehab

The Subjective Nature of the Jhana

The jhanas are subjective experiences, and this makes it problematic when it comes to discussing them. The situation isn’t helped because there is so much disagreement among the experts about what clarifies as a jhana (e.g. some meditation masters would say there should be no experience of external sound in the first jhana and for it to be a ‘real’ jhana we should be able to sustain it for three hours).

I would advise against getting caught up in the debate about jhana (or as the Buddha once described it, ‘the thicket of views’). I prefer the approach to this advocated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (inspired by his teacher Taan Por Fuang ท่านพ่อเฟื่อง) which involves a ‘post-it note’ approach to mapping the mental states we experience in meditation.

Once you understand the ingredients of a jhana, and you feel you have experienced this state, you can provisionally label it (your post-it note) – if it turns out later that you were wrong, you can move your post-it note to a new location.

Preparing the Mind for Jhana

There are three basic conditions for the mind to be inclined towards jhana:
Vittaka (Thai: วิตก/wi-dtok) – maintaining our attention to the object of the meditation (e.g. the breath)
Vicara (Thai: วิจาร/wi-jaan) – examining the object of meditation closely
Upekkha (Thai: อุเบกขา/ubek-kha) – a non-judgmental attitude as we observe the object of meditation

At Hope, we use the physical sensation of metta as our object of meditation. We bring our attention to the area around the heart (this is vitakka in action) and focus as closely as we can on the sensation there (vicara). Observing these lovely sensations can lead to the arrival of piti (Thai: ปีติ/piti) which is a the experience of physical joy and sukha (Thai:สุข/suk) which is emotional happiness.

The arrival of piti and sukha is so attractive to the mind that we develop a particularly strong type of one-pointed focus called ekaggata (Thai:เอกัคคตา/eck-ka-kata). We have now entered the first jhana.

Moving Through the Jhanas

The process of moving from one jhana requires letting go more and more. We move from the first to the second jhana by easing up on our effort – i.e. once we have stabilized the first jhana we no longer need vitaka and vicarra (it is like we are suddenly coasting along).

3 Reasons Qigong Can Be the Perfect Mindfulness Practice for People in Early Recovery

2016-09-14

Hope Rehab thailand sa22

by Paul Garrigan

Qigong is one of the mindfulness practices that even newcomers to Hope can find easy to engage in. These gentle exercise are a type of moving meditation that not have the potential to transform our body but also our mind. Here are just 3 reasons for why qigong can be the perfect practice for people in early recovery:

It Can Be Easier to Develop Concentration by Focusing on Movement

Concentration is the ability to keep our attention on an object of our choosing. It is a skill we can develop through meditation by picking an anchor (e.g. the breath or a mantra) and maintaining our focus on it over time.

Concentration is the fuel that makes mindfulness possible. If we don’t have a sufficient amount, it not only makes it difficult to meditate but also to listen, learn, and engage with life. Lack of concentration also means we are at the mercy of our thoughts.

One of the side-effects of long-term substance abuse it can create a kind of mind fog that reduces our ability to concentrate. In some cases, this mental numbness can continue for months even after we quit our addiction. This makes sitting meditation a bit of a challenge.

It can be easier for people in early recovery to focus on physical movement rather than a subtler sensation like the breath. Qigong is a type of moving meditation where the anchor we use is the exercises. This practice can swiftly increase our level of concentration in a way that most of us find enjoyable.

Hope Rehab thailand sa23

Qigong Reconnects Us to The Body

When we spend most of our time lost in thought, it means we are missing out on real lives. One of the benefits of moving our attention to physical sensations is we get a break from all of that thinking – when we are focused on our body, we are automatically in the here and now.

By reconnecting to our body through qigong practice, we start to find peace away from thought. It is the desire for this type of peace that is one of the reasons people start to enjoy stuff like walking and running so much. We feel more alive when we are focused on bodily sensation, and it means we reconnect with an important aspect of ourselves we have been ignoring.

Hope Rehab thailand sa24
Qigong Allows Us to See the Building Blocks of Sense Experiences

One of the things we start to recognize by practicing qigong is the flow of chi in our body. Our normal experience of sensations like pain and itching is that they have a solid quality, but when we give them our full attention, they lose their solidity and become fluid (this fluid quality can be similar to ‘pins and needles’) – it is this subjectively fluid quality we refer to as ‘chi energy’.

