The Rhythm Within (Part Two)

Mindful Recovery

Mindfulness has taken the world by storm these past few decades. Its roots are thousands of years old, yet when I refer to mindfulness meditation, I’m referring to the work of Dr. Kabat-Zinn, who originally studied chronic pain patients in a hospital setting. Upon developing a structured course in mindfulness skills, he found that patients who participated in the program reported fewer pain symptoms. Since the 1980s, his methods have taken the meditation world to new heights, helping people from all walks of life.

At its core, mindfulness is simply an awareness of the present moment done by your “observing self.” A portable practice, it can be done while walking the dog or washing the dishes. It’s a way of being that requires repetition because, as neuropsychologist Dr. Donald O. Hebb once said, “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” meaning that the more you practice something, the more your brain recognizes it as habit. The choice is yours. Do you continue down the well-worn path of destructive behaviors, or do you practice safe and purposeful ways of engaging with life? Mindfulness also encourages you to remain curious, compassionate, and grateful—all elements of a sustainable recovery.

Sexual compulsion and fantasy take you away from the here and now, but mindfulness puts your mind back into the present tense. Addiction is full of blind spots—innocent-seeming actions or feelings that lead to relapse—and mindfulness is a mirror to reveal those blind spots and make you keenly aware of your everyday choices. The following poem describes this evolution from blind spots to clarity.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in…. it’s a habit… but,
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

Mindfulness gives you options. The choice to keep your eyes open. Through this awareness, you can take responsibility for your compulsive past and not fall into the hole in the sidewalk repeatedly. It’s empowering to know that you don’t have to relapse over and over again.

When I worked as a hospice social worker, I sometimes felt unsure what to say or do with patients who were facing death. In Chapter 2, I mentioned the wise chaplain who told me it’s not about the specific words or actions you choose, it’s your ministry of presence that matters most. Simple, yet profound. And you too can be of service to others by listening to them with an open heart and mind. When you’re truly able to live in the moment, mindfulness can also be like providing this ministry of presence to yourself.

I encourage you to investigate the abundance of possibilities that go along with getting to know what’s inside you. Drop into yourself for a moment as you finish this chapter, and see what resonated for you and what didn’t. What resonates the most will serve as a clue for further exploration as you get to know the rhythm within.

Action Steps:

  1. It’s easy to forget that you’re a human being, not a human doing. Take a few minutes each morning to slow down and listen to what’s inside you. Create a morning tone-setter through meditation, journaling, or inspirational reading.
  2. Compulsive behaviors create stress, anxiety, and drama. As you choose to practice emotional sobriety, learn to navigate the stress and anxiety more effectively through emotionally reliable relationships.
  3. Mindfulness comes in many shapes and forms. Choose one form of mindful awareness, such as savoring your favorite food or listening attentively to your favorite music.
  4. The ministry of presence is the gift you give to others by simply being with them in the here and now. Choose someone in your life, and mindfully share yourself freely.
  5. Living a life of moderation requires mindfulness. Take note of when you are thinking and living in the extremes, and track choices you make toward moderation.
  6. Meditation is one of your greatest allies. If you’re open to giving meditation a try, take a class, go on a retreat, or find a local sitting group. If you already practice, challenge yourself to create more time for this self-care practice.
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