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

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.

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

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).

Episode 14 – Resting in the Body

2016-04-03

Hope Mindful Compassion Show – Episode 14 – Resting in the Body

 

Host: Paul Garrigan

In this episode of the Hope Mindful Compassion Show, Paul discusses the benefits of resting in the body. This can be the perfect technique if you wish to escape over-thinking and all the problems associated with this. Focusing attention on the body is something we intuitively know how to do when we get overwhelmed, but it can greatly benefit our lives if we start to do this more deliberately.

Press play below to listen to the podcast

Teddy Bear Meditation

2016-03-12

Natalie

‘May Snuggly Puggly be Happy’

by Paul Garrigan


“A teddy bear can be the perfect starting place for developing open-heartedness. We don’t have to worry about this friend stabbing us in the back, selling our plasma TV for drugs, spreading gossip, or leaving us for somebody better looking.”

How Hugging a Teddy Bear Could Improve Your Life

Few of us choose a rehab program because we want to learn how to bond with teddy bears. In fact, we may feel cynical (possibly even outraged) at even the suggestion that we engage in any form of therapy that involves cuddly toys. Let’s face it, the most likely reaction to being handed a teddy bear in rehab is ‘what have I gotten myself into here?’

The Teddy Bear Meditation we do as part of the Hope Mindful Compassion Program is inspired by Ajahn Brahm – an English monk who trained here in Thailand and is now the abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia. We use our bear in combination with metta (loving-kindness) meditation with the goal of developing open-heartedness.

How Open-Heartedness Helps Us Break Free of Addiction

We often think too much as a strategy to maintain a barrier between ourselves and the rest of the world – we build a mental wall around our heart so other people don’t get a chance to hurt us. We have probably used this defense mechanism for so for so long that we are not even aware we are doing it. Keeping this barrier in place requires a lot of thinking – it can get so bad that other people see us as self-obsessed, neurotic, selfish, unbalanced, and unfriendly.

I was a ‘thinking-addict’ long before I became hooked on alcohol, and it was because of this that a chemical solution felt so appealing. I reckon the majority of us who develop substance abuse problems are thinking addicts – even if we weren’t before we started, we will be by the time we finish.

If we are too attached to thoughts, it puts us on a collision course with the universe. This happens because the thoughts created by the brain are only meant to act as simple descriptions of reality and not as a replacement for reality. Obsessive thinking tends to involve a lot of ‘should’ thoughts – e.g. ‘that shouldn’t have happened’, this shouldn’t be happening’, or ‘this should happen’ – and when we indulge these ‘should’ thoughts, it puts us in direct conflict with reality (a battle we can never win).

The excessive thinking needed to protect our hearts from any pain means we become more and more disconnected from the world around us. The pain that arises due to this disconnection then triggers more thinking and further pain – it is a vicious cycle. The most effective way to escape this self-imposed prison created by over-thinking is to begin lowering our barriers, but we can only do this if we feel safe enough to do so – this is where the teddy bears come in.

DSCF6621


How We Use a Teddy Bear to Open the Heart

It turns out that closing our heart to protect ourselves from pain is a terrible strategy – it makes life unsatisfying, and it increases our appetite for self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse. The more open we are to reality, the better our life becomes. We can then develop equanimity and compassion as a way to protect ourselves from suffering rather than putting up barriers between ourselves and the rest of the world.

Opening up to the world is not something most of us are going to be able to do right away. It may take years to completely remove the barriers between us and others, but as soon as we begin this work, our lives will start to improve.

Why a Teddy Bear?

At Hope Rehab, we use metta (loving-kindness) meditation as a path to open-heartedness. This practices involves developing our ability to feel good-will in stages – we initially develop metta towards ourselves, and then towards other people, and eventually towards the world in general.

Many of us who end up in rehab have been heavily traumatized, and it can be a real struggle in the beginning to develop any sense of open-heartedness – even sending metta towards ourselves can feel impossible.

We are like turtles hiding in our shells, and expecting us to open our hearts right away is asking us to give up this protective shell. We have devoted our lives to staying safe, and our caution is warranted, so we need to take things slowly. In the beginning, we may only be willing to stick our heads out of our shell for brief moments – once we feel safe, we will be better able to let down our defenses.

A teddy bear can be the perfect starting place for developing open-heartedness. We don’t have to worry about this friend stabbing us in the back, selling our plasma TV for drugs, or leaving us for somebody else. A teddy is never going to judge us, and it will be there to hug us no matter how badly we have behaved. What’s not to love?

Natalie Loves Bears Now

Natalie Loves Bears Now

How to Do Teddy Bear Meditation

We use the Teddy Bear near the beginning of the metta meditation – you are also invited to give it a long hug before you start.
• Place the teddy in front of you, and get into a comfortable sitting position.
• Use a concentration practice to settle down your mind
• Open your eyes and send metta to teddy using the slogans – may [teddy’s name – e.g ‘Snuggly Puggly’] by happy, may… be healthy, may… be safe, and may… be at ease. You do this for a couple of minutes with your eyes open
• Close your eyes and continue the metta meditation as usual

Once you can easily create a feeling of metta towards your teddy, you no longer need to use the slogans or even have your teddy with you. Just thinking of your cuddly friend will be enough to kick-start your heart at the beginning of the meditation.

Episode 11 – Guided Meditation – Intermediate Metta

2016-02-02

Hope Mindful Compassion Show – Episode 11 – Guided Meditation – Intermediate Metta

Hope Rehab Workbook

Workbook

by Paul Garrigan

This is the guided metta meditation that is at the core of level 2 of the Hope Mindful Compassion program (you can find the beginner metta meditation here). Now that we have begun the process of developing more open-heartedness towards ourselves, we can start to expand this attitude towards others and to the world in general

Don’t forget, you can also find our guided meditations on the Hope YouTube channel and in the Insight Timer app (just search guided meditations for ‘Hope Rehab’)