Fluid sense experiences are far easier to be with than the solid formations our thinking mind creates. Even something like pain feels far less threatening when it is experienced as wavelike (it can transform to a tingling sensation that we can’t quite pin down) – this explains why mindfulness can be so effective for pain management. We start to notice that all sense experience has this fluid quality, and this understanding leads to great freedom.

3 Mindfulness Tools That Will Transform Your Life Straightaway

2016-08-20

Mindfulness Toolbox Image by Janekpfeifer

Mindfulness Toolbox
Image by Janekpfeifer

by Paul Garrigan

Knowledge About Mindfulness Is Not Enough

Learning about mindfulness can provide a new framework for understanding our experiences, but this knowledge alone is unlikely to do much to improve our life. It would be like learning about sky-diving when you have no plans of ever getting in an airplane. Here are 3 mindfulness tools that will transform your life straightaway if you start to actually use them:

Focusing on Physical Sensation

One of the things people tend to do when they are mentally distressed is to pace up and down. We intuitively know we will get some relief if we move our attention away from our thoughts to something physical. This simple tool works because our attention can only focus on one thing at time, so by focusing on a physical sensation, we discover a sanctuary no matter how troubled our thinking becomes.

There were periods during those early years after I quit alcohol when I struggled to maintain a meditation practice or do any of the other things that I knew were helping me. The one thing I was always able to do was to focus on physical sensation, sometimes only for a few seconds at a time, but it was enough to prevent me from being overwhelmed by life.

If you can get into the habit of focusing on physical sensation, it will make a huge difference to your life. It will mean you too will have a refuge to turn to no matter how bad life gets. It only requires noticing whatever sensations are arising in your body right now (this is sometimes referred to as interoceptive awareness), or if you prefer, you can create your own sensations by performing some type of movement (e.g. walking, qigong, or yoga).

The benefits of focusing on physical sensation:

• By moving your attention away from thoughts, it allows your thinking to slow down. If you have a problem, you are far more likely to get a solution from a clear mind than a troubled mind
• Obsessive thinking can turn our brain into a ‘pressure cooker’ and eventually the pressure becomes so high we explode. Focusing on physical sensation releases some of the pressure
• By moving our attention to something physical, we are actually practicing meditation – it means we will begin to reap the benefits of improved concentration and mental clarity
• This act of ‘resting in the body’ introduces us to a new way of being. We start to notice how a deep sense of well-being is our default state when we are not caught up in thinking

DSCF6621


Opening Up to Feelings and Emotions

Most of the bad stuff (including addictive behavior) we do is a result of trying to escape unpleasant feelings and emotions. We never seem to notice that the ‘cure’ is far worse than the ailment – we can go a lifetime without ever even considering what it is we are trying to get away from. It can come as a huge shock when we realize it was never the feelings that were the problem but our overreaction to them.

Self-compassion is the ability to just allow unpleasant feelings and emotions to arise and pass. When we do this, we begin to notice that these feelings are nowhere near as scary as we once imagined them to be - we have been running into the arms of monsters in order to escape a yapping puppy.

Loving What Is

Mindfulness means being aware of what is happening right now in an accepting way. It is an act of devotion that can completely transform our life. The word ‘love’ tends to suggest a gushy type of sentimentality, but the love we are talking about here involves complete acceptance of what is. If we can bring this type of devotion and full-commitment to our current experience, we will find happiness and peace right now (it doesn’t require you become a ‘spiritual person’, meditate for thousands of hours, or complete any type of self-improvement project).

Absolute Cooperation with the Inevitable

2016-08-17

Go With The Flow! Image by Photnart

Go With The Flow!
Image by Photnart

by Paul Garrigan

The Way Things Should Be

It is our ideas about how things ‘should be’ that makes life so difficult. This puts us in a confrontational relationship with reality. It is a battle we can never win. The only way we can ever know true peace is by letting go of our ideas about how things should be – or at the mystic Anthony de Mello once described it, ‘absolute cooperation with the inevitable’.

