Awareness

One of the major benefits of mindfulness is increased self-awareness.

The ability to recognize the self is a distinctly human trait.  People who talk to themselves aren’t necessarily crazy… (only if they answer back).  Humans have the ability to think about what they’re thinking about.

The level of awareness that is cultivated in mindfulness is not just an intellectual exercise.  It’s making the distinction between who you really are and who you believe yourself to be.  Awareness is far more than believing in yourself; it requires a measure of truth.

When you look in a mirror, you don’t always see what others see.  We see what we believe is there. It has been said that the homes of those who are comfortable with their self image have many mirrors.  Those who are not have very few.

Self-awareness is the first step on the road to self-mastery and recovery.  As an addict, I find a strong parallel between recovery and self-mastery; therefore, mindfulness is a necessary component of the recovery process.

I still remember my first therapist giving me some instruction on self-awareness.  At the time, I was strongly addicted to pornography.  He suggested that if and when I found myself standing at the checkout with a pornographic magazine in one hand and money in the other, that I should remember to say to myself, “This is my money that I am giving to this clerk with my own hand, in exchange for this magazine.”  It didn’t seem to me to be a helpful suggestion, but as I reflect on the implications I realize that he was encouraging me to be mindful of what I was doing.

The thing that is going to challenge us from gaining success in the area of mindfulness is mindlessness.  There’s a funny story that illustrates this point:  “A woman wants to make a purchase at a clothing store.  At the checkout she hands over her credit card.  The cashier hands it back and asks the woman to sign her credit card (something she neglected to do when it arrived in the mail).  She signs it and hands it back.  The cashier then processes the payment and asks the woman to sign the receipt, after which she holds up the signed credit card and the receipt to compare the two signatures.”

Awareness is the art of noticing things about yourself.  The level of awareness that mindfulness involves is the use of the ‘witness.’  The use of the ‘witness’ requires that you step back, as it were, and observe what you are thinking, and what you are feeling in that moment.  The ‘witness’ just lets it be okay.  There is no judgment in this practice; there is only peaceful acceptance and curiosity.

Awareness is the key to self acceptance and self mastery.

Mindfulness

Recently I volunteered to lead a seminar on mindfulness.

I will need to prepare something – something that clearly outlines the benefits so that each attendee is completely hooked.  A good outline will keep us on track, preventing us from wandering around aimlessly without any focus.  There are many directions I could take, and my outline will prevent that from happening.

I have asked for wisdom.  I will need it in order to know exactly what to present.

So what, exactly, are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?  The overriding benefit is clearly the ability to “attend to our experiences in a wholesome manner” by using our capacity to “overcome the unskillful habits of mind that cause us to suffer needlessly.”

In other words, mindfulness helps us to nurture the skill to deliberately remain attentive to our experience as it unfolds (in the present moment) without judgment or resistance.

This will need to be simplified.  I cannot use big words randomly without losing my audience.  I would imagine that introducing a few big words would be acceptable if they are explained carefully and completely.

Over time, the practice of mindfulness reveals and develops the qualities of wisdom and compassion, the twin virtues of this discipline.

Wisdom is the ability to see clearly the fundamental nature of reality.  We become truly aware of how little control we have of our environment – the events that deeply affect us.  Much of our suffering is a result of trying to manage and command the things over which we have little or no control.

However, what we can control is our thoughts.  We can learn to end the need to control what is around us, and grow our awareness of the source of our suffering – and our unhappiness.

By developing awareness of our thoughts and feelings, and remaining detached from the events of our daily lives, we will experience a ripple effect in our level of clarity, peace of mind, resilience and self confidence.  Our increased capacity for self rule will not only improve our relationships with others, but put an end to the suffering we create for ourselves that is so unnecessary.

We can’t change what we cannot see; therefore, gaining clarity gives us a leg up on the whole process of personal change.  And the clarity that is gained through mindfulness is the realization that there is nothing holding us back except ourselves.

Recovery doesn’t come about by tinkering around the edges; it occurs at the center.

Higher Power

The 12 Step process is a spiritual program.

No amount of will power will bring you any success if you are an addict.  No amount of intellectual pursuit will cause you to move forward.  No amount of one-on-one therapy, or motivational books will give you recovery.  The only thing that will bring you lasting recovery is a relationship – conscious contact – with a Power greater than yourself.

If you are a religious person and attend your church, temple, synagogue or mosque religiously you do not need to think of this program as religious.  It is not.  You are free to choose your own concept of a Higher Power – God.  But I will tell you plainly that your concept of God must include certain elements if it is to be of any help to you.  There are essentially four main ingredients:

  • Personal: Hears you and speaks to you
  • Patient: Understanding and compassionate
  • Present: Everywhere and ‘everywhen’ (omnipresence)
  • Powerful: Willing and able

Your Higher Power cannot be a door knob; neither can it be your sponsor (your sponsor is only human like you but, hopefully, more engaging than a door knob).

It has been suggested that the group can represent your Higher Power.  Is this true?  I think it’s a great start; after all, the group ought to be personal, patient, and powerful.  If you want your group to represent your Higher Power but the group is lacking in any of these three areas, then I suggest you find another group… or change your concept of a Higher Power.

One long-standing member of our fellowship once got up and referred to his Higher Power as an inner power.  I believe he may have been referring to his Higher Self – an Eastern concept in religious thought.  Again, totally acceptable if it includes personal, patient and powerful.

Above all, this connection with your Higher Power is a relationship.  We did not merely come to “believe in a Higher Power greater than ourselves that could restore us to sanity.”  We also “made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God.”

From that point onward, we develop our relationship with God by trying to improve our conscious contact with God.  For this is the essence of the entire program:  Spirituality.

Trust

Part of the hurt we carry around with us shows up in the form of broken trust.

As addicts, we don’t trust anyone. We have been hurt, disappointed, neglected and abused. We carry the shame of past trauma and disillusionment. We can’t trust anyone. And as our addiction has hurt others, we have broken the trust of our loved ones.

Let’s face it: we are control freaks! How? By trying to meet our own needs, without relying on anyone else. We use whatever we can get out hands on; any substitute will do.

We are also escape artists. We spend most of our time in isolation. We don’t enjoy the company of other people except to use certain individuals to get what we think we need. And when they get too close, we disappear – we escape – into isolation.

Everyone who is in recovery is learning to trust: Learning to trust others; learning to trust God; learning to trust themselves. And in addition to everything else, we are learning to trust the process. The Big Book tells us that entering into recovery was scary:

“We could not see the path ahead, except that others had gone that way before. Each new step of surrender felt it could be off the edge into oblivion, but we took it. And instead of killing us, surrender was killing the obsession! We had stepped into the light; into a whole new way of life.”

We are learning to trust this new way of life. Our needs are being met, and we are “learning what none of the substitutes had ever supplied. We are making the real connection…”

As we continue to recover we learn to let go. It’s a question of faith if we are willing to give up control. As we learn how to trust, we let go of cynicism. We are open to receive grace from God; and we’re open to receive support from our fellows in recovery. We have the freedom now to think more optimistically, and create a better future for ourselves.

And one of the reasons we can trust God is because we now know what it means to live “one day at a time.” We have everything we need right now – today – in this sacred moment. We’re learning to be grateful, focusing on what’s good in our lives – the things we have, not what we don’t have.

As we continue to pray the Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” we continue to make progress in our spiritual growth. Part of this wisdom is being able to make the distinction between reality and fantasy, what’s real and what is just an illusion. Our understanding of reality changes as we continue to see more clearly the enormous grace of God, and the abundance of the world in which we live.