A lesson in Mindfulness from Andy Laub
My name is Andy Laub and I am seventeen years sober. I have been teaching and practicing meditation and mindfulness for fifteen years. I have been teaching mindfulness at West Coast Recovery Centers since it opened. I am a Certified Tea Master and I am experienced in sharing the mindfulness practice of Contemplative Photography. I need and use all of these practices on my continuing journey of sobriety.
At West Coast Recovery Centers, we work with mindfulness actively. We experience mindfulness through walking, clear seeing and in the full body experience presented with a simple cup of tea. We learn to experience mindfulness in real life “off the cushion” more than we do in meditation. Right Mindfulness actively points our awareness to sobriety, a growing serenity and a deepening resilient happiness. In all of our teachings, outside resources such as books, teachers, apps, local retreat centers and study groups are referenced so the clients can pursue these mindfulness practices after they leave West Coast Recovery Centers.
How is the practice of mindfulness and meditation taught?
In mindful meditation practice we teach the basic tools of noting thoughts, labeling repetitive stories and witnessing our thoughts, body sensations and emotions. We also teach the clients to use the acronym “RAIN” which stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture. RAIN is a mindful practice used to deal with difficult emotions in mediation and in the thick of real life.
Mindfulness teachings lead to the teaching of the practice of mindful self-compassion. Mindfulness is typically associated with loving awareness of the present moment experience. Self-compassion is loving awareness of the person having the experience. These are two very different things. It takes a focused intentional practice to learn to to love yourself. Developing self-compassion is also very different from developing self-esteem which is conditional and based on success. Self-compassion involves unconditional self-acceptance especially in moments of failure. As addicts and alcoholics we do experience more than our fair share of failures! Quite simply, self-compassion is compassion turned inwards. It can be applied to any moment of suffering, large or small.
Mindful self-compassion is discussed in concept. Self compassion is then further developed through journaling, letter-writing, guided meditations and learning the basics of the loving-kindness meditation. The practical acronym, SSA is also worked with. It means, Soften, Sooth and Allow.
The use of tea in meditation has been brought to the west through the Buddhist cultures of the Far East. We teach tea and mindfulness by first teaching the clients to scan their body, emotions, mental and spiritual states and assign a number to each state between 1 (feeling really awful!) and the number 10; which means the client is feeling elated.
After the tea is consumed mindfully, we ask the clients to score themselves again, typically about ten minutes later to be mindful of the ever changing state of one’s body, thoughts, emotions and spiritual condition. This mindfulness practice puts clients in touch with the changing nature of their present moment experience. Most clients experience an increased level of calmness and a reduction in body pain. This change shows up in the client’s scoring of their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual condition after the tea and mindfulness practice. Over the years the average improvement in the client’s stated level of comfort is 22%!
Drinking tea has been shown in hundreds of scientific studies to increase the Alpha brain wave activity which promotes relaxation without drowsiness. Many studies have found it is especially effective in populations with high stress and high anxiety.
L-Theanine in tea increases neurotransmitters including dopamine. This causes an antidepressant effect and enhances cognitive function. It has been my experience that many of the clients can perceive this relaxation effect and the higher level of clarity. We often relax, open up and laugh in the tea and mindfulness groups. This mindful tea practice can be used outside the rooms of the West Coast Recovery Centers. Many clients go on to develop a deep and enjoyable tea practice as part of their recovery. Please refer to https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18841456/.
The practice of Contemplative Photography was brought to the west by a Buddhist teacher that escaped from Tibet sixty years ago. Contemplative Photography is beneficial for all people in many ways. There is a dopamine release in being present, seeing beauty and capturing an image. But more importantly is the requirement of the person attempting Contemplative Photography to be present in this moment with the experience. This “being present” requires a shift out of the default mode of our brains which are either planning or worrying about the future or reliving painful experiences of the past. While the default mode is not a bad thing and common to all humanity, it is a continual cause of stress. A healthy person learns to move between the various operating systems in our brains.
It is a fun and difficult practice that requires a person to see the world about them clearly without judgment. If the color, texture, contrasts, space or silhouettes catches their eye and not their thinking mind, they are encouraged to use their cell phone and take a picture. Later, if the client is open to sharing, West Coast Recovery Centers has a secret Facebook site where only current and former clients and the staff post their contemplative photography. Many clients continue this mindfulness practice of Contemplative Photography after they leave West Coast Recovery Centers.
For more information about Mindfulness, check our this link: https://westcoastrecoverycenters.com/what-is-mindfulness/.
You can also learn more about West Coast Recovery Centers at our homepage at: http://www.westcoastrecoverycenters.com.
And be sure to check out some of our latest blog to learn more about addiction recovery and mental health: https://westcoastrecoverycenters.com/coronavirus-and-isolation-how-covid-19-can-impact-those-struggling-with-mental-health-and-addiction/, https://westcoastrecoverycenters.com/lets-get-creative-why-art-therapy-is-an-effective-tool-in-recovery/, and https://westcoastrecoverycenters.com/the-modality-of-surfing-understanding-the-mental-health-benefits-of-riding-the-ocean/.