The thoughts ‘that shouldn’t have happened’ or ‘that should have happened’ can make it impossible for us to find contentment. This would include beliefs such as ‘my parents should have loved me more’, ‘he shouldn’t have done that to me’, or ‘I should have been treated better’. These thoughts lead to unnecessary suffering because reality doesn’t come with a rewind button – what is done is done, and the only helpful question is ‘this has happened, so what do I do now’.

Another source of unnecessary pain is the idea ‘this shouldn’t be happening’. If we argue with what is happening now, it puts us in state of anxiety and contracted thinking, and this makes it hard to deal appropriately with the situation. We can’t change what is already here, and now is never going to change just because we don’t approve of it, so we can save ourselves from useless suffering by working with reality.


Stop Barking at the Waves

It is common to see wild dogs on the beaches here in Thailand, and one of the things they like to do is bark at the waves – I’ve seen dogs do this for hours at a time. Barking obsessively at waves like this can’t be good for a dog’s throat, and it seems a bit pointless if you ask me (it’s not like it is going to make the waves stop)– yet it makes as much sense as our ideas of what should and shouldn’t be happening.

Image by Vincent

Image by Vincent

Stop Fighting Reality and Find Peace

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
Lao Tzu

Life becomes effortless when we go with the flow rather than trying to force reality to fit our image of how it ‘should be’. This act of surrender is only authentic when we fully accept how hopeless our situation is – we can never win a war against reality, and to continue with the fight is just too painful. It is not about accepting reality so we can get what we want but about accepting reality so we want what we get.

All conflicts in the world arise because we try to impose our idea of ‘how things should be’ on reality. It is a hopeless situation because the things we do in response to this rejection of reality (e.g. getting high, believing in fantasies, or arguing with others) ultimately just makes reality seem increasingly unsatisfying. It is unreasonable to expect reality to meet our criteria before we become willing to accept it – when we do this, it means we are choosing to suffer.

Life is what it is. Being alive can be an absolutely wonderful experience, and it is only our ideas about how things ‘should be’ that prevents this.

Is Awakening a Realistic Goal for People Recovering from an Addiction?

2016-07-27

800px-Bodhi_tree_replica_at_Brahmavihara_Arama

by Paul Garrigan

How Good Can Life Get Following Addiction?

I used to believe that if only I stopped drinking, my life would become instantly perfect. So, it came as a disappointment to give up the booze and not automatically enjoy a hassle-free life full of riches and acclaim – this failure of sober living to meet my high standards became my favorite excuse to relapse. It took me a bit of time to realize that all the not drinking did was give me an opportunity for a better life.


Question: Dear Universe, if I stop shooting myself in the foot, what’s in it for me?
Answer: A foot that is at least slightly less sore

Breaking free of addiction doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does put us in a more favorable position to create a better life. None of that suffering needs to have been wasted if it can motivate us towards real freedom and happiness – unfortunately, for most of us humans, it tends to be pain that drives us far enough away from our comfort zone to break free of the mental traps that keep us imprisoned.

What is Awakening?

“Suffering just means you’re having a bad dream. Happiness means you’re having a good dream. Enlightenment means getting out of the dream altogether.”
Jed McKenna

One of the problems with the word ‘awakening’ is it means different things to different people. This confusion is partly due to the limitations of language – how can thoughts be used to describe something beyond thoughts? There is also the tendency for awakening to be interpreted through the lens of the person’s cultural, philosophical, or religious orientation.

The word ‘awakening’ suggests waking up to something – so what is it we are waking up to?

Awakening is waking up to the ego and seeing clearly how identifying with this pattern of thinking is the source of our suffering. It is not about stopping thoughts but about realizing with absolute certainly there is no person in these thoughts. This means we stop bickering with reality and we discover the joy of internal silence – ‘the peace that passeth all understanding’.

Photo by Brocken Inaglory

Photo by Brocken Inaglory

 

Is Awakening a Realistic Goal for People in Recovery?

“Most people tell you they want to get out of kindergarten, but don't
believe them. Don't believe them! All they want you to do is to mend
their broken toys. "Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give
me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success". This
is what they want; they want their toys replaced.”

