Mindfulness practice has become incredibly popular in western countries over the last decade. There are now thousands of books, blogs, audio courses, apps, and retreats where you can learn to master this technique.
It seems like every week there is some new research proving its effectiveness. It is considered by many to be a revolutionary Buddhist technique, yet if you talk about ‘mindfulness’ with most of the locals here in Thailand, they would struggle to understand why it is suddenly being treated like some new discovery – after all, being mindful is the most natural thing in the world.
The current popularity of mindfulness training means many rehabs around the world are now incorporating this approach into their program. In most cases, this will only involve the most basic introduction to mindfulness and perhaps some simple meditation techniques. Here at Hope Rehab, we provide a comprehensive mindfulness program that you will not find anywhere else.
There are actually two types of mindfulness – one is a state of being and the other is a meditation practice. Whenever you are paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, you are being mindful.
This is a desirable state because when you are mindful, you won’t be lost in discursive thinking about the past and future. It also means you will be experiencing your emotions without resistance, and this is going to eliminate most of your mental suffering. The purpose of mindfulness practice is to help you become more mindful in your daily life.
The benefits of mindfulness for people in recovery can be summed up like this: It provides a path to feeling comfortable in life that doesn’t involve intoxication.
One reason why many of us turn to alcohol or drugs in the first place is that we don’t feel comfortable in our own skin. Life is an emotional roller coaster, and discursive thinking can make us miserable a lot of the time. This includes worrying about the future and feeling guilty about the past. Substance abuse offers a temporary reprieve from this inner turmoil, but the price we pay for this escape is just too high. Mindfulness provides a more effective path to inner calm.
Important: There is nothing magical or exotic about mindfulness, and it is not just some passing fad. It is a natural state of being that can be experienced by anyone at any time. It doesn’t have to involve any special beliefs, and you don’t need to develop any special abilities.
It is an effective technique for dealing with cravings
It improves your ability to manage stress
It can mean you no longer feel at the mercy of your emotions
There is evidence that mindfulness is an effective method to ease depression
You learn how to fully enjoy the present moment
This practice can mean you enjoy increased serenity in your life
You no longer feel like a prisoner of your thoughts
It reduces the likelihood of relapse
Mindfulness gives you the ability to observe your mind in a more objective way. You get to see that a craving is sort of like a cloud passing through your mind. So long as you don’t resist or starting obsessing in response to the craving, it will soon pass. Mindfulness allows you to develop the understanding that the craving is a type of mental itch that you don’t have to scratch.
Part of the process of addiction is that the behaviour becomes strongly associated with your internal reward system. You’ve basically trained your mind to crave these substances, but you can use mindfulness to retrain your mind. By objectively observing cravings, instead of just reacting to them, you begin to weaken the association between your drug of choice and reward.
It is often the inability to deal with their emotions that motivates people to abuse alcohol or drugs in the first place. If you continue to struggle with your feelings in recovery, you are going to be at high risk of relapse or turning to new damaging behaviours (e.g. work addiction) – it can also lead to depression. Emotional sobriety can be the defined as the ‘ability to feel your feelings’, and mindfulness is one way that you can develop this skill. It means no matter what is happening in your life, you never lose control or fall apart.
Most of the suffering people endure is either due to regretting the past or worrying about the future. If you can learn to live in the present moment, it is going to make your life much happier and easier to deal with. Mindfulness is a technique that teaches you to keep returning your attention to what’s happening right now – the more you do this, the better you will be at living in the present moment.
A review of research studies by Johns Hopkins University concluded that there is plenty of good evidence to show that mindfulness practice reduces levels of anxiety (Source: Harvard Medical School). Anxiety happens due to negative patterns of thinking, but mindfulness can help practitioners break free of this cognitive merry-go-round. Untreated anxiety is a common enough reason for relapse, but this meditation technique provides an effective solution.
It is believed 20% of people who develop an alcohol or drug problem also suffer from a mood disorder (source: Anxiety and Depressions Association of America). Mindfulness can be as effective as anti-depressant medication (source: Science Daily), and it can give people the ability to manage their symptoms effectively.
Giving up alcohol or drugs is going to remove a major source of suffering from your life, but it would be unrealistic to expect smooth sailing from here on in. It is never going to be possible to entirely eliminate stress from your life (living would be incredibly dull if you could), but mindfulness is going to give you the ability to effectively manage your stress levels.
Spirituality means different things to different people, and it doesn’t have to involve any firm metaphysical conclusions. Just staring up at the night sky and thinking ‘wow’ can be described as being spiritual, and this feeling of connection with something bigger is an important part of who we are as humans.
Mindfulness is a Buddhist practice, but this doesn’t mean you have to believe in Buddhism to benefit from it. It can be an incredibly useful tool no matter what your spiritual path (even if you don’t like to use the word ‘spiritual’) because it allows you to improve your understanding of yourself and other people – it can also lead to an intense feeling of ‘oneness’ with the universe.
Many of us who fall into addiction end up with a soundtrack in our mind that tends to be mostly negative and bullying. This type of self-loathing can make you your own worst enemy, but mindfulness can allow you to develop more compassion for yourself as well as other people.
Most of us know what we should be doing, but having the knowledge is not always enough to encourage change – if it was, nobody would engage in dangerous behaviours. Insights involve ‘aha’ moments where you realise something at such a deep level that changes you the way you act forever. Practicing mindfulness puts your mind in a state where insights are more likely to happen.
It happens all the time: people break away from one addiction only to later fall into another equally dangerous pattern of behaviour. This happens because the person still does not feel capable of dealing with life on life’s terms, but mindfulness can give you this ability.