A Four Level Mindful Approach to Addiction Cravings

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A Four Level Mindful Approach to Addiction Cravings

by Paul Garrigan

The topic at one glance

  • Each of the four levels of the Hope mindfulness programs provide tools for dealing with addiction cravings.

  • When we move our attention to physical sensation, we escape the thoughts that are driving us back towards addiction – this is referred to as ‘resting in the body’.

  • By cultivating good-will and self-compassion, we are far less likely to succumb to cravings.

  • The deep levels of concentration we develop in meditation make it easier to see how the mind ‘tricks us’ into picking up the drink or drug.

  • The practice of mindfulness can eventually lead to profound insights that change the way we relate to our mind – thus making us less susceptible to cravings.

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.

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.

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2017-09-15T09:32:42+00:00