Dzień dobry, curious humans.
Sometimes I have a chat with someone that ends up with me texting or emailing them a jillion links. I liked this path of thought I found so I figured I’d leave their phone alone and write a post here.
Before we begin, I do mention how this pertains to me choosing and continuing sobriety BUT this is a post for all peeps with feels and brains.
“Mindfulness is a natural awareness that we all have, which we can develop more deeply and helpfully in our daily lives, enabling us to live life more fully. When we practice mindfulness we are choosing to be more present in our lives. Coming back to the fullness of the present moment, we come back to ourselves. We become more in touch with what is going on in our mind, body and environment, including subtle details of changing experience inside and around us.
When we are facing stress, pain, illness or suffering, our habitual reactions often add layers of difficulty to our experiences and make things worse. The fast-paced culture in which we live can easily leave us feeling scattered, distracted and overwhelmed. Often we find ourselves swept away by the current of thoughts, feelings, worries, pressures and responsibilities of daily life, caught in “automatic pilot” and the momentum of constant activity and “doing”, with little awareness of the moments in which we live, or time for “being”. This can become a habitual way of living and the source of stress.” –What is Mindfulness?
Last year when I started to stop smoking I got into meditation via YouTube guided meditations, and I really dug it. It gave me some peace and a chance to get my head on right. At the time I mainly used it with the idea that it would make me feel better. This is a partially accurate description of what mindfulness and meditation can do for us. However, what I was hoping was that it might give me a jolt that would leave me without desire for a cigarette – preferably through instant magic – which wasn’t exactly how it works.
Anyway, I got more into yoga from YouTube, I was seeing a therapist I liked, I was doing the guided meditations, I had supportive people. I was existing more in a world that discussed noticing how you were feeling or what you were thinking but I still wasn’t really sure what to do with the data.
Now, over a year later and six months alcohol/cigarettes free, I have some more insight due to relentless researching and patient observance and acceptance of myself and people I interact with. To be honest, this way of approaching life feels so crucial and effective to me that I don’t know how else I would have made the leap into eliminating both of these substances completely. Brains play a tough game when it comes to intrusive thoughts, especially with addictive substances. I was in-between therapists due to a big move (that I got triggered into smoking again during) and I didn’t reach out for the support of a group for several months, so I really clung to this tool while I worked up admitting to myself that I would benefit from social support. If you have been struggling to consider eliminating substances or behaviors, or you’ve tried and gone back, or whatever – this could be a real game changer for you.
Mindfulness and Buddhism come up a lot together, but you don’t necessarily need to approach mindfulness with any sort of religious or spiritual intention. Personally, I dig the connection and I lean into it. But I would be bummed if you passed on this important tool because of any hesitations about how you think you are “supposed” to use it.
I find I get through my day with much more ease, much less resistance, much more joy when I am sure to come from a place of mindfulness. I’m still VERY MUCH new to this but that’s okay, you probably are too. If you’re more practiced and you have an observation, I am so open to respectful feedback.
So here’s some resources I’ve found.
(Note: there are results for scholarly articles online for these topics, but I’m sticking to lighter fare.)
Changing Your Habitual Responses – “There are three components to your response – your thoughts, your emotions and your behavior. Too often we start by trying to change our behavior first before we have gotten our thinking process lined up. Understanding your common emotional triggers can give you a blueprint for how you typically respond to certain events.” (Learning to identify and differentiate these three components has taken mad skill developing.)
Calm Your Cravings With Mindfulness Practice How to Turn Resistance Into Resilience by Judson Brewer – “In any type of addictive behavior, reactivity builds its strength through repetition—resistance training. Each time we look for our “likes” on Facebook, we lift the barbell of “I am.” Each time we smoke a cigarette in reaction to a trigger, we do a pushup of “I smoke.” Each time we excitedly run off to a colleague to tell her about our latest and greatest idea, we do a sit-up of “I’m smart.” That is a lot of work.” (Still, six months later, my neural pathways to cigarettes are very happy to remind me of that option. Mindfulness is the only tool I can imagine that has kept me from deciding that it was a wise idea to start again.)
