Mindfulness, Meditation, and Recovery
At Aurora Recovery Centre, we start each and every morning with twenty minutes of meditation before beginning our daily programming. Throughout the day, we engage in activities and learning that reinforces our morning meditation by teaching mindfulness.
Why do we do this? What’s this all for? And what is it?
In a nutshell, mindfulness is paying attention. It is the opposite of acting or reacting automatically to an event or feeling. When you are being mindful, you are paying attention in the moment to three things: your physical sensations, your emotions, and your thoughts. With mindfulness, you are also aiming for non-judgmental noticing— simply seeing, in that moment, what is going on with yourself. Mindfulness is asking yourself and answering the questions: “What’s going on right now? What am I sensing, what am I feeling, and what am I thinking?”
Stopping what you are doing and bringing your full attention to the now is key. One of the most effective tools for getting present and in the moment is paying attention to the breath. Breathing in, breathing out, noticing the sensations, emotions, and thoughts.
Try it right now as you read these words, and then notice its effect. Usually, when we tune in mindfully, we slow down and relax. Sometimes in life, we get wound up emotionally, often letting our mind drift to regrets in the past or worries about the future. Recognizing that the past and future don’t really exist except in our minds is freeing. Mindfulness is practicing this freedom.
What is the Connection Between Mindfulness and Meditation?
You can practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime—even all the time—during any and all activities. Meditation is making the space to intentionally focus the mind on an object, while not doing anything else. Meditation is to mindfulness what skill drills are to playing a sports game. In meditation, you hone your ability to focus, relax, accept, and pay attention, and then you take that mindful approach out into the rest of your day. Meditation over time creates a quiet confidence and joy in being, a strength in the experience of calm, and a capacity to be with whatever arises with more tolerance and poise.
Noticing that stress creates craving and that the addicted brain responds by signalling substance seeking, you can intentionally practice tolerance and patience around unpleasant situations or triggers by using mindfulness. Together, with other recovery skills and the 12 steps, mindfulness teaches you to sit and observe unpleasant situations and emotions, and to tolerate and breathe rather than turn to drugs or alcohol to escape a negative sensation, or to create a chemically-induced pleasant sensation.
Calming and Insight Meditation Practices
There are two general types of meditation: calming meditation, and insight meditation. By developing calm in the body, a foundation is created that allows you to better handle life’s curve balls. By developing insight, you begin to witness your own patterns of thought and behaviour, and you begin to realize you have a choice about how you can react to your life situation. Going further with meditation practice, you begin to have insight about values and principles that lead to well-being; values such as loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity, patience, and generosity; principles of life such as impermanence, and the causes of suffering in greed, hatred, and confusion.
Numerous studies have found that the benefits of meditation may include improved sleep, improved psychological health, decreases in cravings, and a greater ability to accept difficulty and act with awareness.
How to Practice Mindfulness and Meditation.
For some, a sitting practice may seem difficult in the beginning. If this is the case, you can begin to practice awareness by paying attention to breath and body while walking, doing a simple task, or moving slowly and intentionally doing an exercise. When there is enjoyment and calm, there will be more attention— it’s not meant to be torturous! If you easily focus while drawing, playing the guitar, or writing, you can do that too. In addition to creating a good state, concentration and engagement in wholesome pursuits are good for your brain and help to heal the effects of a substance abuse disorder. Start a short sitting practice, paying attention to the breath for even one minute in the beginning, counting five breaths and then repeating. Expand it to two minutes, five minutes, and so on.
How to Get Help
There are numerous apps and websites that support mindfulness and meditation learning with guided instruction, background music, and teaching talks. There are meditation and sharing meetings held by 12-step and other groups focused on recovery. Some practitioners seek out teachers, retreat centres, and spiritual communities dedicated to spiritual development. Recently, Time magazine devoted an entire issue to mindfulness. Rooted in Buddhism, Hinduism, and other spiritual traditions that are thousands of years old, mindfulness and meditation are emerging in the modern mainstream. Meditation is now being taught in prisons, schools, boardrooms, and recovery centres to help people become less anxious, more present, more productive, and happier.
Like the recovery journey, mindfulness and meditation can become lifelong practices that are rich in discoveries and benefits. At Aurora, we give members a taste of these practices and give them a foundation to continue with their own explorations as they recover for life.
Aurora Detox and Assessment Counsellor