Anthony de Mello

Awakening/enlightenment is a realistic goal for anyone who wants it enough. You don’t have to become a monk, subscribe to any particular religion/philosophy, act like a ‘spiritual person’, or spend the next 30 years meditating in a cave.

The reality though that most people don’t want to wake up - they are too obsessed with stuff that can never lead them to ultimate freedom and happiness. This is fine because nobody has the right to tell anyone else what they should want, but it is kind of sad when such a person laments, “I just want to be happy”.

I would say those of us who fall into addiction actually have an edge when it comes to waking up. This is because most of us had already decided long before we began abusing alcohol or drugs that ‘normal living’ wasn’t going to be fulfilling enough for us. There was nothing wrong with this realization (in fact, this is the same conclusion the Buddha came to), the only problem was what we did with this realization (i.e. we used it as an excuse to get drunk or high).

If you are serious about finding lasting inner-peace, it is realistic to make ‘waking up’ your goal. You need to be willing to let go of anything that gets in the way of this process but don’t worry, you won’t be letting go of anything that wouldn’t have been taken away from you anyway.

“Now don’t think that awakening is the end. Awakening is the end of seeking, the end of the seeker, but it is the beginning of a life lived from your true nature.”

Adyashanti

5 of the Most Bizarre Addiction Recovery Approaches that Might Just Work

2016-06-15

Image by Emanuele Spies

Image by Emanuele Spies

by Paul Garrigan

The Benefits of Trying Bizarre Things in Recovery

If you are looking to strengthen your new life following addiction, it is highly recommended that you fill it with the right type of activities. Individually, the following approaches probably won’t be enough to guarantee a better future, but they could certainly be an ingredient of a better way of living.

Many of us have a tendency to automatically dismiss options that sound a bit bizarre. We prefer to stick with the familiar, but it is this type of thinking that makes it easy for us to become trapped in maladaptive behaviour. It is sometimes worth experimenting and getting out of comfort zone because this is the only way we can move in a new direction.

The following approaches might sound a bit bizarre at first, but they may be just what you need to move your recovery to a new level.

Laughter Yoga

Have you ever had a really bad day, but then you met some friends, had a laugh, and for some reason felt better? It can be amazing how different the world looks after our funny bone has been exercised. Laughing regularly not only benefits us mentally, but it even improves our physical health.

Laughter yoga is usually done in groups (these are called ‘laughter clubs’). It begins with fake laughs and participants are encouraged to act foolishly – it doesn’t take long before the laughter become genuine and contagious. If you don’t feel ready to join a laughter club, you could start off by just watching more comedy shows on TV.

There has only been a small amount of research done on the efficacy of laughter therapy, but the results so far are encouraging. It has been shown to boost mood, reduce symptoms of depression, improve pain management, and benefit the heart.

Mahasati Meditation

Mahasati is one of the core meditations we teach at Hope rehab – it originates from here in Thailand. It uses rhythmic hand movements which usually seem a bit bizarre to anyone who is not familiar with approach. In the west, we tend to associate meditation with sitting in the lotus position while wearing a blissful smile, and this means we can feel a bit resistant when confronted with the mahasati technique.

The word ‘maha’ means great in the Pali language (the language used in Thai Buddhist scripture) and the word ‘sati’ means awareness/mindfulness. This ‘great awareness’ is not only the name of the technique, but it is also the goal of the practice. In the beginning, it takes a fair amount effort to be mindful, but with diligent practice, it becomes something the brain does automatically and constantly – this is mahasati.

Mahasati is a fantastic approach that can help us to quickly develop mindfulness – it was described as a ‘shortcut to enlightenment’ by its creator Luang Por Teean. If I could only take one meditation technique with me to a desert island, it would be this one.

 

Lucid Dreaming

Lucid dreaming refers to the ability to become conscious while in the middle of a dream. This awareness means we can then have some control over the dream state, and this opens all types of possibilities for fun and personal development. We can use the world of lucid dreaming to explore our subconscious, face our demons, and develop our creativity.

414px-GoldFlwr3

 

Sky Gazing

Sky gazing is a Buddhist technique from Tibet that helps us bring some more space into our life.

