We are all slaves to our own mind, habitually lost in vain pursuit ….Addicus, Rome 328 AD
One part of my practice includes mindfulness and meditation training for people with substance abuse and mental health issues. A hallmark of addiction includes the inability to break the chain of our own thoughts, the feelings that arise from those thoughts and the behaviors/actions that follow.
This closed chain drives our engine of addiction...thought..feeling..behavior..thought feelingbehaviorthoughtfeelingbehaviorthoughtfeelingbehaviorthoughtfeelingbehaviorthoughtfeelingbehavior...
I could go on...its a long and tiring chain generating and re-generating the energy that keeps us trapped in our circumstance. The chain includes short links of exhilaration or instant gratification for the illusion of change and some very real momentary relief followed by longer runs of deep depressive links clanging things will never change. There is a certain comfort in the discomfort of all of this. It is familiar. We know it, how to proceed and what to expect, however shitty, from this drive chain. And that is why it can be very difficult to break the chain, even for a short time.
Mindfulness training, the concept of observing ourselves and the world around us without attaching to or engaging with any one thought then feeling about those observations is….hard.
However hard it may be, a brief episode of mindfulness designed to succeed can be empowering, a personal “pat on the back” and an I can do this place to start on the road of growth and recovery.
One Minute Mindfulness.
Oops, I almost forgot about breathing. As silly as that sounds, people will stop breathing in stressful moments or breathe in deep up and down motions that may only serve to accelerate stress, panic and automatic behavior. Breathe in and out, belly breathing some call it. This will set the calming stage for what is to come.
O.K. set your alarm for one minute…c’mon, you can do this.
Or you could just glance at the clock on the wall…. however don’t get caught paying more than a fleeting attention to the clock. That would defeat the purpose of the exercise as you would simply spend a minute in mindlessness watching the clock....lost. The point is to stay in the present, unattached to any thought or thing or event or attitude about a thing for sixty seconds. Of course thoughts will come into your head. Let them come, recognize them, then let them go at once and return to the present. Do not indulge in a second thought about anything. You might hear a sound or noise that pleases or irritates you. Note the sound, the pleasure or irritation, then let it go immediately and come back into this sixty seconds of separation from self. You may observe someone looking at you. Notice it but do not go to that second thought of what’s she thinking or how you feel about her? Do not indulge any observation by engaging past the original noticing. Getting the idea?
What’s the point Dr. L
I get this in group sessions with patients all the time. The point is, when successful, that one minute of mastery, of breaking the chain, empowers us to believe we may do more; that we do have a choice, that we are not necessarily predestined to travel any genetic or environmental path we have been thrown onto; that we can stop the monkee mind of chaotic and frenetic thought; that we can survive the momentary power of craving, instead observing it and the feeling that may follow without automatically moving to behavior. This one minute of mastery, of control, can be a WOW moment of strength and freedom for those who have felt hopelessly enslaved, overwhelmed and exhausted from continually running the ratwheel of redundancy.
It gets HARDER!
Another comment I frequently get from patients who do successfully complete the one minute mindfulness practice is: Dr. Lusson this is hard! …to which I will generally laugh and say Oh so you thought it would be easy!
There may be nothing harder than change. Even the slightest change or contemplation of change can be scary and may bring with it a whole new set of anxieties as we get off the wheel, break the chain, wait, observe, and move mindfully in happy and optimistic excitement for what may come next.
Ah but that is a topic for another time.
Dr. Robert Lusson is a Licensed clinical psychologist currently working and living in Los Angeles, Ca. Dr. Lusson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org