It was not long into my latest attempt to stay clean and sober that it was pointed out to me that I had a broken mind. At first I was offended because I had relied on my mind to find my way out of scrapes and jack pots and had come to depend only on my own thinking as the only thing I could trust.
To realize that I cannot believe everything I tell myself left me feeling some despair. How will I know which thoughts I should act on and which ones I should not? Is there an inner compass to discern thinking that feeds my soul from thoughts that just repeat my old patterns of behavior which no longer serve me?
One day while taking a yoga class I noticed a flyer announcing that Jon Kabat-Zinn would be speaking on Mindfulness that Friday evening. I attended the event and heard a message of hope for training my untrained mind toward well-being.
Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Shapiro & Carlson define mindfulness as “The awareness that arises out of intentionally paying attention in an open, kind and discerning way.”
I have discovered that mindfulness is actually an excellent tool for relapse prevention.
Here are ten reasons why:
1. I do not have to believe everything I think. My thoughts can come and go like clouds, and I can make a choice at what level to engage with them.
2. Learning to be still has helped me accept the low grade anxiety that seems to always reside inside of me. It has diminished significantly.
3. Pause before acting: It has helped me to see my thoughts as they arise and given me space between the thought and the action that follows the thought.
4. My emotions no longer own me but rather appropriately inform me. They appear and get to be seen and felt then put in the back seat. They can stay; but, cannot drive.
5. I have made peace with my body. I have finally, for the most part on most days, stopped being at war with my physical self. I have let go of the unrealistic cultural images and have accepted me for me.
6. Knowing when to speak & when it is best to stay silent has improved my relationships with others. As a result, I am a much better listener.
7. Drama is no longer attractive. The peace and serenity I was seeking has become a comfortable way of cruising through life.
8. Observing myself has brought wisdom. I experience that pause between thought and action so I have time to discern the best possible path
9. My inner critic is less powerful. This voice used to rule my thoughts with megaphones! That is no longer the case.
10. The patterns of behavior that kept me locked in stress, conflict, and upheaval have been revealed. Now, I can usually make an informed choice as to who I want to be and what kind of experience I want to have. Most often, I choose peace, compassion, and acceptance.
The Art and Science of Mindfulness: Integrating Mindfulness into Psychology and the Helping Professions, Shapiro & Carlos, 2006
Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn, 1990