Emotional Rescue: Using Mindfulness to Reset Your Reactions – “But not every mood shows up because of real life experience. We all have ups and downs. Moods can be fleeting. Some arrive driven by our own inner chemistry. Yet we often reach for outside causes to these haphazard states of mind. We attribute a mental downturn to our work, our partner, or some other external experience—someone or something must be responsible. Needing comfort, we accidentally push aside people who might provide it. I haven’t asked and I’ve been prickly like a cactus to him, but still, if he really cared he’d come sit with me. In our minds, someone has become part of the problem and then our behavior leads them to confirm our fears.
Sometimes our mood is just our mood. We may seek solace in a reactive habit, such as withdrawing from or lashing out at people; either can be useful when done intentionally, not so much when reflexive and without forethought. They often offer temporary relief without fixing an underlying cause, particularly when there isn’t a fixable one to begin with. We can also fixate on keeping everything the same, such as getting caught up in the end to an idyllic vacation while still on the beach.” (OH MAN the last line there is a big one for me. Clinging to joy, aversion to fear. It all creates suffering, yo.)
Taking Responsibility for Your Emotional Reactions Posted by Ronya Banks – “Typically, when we experience a negative emotional reaction towards someone else, our first inclination is to blame the other person. “When he said ‘such-and-such,’ he hurt my feelings.” We see our hurt feelings as the other person’s fault, and we believe we need to prevent him from repeating his hurtful behavior or else try to avoid him in the future.
Although it may feel as though the other person “caused” your emotional reaction, the truth is that your reaction arises from a preconditioned sensitivity to certain stimuli. Certain kinds of scenarios trigger you. This is most evident in situations where you find yourself upset by someone else’s behavior while others who are present are not bothered by that same behavior. Each of us has our own unique, built-in “hot buttons.”” (You know when people talk about something and they say “It was fun!” or “It was bad.” or “He’s a jerk” or whatever? Yeah, it is all our own perception of input in the moment. It’s more accurate to say “I found it good” or “I felt it was bad” or “I don’t like his behavior” or whatevs. The more you tune in to your own experience the less this overwhelms you.)
I haven’t read any secular books that cover mindfulness, but these aren’t written as religious texts so much as self-growth books.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (20th Anniversary Edition) by Pema Chodron – Reading this blew my head open. It inspired me to really commit to cultivating self love and to invest more mental time on mindfulness.
The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh – This book reminds me how to extend this headspace outside of myself.
Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction by Noah Levine – This is the book we use at Refuge Recovery meetings.
How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo et al. – This book was also super impactful to me. It stresses some really beautiful, self-empowering points. I think I love it most of all because he really writes in this very personal way and it made me feel very comfortable.
Note: I have no personal recommendations but there’s lots of kids books on mindfulness available as well!
The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery: A Practical Guide to Regaining Control over Your Life by Lawrence Peltz – I haven’t used this but it always sparks my interest when I see it.
See if your area has any meditation classes – there may be a meditation center or a yoga studio may host a guided meditation during the week.
Hit up YouTube with “guided mindfulness meditation” and find a few short ones – 10 to 15 minutes long – that resonate with you and listen maybe before bed or first thing in the morning for a week – see how it affects your perception throughout your day!
Another option for meditations are apps – Insight Timer or Headspace are great.
If you want to know more, just Google “mindfulness.” The most difficult part of the process is just learning to look at our own reactions, to stop reaching outside of ourselves to soothe or to punish, to be loving to OURSELVES and to CHANGE. Oh my lord, changing is hard, and it can seem really frustrating that it feels so important when it also feels so hard. There were so many situations I started facing with less armor and all I wanted to do was inform someone how fucking uncool their behavior was because it made me feel some kind of way, but I have since come to observe how little of it is their behavior, or my situation, and it’s just my conditioned habitual responses. This doesn’t mean that you don’t address them or take care of yourself if someone is truly being uncool – absolutely do. Anyway, add addictive substances or behaviors (alcohol, shopping, whatever) that highjack our neural pathways and dopamine producers and it can be really fucking tough to walk into a new way of being in this life. But the resounding peace and ease that are possible if you try – Oy, so worth it.
Alright, I think that’s all I’ve got. I’ll end with a take on a Metta meditation (lovingkindness.)
May I be peaceful.
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I be safe.
May I be free from suffering.
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.
Alternate Longer Version: LOVING-KINDNESS MEDITATION
Wishing you ease and peace on this day – it is like no other.