What is Mindfulness?
West Coast RC offers a mixture of traditional and holistic therapies for the treatment of substance abuse disorders. One of the common points between every form of treatment, however, is a strong basis in certain ancient Eastern philosophies. Specifically, West Coast Recovery focuses on those which center on mindfulness, meditation and intentional living, a treatment modality which is present in all of WCRC’s therapeutic settings and practices. Mindfulness is very much the bedrock of this treatment modality, but many people aren’t entirely certain about what that means, or how it applies to the addiction recovery process.
Mindfulness, In a Nutshell
Mindfulness might otherwise be described as a sense of awareness. It is an awareness of the self, and of the environment in which one exists. Some people find this concept hard to grasp, or exhausting even to contemplate, but this regard is rooted in a fundamental difference between traditional eastern and western viewpoints. Western viewpoints look forwards and backwards in time, and focus on what is happening in locations that are outside of our direct knowledge or control. We instinctively try to understand and predict things that are far away, remote, and disconnected—whether in space, or in time. We do this all the time, in every aspect of our lives, instead of accepting that—as Leonard Nimoy once said, channeling Mr. Spock, “the universe will unfold as it should.”
A mindful life is one lived in the moment—through decisions made based on information that is directly available to us, without overthinking them. It is not a perspective that is unaware of the past, or neglectful of the future; instead, it embraces a level of healthy comprehension and personal responsibility. It is informed by the past, not dominated by it. It doesn’t permit becoming obsessed with that which might, or might not happen. That kind of thinking leads a person to worryabout concerns that they cannot possibly control. This, in turn, leads to an escalation of stress, and subsequently to a skewed perspective on reality—one in which the consequences of overwrought past decision-making are accepted as being inevitable in all future decisions. The immediate environment is inevitably neglected.
Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery
A mindful lifestyle is accepting of roles, that being a part of the idea of self-awareness. Through living a mindful existence, a person embraces a role—one that they create for themselves. Some people may need to exercise a certain amount of foresight: they may have professional, or familial responsibilities. With the right mindset, this can be done in a controlled fashion, without allowing the focus on certain details and perspectives to into other areas of their lives. Within the context of an addiction treatment cycle, a mindful focus on self-awareness and rational levels of personal responsibility has a demonstrable effect on the curbing of cravings and the deterrence of relapse.
We aren’t entirely absent of this kind of thinking in western culture, as things stand: it’s most often referred to as “switching off,” or “not bringing work home.” We tend to view this as a compartmentalized exception to “normal” behavior, however, rather than as the rule. “Being ourselves” and “savoring the moment” is something we view as a special treat, an oasis within the endless desert of personal responsibility. A traditional eastern philosophy views this somewhat differently: there, responsibility is taken on as it is needed, with a focus on one’s individual own personal needs being afforded much greater importance. This makes the exercising of responsibility a less constant, less stressful factor in one’s life, which is the perspective’s other major contributing factor to recovery from addiction disorders.
Maintaining a Mindful Existence
In modern western society, a sense of mindful awareness is not the easiest thing to maintain. Our system of social order, rules and responsibilities is simply not all that supportive of it. It demands a much greater accountability for the unforeseeable consequences of our every action than anyone can be expected to maintain. Despite this, it is not impossible to draw some comfort from individual exercises in maintaining a mindful state. At the University of California’s Los Angeles campus, a Mindful Awareness Research Center is maintained, at which there is ongoing research into the maintenance and benefits of a mindful state of being; those who are interested may download guided meditations through the website.
Meditation is often described by enthusiasts as being a deep and abiding confrontation with reality, unimpeded by skewed perspectives: it is, in effect, a practice exercise for achieving a mindful state. Guided meditation provides support for achieving this state, regardless of one’s own personal lack of experience. Service providers such as Gaiam, which make a number of meditation aids available for purchase, also offer an extensive library of free information on the many types and forms of meditation—including tips and best practices for beginners.
- Anne Murphy. (2016) Mindfulness-based Therapy in Modern Psychology: Convergence and Divergence from Early Buddhist Thought. Contemporary Buddhism 17:2, pages 275-325.
- Lindsay Maxwell, Elsie Duff. (2016) Mindfulness: An Effective Prescription for Depression and Anxiety. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners 12:6, pages 403-409.