“Sought Through Prayer And Meditation”

The Eleventh Step reads, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Since I believe that one’s relationship (or not) with a higher power is private, and that in the context of the rooms of recovery it verges on being an outside issue, I won't be getting into it here. However, there is no question that the meditation part is critical to healthy emotional growth for alcoholics and other addicts, and that it’s important for the population at large, as well. (See the preceding link) That being the case, and because meditation has gotten a bad rap from folks who think it’s tedious and difficult, I thought I’d hit some of the high points about how to meditate.

In a sense, meditation is planned boredom. We purposely put ourselves into a situation where we have no choice but to live with our thoughts. This was common a half-century ago and more, because life contained far fewer ways of filling up time with relatively unnecessary things. By that, I mean things that don’t increase our quality of life, but that simply fill up empty time that could more profitably be spent in — boredom.

Human beings need these periods. Our days are filled with things that take up our time, but that do nothing to uplift us. Those of us who have been able to slow our brains down and spend a couple of 20 minute periods a day in meditation have found that if we do so regularly, things just seem to get better. During those periods, we seem somehow to fit the irregular pieces of our lives together a bit more smoothly.

RoadHave you ever driven several miles, only to realize that you remembered nothing about the trip — not only the trip, but what you might have been thinking, the songs that played on the radio — nothing? Have you ever come to with a start, and realized that you had lost a few minutes? Have you ever been so deeply engrossed in reading a book, or listening to music, that you were oblivious to everything going on around you for several minutes — even hours? If you have had any of these experiences, you have been in a meditative state. Whether we call it hyper-focusing, daydreaming, or “lost in thought,” it’s all the same thing.  In our fast-moving world we have come to think of these periods as wasting time, when in fact they are probably the most important parts of our day in terms of emotional health and general wellbeing.

We are naturals at meditation, and since we already know how, the idea of doing so regularly may seem less of an ordeal. It really isn’t difficult, although it may require a bit of patience and acceptance to begin with.  We only have to learn to do on demand what we already know how to do unconsciously.

That is surprisingly simple. We simply remove other distractions. We find a quiet place, indoors or outdoors (outdoors is best). We desert our phones, iPods, books, lists and the other things that tyrannize our day — including the other people in our lives. We sit quietly.

Then we simply let our mind wander. If we find it focusing on problems, chores, ideas for new projects, our love life or other specifics, we acknowledge their presence and then let them drift away. We don’t dwell on them. If they come back, we say, “Okay, there it is again,” and we let it go.

After while, we will drift into what amounts to a daydream, where we are no longer conscious of trying, our minds wandering where they will. That is meditation. We are not working at thinking about specific things. Quite the opposite; we are giving our minds a chance to function a bit on their own, undirected, and able to exercise themselves without interference from us.

It takes a bit of practice to reach a point where we can do this more-or-less on command. Most folks find that about fifteen to twenty minutes a couple of times a day can work wonders, once we get the knack of it. Just remember that meditation is for its own sake. It has no specific purpose. If we start looking for one, we’re approaching it wrong.

Try it for a couple of weeks, then keep on if you find it rewarding. My guess is that you’ll be online buying meditation supplies (that you really don’t need) before you know it.

Eat, Smoke, Meditate: Why Your Brain Cares How You Cope

Our National Director of Admissions, Joe Horrocks, suggested this as a basis for an article.  After re-reading it several times I decided that I couldn't present the subject any better then the author has done, so I decided to publish a link instead of reinventing the wheel.  This article explains the “why” of the exercise extremely well, and I'll follow up tomorrow with some information about the “how.”

Most people do what they have to do to get through the day. Though this may sound dire, let’s face it, it’s the human condition. Given the number of people who are depressed or anxious, it’s not surprising that big pharma is doing as well as it is. But for millennia before we turned to government-approved drugs, humans devised clever ways of coping: Taking a walk, eating psychedelic mushrooms, breathing deeply, snorting things, praying, running, smoking, and meditating are just some of the inventive ways humans have found to deal with the unhappy rovings of their minds.

But which methods actually work?

Read more:

We Don’t Have To Give In To “Stinkin’ Thinkin'”

Everyone in recovery knows someone who tried to go back to “occasionally” using alcohol or other drugs — with predictable results. Many of us have personal experience. It often starts out with being sober for a few months, but it can happen in a program that has gone smoothly for years. We begin to think that we've been feeling so good lately that maybe we aren't an addict after all. Maybe we can “handle it.” Of course, now that we know all about addiction, we won't let it get the best of us.

Sometimes we try it, sometimes not, merely teetering on the edge for a bit. Those of us who did try tend to have the most interesting stories, and they all center around the idea that we convinced ourselves that we didn’t need to remain abstinent, or that we concentrated on some terrible thing that someone had done to us, dwelling on that instead of the good things in our lives.  Or perhaps we simply forgot to look for the good and concentrated on the bad, so that drinking or using drugs seemed like a reasonable alternative to the way we were feeling. Professionals call these ideas “reservations.”  But call it that, or a “dry drunk, “stinkin’ thinkin’” or whatever you will, it is the main component of relapse. (Remember, we relapse before we use.)  And it causes a lot of misery, even though we may technically remain clean and sober.

But it doesn't have to work that way.

Photo: DigitalZen

When we are active in our addictions, we dwell on our problems.  After all, they give us a marvelous excuse to use.  And, as we progress in our addiction, we learn to project our feelings about ourselves onto others.  It is much easier for me to resent the fact that my spouse spends all her time at work than it is to admit that if I got off my butt and found a job, she wouldn't have to work so hard.  Thinking like that would threaten my drinking and drugging, and I need to avoid that at all costs.  This way of thinking rapidly becomes a habit, because it allows us to feel more comfortable despite evidence that we shouldn't be. Eventually it affects our entire view of the world.

But after we're clean and sober, we no longer need to protect ourselves that way. One of the things I’ve learned through years of meditation is that I actually do have a reasonable amount of control over what I think. When we meditate, we try to concentrate on something without intellectual content — our breathing, say — to the exclusion of outside thoughts. This allows our subconscious to percolate uninterrupted, and we begin to gain some insight about ourselves.

To begin with, it’s hard. Thoughts about all sorts of things come along. We get really pissed off at our inability to do anything about it. Then someone tells us that it's a normal part of meditation. The idea is not to fight the stray thoughts, but to just let them arise, and then bring our mind back to the breathing, mantra, rosary, or whatever we’re using as a meditation tool. The key is that I can’t stop thoughts from coming to my mind, but I can control whether or not I concentrate on them, even if they come back over and over again.

Instead of drinking the poison of resentment and then waiting for the other guy to die, I can choose to turn my mind to something else. I can do it over and over again, until eventually I’ve distracted myself into thinking about other things entirely. The same is true of obsessions like drinking, or unsatisfied sexual urges, or the new toy that I think I need. It is entirely within my power to control those thoughts — not to pretend that they don’t exist, or fail to acknowledge them, but to choose not to dwell on them. In doing so, I rob them of their power, instead of giving them mine.