Meditation has been a very important part of my sobriety. Over the last 14 years of my sobriety, I have practiced meditation frequently. During the early years of my recovery from alcohol addiction and drug abuse, meditation was absolutely essential to my sobriety. I don’t think I would’ve survived early sobriety without it.
Before I started meditation, I didn’t really understand what it was, its benefits, or how it works. You too might have similar questions.
There are countless ways to describe meditation and countless books on the subject. I encourage you to read and investigate everything available on the topic. You might also consider joining an online meditation community to learn meditation. We recommend ZivaONLINE meditation.
For our purposes, I think the easiest way to describe meditation is to simply call it mind training.
If we can go to the gym to train our bodies, then we can go to our minds to train our thinking. Every time we practice meditation, we’re trying to train our minds to be calm and quiet and to accept life as it is. In 12-step circles, this is known as life on life’s terms.
When I first tried to meditate, the noise in my brain was so loud and confusing I actually thought I might be insane. That’s not an exaggeration. I seriously thought there was something wrong with me and that I might be losing touch with reality.
Every time I closed my eyes to meditate, I was confronted by multiple thoughts and ideas, all crashing together, each one demanding my attention. There was a tornado of activity swirling inside my head. But I was unable to hold a single thought for more than a few seconds before another idea or disturbing image would blow through the door of my subconscious and twist and spin across my brain.
I would quickly open my eyes, startled by the chaos inside my mind. Some thoughts were simple and amusing while others were strange and frightening. Then I would close my eyes and try again, only to quickly open them as soon as the thought-storm commenced. It was overwhelming.
Thankfully, I stuck with it and never gave up. I hope you do the same. Over several weeks and months when I was learning to live sober, I slowly began to incorporate simple techniques that allowed me to sit for longer and longer periods of time with my eyes closed while I tried my best to focus on my breath. Being able to sit with my eyes closed for five minutes was a huge accomplishment. Eventually I could sit for twenty to thirty minutes peacefully. But it took time and patience.
When I began meditation, I was searching for a way to find serenity. I knew I had a disturbed and restless (“untrained”) mind. If there was a way for me to quiet the noise in my head and soothe my aching spirit, I was determined to find it. Meditation was, and is, one of the most important factors in my life. It has helped me immensely by calming the storms that once raged inside my head.
There are many ways to practice meditation. Like prayer, you must find what works best for you. Most importantly, you should experiment and enjoy the journey. Meditation will help you discover how your mind operates and how to calm it. Meditation is there for anyone and everyone who can find a few minutes in their day to pause and look inward.
While there are many forms of meditation that have been developed by various cultures around the world, Buddhist meditation is arguably the most widely recognized and practiced. Buddhism was founded in India by Prince Siddhartha, who would later become known as The Buddha (“the awakened one” or “the enlightened one”). From India, it spread throughout the rest of the Eastern world.
It would take a lifetime to fully understand everything there is to learn and know about Buddhism. Countless books are available on the subject and I encourage you to explore its profound and beautiful teachings. Books by Thich Nhat Hahn or The Dalai Lama offer a wonderful starting point. For now, however, the easiest way to describe Buddhist meditation is the practice of emptying the mind.
The phrase “emptying the mind” sounds a lot like taking out the trash or cleaning out the garage. And in a way, they’re very similar. When we attempt to empty our mind, we are trying to clear away the dark debris of suffering, pain, regret and angst that plague our conscious and subconscious life.
For many alcoholics and drug addicts, our minds are a lot like garages filled with junk that has accumulated over many years. We know our garage needs to be cleaned out, but we keep putting if off as long as possible. Then one day we turn on the light and are confronted by a mountain of rubbish. Sooner or later, we have to empty the garage, or the problem is going to keep getting worse.
When I first confronted the rubbish heap in my brain in early sobriety, I was shocked by how much garbage I had been hoarding. It’s amazing to look back on it now and realize the amount of negative data I had accumulated over my lifetime. My mind was filled with anger, resentment and fear. It was very difficult and sometimes painful to look inside and explore my own thoughts.
Over time, as I advanced in my meditation practice, I began to learn that most of my negative thoughts were a result of selfish craving. I craved wealth, power, popularity, sex, influence and glory. I wanted the world to recognize my greatness and adore me. But since that wasn’t how things had turned out, my cravings had turned into bitterness.
One of the great things about meditation is that it allows us an opportunity to first recognize our source of suffering in order to release it. If we’re able to see what is causing us pain (negative thought), we can then identify it for what it is and let it go with a smile. We have the ability to train our minds in order to release the negative thoughts that hold us hostage. Empty our minds of destructive cravings and our minds will fill with peace and acceptance.
I often use the image of a red helium balloon being released into the sky. Once I have identified a negative thought, instead of holding onto it, I think of it as a balloon that I want to float away. I let it go and watch as it drifts upwards into the clouds, finally disappearing out of sight. Perhaps it sounds too simplistic, but it often works.
There are times when negative thoughts are buried so deep and are so painful, that we need to seek professional help to dislodge them. But meditation can be helpful to almost anyone looking to explore the inner workings of their mind so that they can begin letting go of the harmful debris they’ve been hoarding.
If you’re newly sober, or sober for many years, meditation can be one of the best gifts you give to yourself. Give it a try.
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