Let’s begin at the beginning. Prayer is asking. Meditation is listening.
Everybody knows there are a lot of prayers out there. What we rarely discuss is how many ways there are to listen. Here are three ways to meditate to add mindfulness to your recovery:
1. The first way to add mindfulness to your recovery is traditional meditation.
The first time I was introduced to meditation, it was suggested to help my anxiety. I couldn’t keep calm. I was having difficulty getting my thoughts together. My thoughts sounded like a tape recording—the same tired sound bites repeating over and over.
I was told that meditation involves sitting still and counting breaths.
If you can find yourself in a comfortable and quiet place, you can practice this more traditional brand of meditation. Count to five in your inhale. Count down from five in your exhale. Repeat.
Two things you can pay attention to:
How is your body reacting? Are you antsy? Are you wanting to open your eyes and move on with your day? These are natural thoughts, but the goal of meditation is to let them pass from your mind. Gradually, you begin to sink into a contemplative state. It is good to set a timer so that you can’t disrupt the practice before it goes off.
The other thing to pay attention to is your thoughts. Are you stressed about something happening today? Are you harboring resentment about something that happened years ago? What does your fear and anxiety sound like in your mind? Meditation teaches you to let these worries and fears go. You can, in your mind’s eye, watch them travel in and out of your mind. Acknowledge their existence, but refuse their company.
In the Buddhist sense, meditation is the practice of letting go. It can help us detach from the things which occupy our minds—the suffering which consumes existence.
2. The second way to add mindfulness to your recovery is deep work.
There are other ways to meditate.
If you are like me, you may struggle with traditional meditations. Practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes permanent. So if you struggle to sit still and count your breaths, it might be worth exploring other ways to slow down your body and mind.
Deep work is a trending phrase. The book of the same name by Cal Newport describes the importance of undistracted focus.
What do you enjoy doing?
It has to be something that you can lose yourself in for uninterrupted hours of concentration. This may be your job. If it is, keep it. You can meditate by working so long as you commit yourself to one task at a time, rather than the hundreds that you think you need to do at once.
My best illustration of deep work is from the basketball court.
I play—schedule permitting—two pickup basketball games each week. This is my only true exercise. Each time I play, I can observe the phenomena of deep work.
Without fail, I show up with a world of worry. It’s not hard, in this day and age, to accumulate unchecked anxieties. Our bank accounts, social media feeds, not to mention the whirling news of a busy world all travel in our pockets wherever we go. Gradually, as I get into my second or third game, I stop considering any of that. Basketball, as a sport, demands too much of my attention. I have to factor in where to pass the ball, when to shoot, cut, drive, which teammate needs help on defense. The considerations are endless, but unlike the worries of the workaday world, they are fluid. I don’t have the time to get stuck in one decision because I never stop confronting newer ones. There’s always the next play. And the next play is all that matters.
I find that the game demands my undivided attention. For me, it’s bliss.
When I leave the court, without exception, I can’t recall what I was so damned worried about in the first place. I get to hit the reset button in my brain.
This is a major goal of meditation. Those in the know call it pattern interruption. We make ourselves aware that our thoughts come to us in looping patterns, and we develop the awareness to stop those patterns before they become downward spirals.
Basketball may not be your thing. You may prefer to lose yourself in a book. You may enjoy knitting quilts. Whatever your interests, it’s never too late to try out a new hobby. You just might find yourself calling it meditation one day.
3. The third way to add mindfulness to your recovery is by becoming mindful.
The last consideration I have for those seeking the right meditation practice is mindfulness.
For a decade, I thought the main goal of meditation was to empty my mind. See category one, traditional meditation. The goal of letting thoughts pass, in my understanding, was to clear the mind entirely.
I assumed this is how the Buddhists described Nirvana—that elevated state of consciousness achieved by the prophet where absolute quiet overtakes our suffering.
I’ve since changed my perspective.
It’s not emptying my mind that brings me peace; it’s becoming mindful. This means that I reach a state of awareness concerning myself and my thoughts.
Lately, I haven’t had the time to play pickup basketball. Nor have I had the time to sit still for half hours on end. The good thing about practicing mindfulness is that it does not require a timer.
I still my body. I roll my toes or touch my fingertips together to ground my thoughts. Then, I wait for a thought to pop in my mind. I listen to it. I can thank it for being there or ask it to leave. Whatever the case, I ask myself Can I do something about this today? If the answer is yes, then I take a mental note to do something about it. If the answer is no, then I have to let it go. Send it packing. Maybe that thought will return tomorrow. Maybe I can deal with it then.
The point is that the goal of meditation may not be emptying your mind of thoughts. It might be becoming more aware of why you think the way you do. And that can be a mighty powerful tool in your recovery, in your life.