Meditation and Mindfulness Techniques to Use in Recovery
Have you ever driven somewhere so many times that you end up at your destination with no memory of the journey? It’s as if you got from Point A to Point B without blinking an eye.
That’s how it often feels with compulsive behaviors, especially in addiction—the journey from the state of mind that precipitates a relapse it often can feel like barely a moment passes between a difficult mental state and the act of using to find some relief.
How does meditation help with this? Some might say it slows down time. Just as in the movie The Matrix, when Neo has the ability to dodge bullets because he sees their path as slow—meditation can help us see the space between events, the emotions that arise in response, and give us choices as to how we react.
Science bears this out. Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety and increase serenity, improve circulation and lower blood pressure and stress. This all sounds great, right? So where do you start?
First, let’s dispel one of the myths of meditation. Too often, people get the impression that one needs complete quiet and focus in order to meditate—I know I did, and that discouraged me from trying it. I’d “forget” I was meditating, and fall asleep or get up to do something else. But there are meditation techniques that allow you to be more active—I’d like to share these with you.
You can practice breathing meditation anywhere, literally anywhere. All that matters is that you are paying attention to your breath. Feel the air as it flows in through your nose. Notice how your torso expands to make room. Are you breathing into your chest or your belly or both? Are your breaths long and deep or short and shallow? Are you releasing the breath through your nose or your mouth? You don’t have to change the way you’re breathing, just notice what your body is doing as you take each breath.
We are not our thoughts—how many times have you heard that one? With thought meditation, you might begin to see that it’s true. It involves simply sitting with yourself and noticing the thoughts that arise. It’s fascinating to see what your mind can produce and how active it can be. Maybe your mind wants to run through a to-do list for the day. Or maybe it wants you to worry about that awkward thing you said last night. Or maybe it brings up anxiety about what’s going to happen tomorrow. The key to this type of meditation is to let the thought rise, like a bubble. Watch it float, but don’t chase after it, don’t let it bring you down a rabbit hole. Just notice it rise, then fall (or pop), and then wait for the next thought to come—because it surely will.
This is one of the most accessible methods of meditation, if only because our bodies are always with us. It doesn’t matter where you are—on a crowded train, lying in bed, in the shower—you can perform body scan meditation. Starting with the top of your head and going down slowly, just notice the sensations in your body. Are you in pain? Is there tightness? Is there openness? Are you tensing up? Notice the sensations without judging them, much less trying to make them go away. Acknowledge each sensation without becoming overwhelmed by it, and just move on.
Sound meditation is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Some meditators practice this using a bell, a gong, or a meditation singing bowl. They strike the instrument and listen. But the listening isn’t a But the trick isn’t to listen with all your might, hyperfocusing on every detail of the sound. The way to do sound meditation is simply to notice that you hear the sound. It’s the difference between trying to grab onto a rope tightly in one hand or simply turning your hand over and allowing the rope to rest in our palm. You don’t need an instrument to practice this either—you can just use the sounds around you and notice what you hear— a car going by, a bird singing, the kid upstairs crying. The trick is to let the sound in and notice that you’re hearing it—without attaching and without judging.
This is one of my favorite forms of meditation because there’s so much to keep me in the present moment. I notice the feeling of the ground beneath my feet, where the weight shifts in my soles as I walk. I can pay attention to what I see around me, my ever-changing surroundings as I move. I can listen to the sound of the wind in the trees or people as they pass me by. I can smell the scent of the outdoor air. In fact, it doesn’t have to be outdoors—I can snap into awareness when I’m walking from the kitchen to the living room. And if all else fails, I can simply pay attention to the changes in my breath as I walk.
The Benefits of Meditation in Recovery
What do all of these techniques have in common? Awareness. Breaking down each moment into parts. Creating space in each beat. We often go through life on autopilot—emotions and reactions seem to arise out of nowhere. Choices we make feel like snap decisions, but they’re not; they have precipitating factors, and we have plenty of chances to subvert our “automatic” responses. So if we can remain aware of our changing inner landscape, we regain a sense of autonomy and more importantly gain a tool to help us slow down, play the tape forward, create new patterns of thinking, and make better decisions.