One of the reasons we become overwhelmed by problems is the tendency of our mind to contract when we feel under fire. This contracted state makes it hard to think rationally, and this means we are more likely to turn to habitual behaviours (e.g. substance abuse) to escape our suffering.

By staring at the large expanse of the blue sky we reintroduce the idea of space into our mind. Our thoughts start to slow down and a state of calmness arises to mirror the spaciousness in the sky. Sky gazing allows us to touch the ‘natural state’ and we begin to taste the freedom we have so long yearned for. Just be careful not to stare at the sun.

Tonglen

The practice of tonglen goes against all of the conditioning that has driven our life up until now. Our usual instinct is to focus on getting the good stuff while pushing away the bad – tonglen meditation involves offering the good to others and willingly taking the bad into our heart. This might sound like the most bizarre idea over, but it helps us to develop compassion. The more compassion we develop, the better able we are to deal with life.

Interoceptive Awareness to Prevent Relapse

2016-06-07

Image by Mikael Häggström

Image by Mikael Häggström

by Paul Garrigan

The Inability to Handle Uncomfortable Feelings is a Major Cause of Relapse

Those of us who fall into the trap of addiction aren’t mad, dumb, or bad. We usually engage in this behavior because we are trying to make ourselves feel a bit better. It may seem to us as if our ‘skin is too thin’, we feel everything way too intensely, but when we drink or use drugs, it is like we put on a suit of armor. The problem is we struggle so much with our emotions that anything that appears to numb this discomfort is highly attractive to us.

The disappointing truth about alcohol and other recreational drugs is they don’t live up to their initial promise. The numbness or feeling of invincibility we obtain from these substances come at too heavy a price – it’s a case of the cure being way worse than the original condition. We reach a point where we can’t go on - we need to quit or risk losing everything. The problem is that quitting just puts us back to our original situation of feeling uncomfortable in our own skin.

It is hardly surprising given our history of struggling to cope with our feelings that this should be one of the most common causes of relapse. Until we find a better way of managing inner discomfort, we are always going to be at risk of returning to a strategy that seemed to work for us in the past. Interoceptive awareness offers a better solution, and if we can make this approach part of our new life, it will reduce our risk of relapse.


What is Interoceptive Awareness?

Interoceptive awareness means developing a curiosity towards the sensations arising within the body. These body signals are worthy of our attention because it is the brains interpretation of them that determines how we are feeling both mentally and physically. By becoming more aware of these inner sensations, we become able to influence how these signals are interpreted by the body.

One way that interoceptive awareness may be of great benefit to us is it means we notice ‘tension’ within the body before it becomes a problem. We tend to be poor at noticing a build-up of feelings such as stress or anger, and this means by the time it does get our attention it is already a bit overwhelming. Just noticing stress in the body can be enough to release it, and this means we avoid becoming a human pressure cooker ready to explode.

Mindful Awareness in Body-Orientated Therapy

Mindful Awareness in Body-Orientated Therapy (MABT) is an approach that helps clients become more emotionally and somatically aware. It uses mindfulness practices and massage therapy to increase awareness of what is going on inside the body. By the end of the program, the client becomes much better at noticing and describing inner sensations. This heightened awareness can then mean the client becomes much better at handling his/her feelings before they become a problem.

Relapse Prevention Using Interoceptive Awareness

Research into introspective awareness is still in its infancy by one study in the Journal of Addiction Nursing by Price and Smith-DiJulio (2006) suggests this practice may play an important role in relapse prevention. It gives us a better way to handle our emotions, and this means we are less likely to turn to our old coping strategy of using alcohol or drugs.

How The Hope Mindfulness Program Will Teach You Interoceptive Awareness

One of the goals of our mindfulness program is to increase interoceptive awareness. We do this by learning to ‘rest in the body’ and by increasing our attention to physical sensation.

Another thing we learn at Hope is to answer the question ‘how are you feeling?’ more thoughtfully – instead of just saying ‘I’m fine’, we actually look to see what is happening inside of the body. This willingness to investigate our ‘internal weather’ means we can notice winds and light rain before they become a storm.

Deepening Concentration to Achieve Insight and Freedom

2016-06-04

Mouse_cingulate_cortex_neurons

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.