In the last article and in many previous articles, we explained that mindful awareness is touted as a crucial ingredient (if not the crucial ingredient) of nearly all substance abuse programs. We also noted that mindfulness is cultivated via meditation. But what if you’ve tried to meditate and found that you couldn’t stand it? What if you’d prefer to tweeze your eyelashes out while standing on a bed of hot coals rather than sit on a cushion for a half hour listening to your breathing? Do not despair. There are many ways to meditate.
What is mindfulness?
Mindful awareness can be defined as “paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is…It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience.” Mindfulness allows us to step back emotionally, and that creates a space that wasn’t there before. It’s like cleaning out your mental refrigerator. In that space, we have the time and objectivity required to make the best choice. Ever blazed thorough half a bowl or joint and wondered, huh, I don’t remember making a decision to smoke this joint (or bowl). You couldn’t remember your decision to smoke because you were on autopilot. A moment of awareness would have given you a space in which you could’ve made a conscious rather than unconscious choice about smoking.
Meditation is a partnership between mindfulness and concentration
As important as mindful awareness is, there’s another part of meditation that often gets overlooked: concentration. In meditation practice, concentration is often referred to as one-pointedness. According to Bhuatante Gunaratana in his book Mindfulness in Plain English, mindfulness and concentration are “partners in the job of meditation.” Gunaratana says mindfulness is the more important of the two, that it has a “broader and larger function than concentration.” According to Gunaratana, “Concentration is exclusive” while “mindfulness is inclusive.” Concentration excludes with its narrow focus; mindfulness stands back and observes with a broad focus. Even though Gunarata says that mindfulness is more important than concentration, he says they’re still partners in meditation.
Knowing this expands our definition of meditation. Sitting cross-legged on a cushion and monitoring one’s breath is not the only form of meditation because any activity that consistently brings our attention to the present moment (concentration or one-pointedness) and encourages us observe whatever good or bad feelings we’re having–without getting too wrapped up in those feelings–qualifies as meditation. That is good news because everyone, given enough time and motivation, can find something that he or she enjoys that qualifies as meditation. It is your mission, if you want to follow the advice of virtually everyone who works in the field of substance abuse treatment who advises cultivating mindful awareness through medication, to figure out what these activities are for you.
Anything Can Be Meditation
The catch is that your meditation activity needs to be done on a daily basis in order to cultivate mindful awareness (and improve your concentration). Sitting meditation is the easiest because there’s no special equipment required. You can do it anywhere. It’s free. You can do it if you are exhausted, sick, depressed, etc. For these reasons, sitting on a pillow became the stock image we associate with the concept of meditation.
So then, part of any substance abuse program is cultivating mindful awareness through meditation, but you can choose your own form of meditation. There are only two requirements on the activity: it has to be done with awareness and concentration, and it must be done at least once a day. It doesn’t need to be the same activity every day. You might go surfing two days a week, take a walk or hike, paint, take photos, do yoga, garden, etc. the other seven. You just have to do one meditative thing per day. And, if worse comes to worse and you can’t do one of your preferred activities for some reason, you can always just sit on a cushion and pay attention to your breath. Sitting on a cushion can be your backup plan.
Surfing As Meditation
Surfing, for example, can be meditative. It forces surfers into the present moment, especially when they are catching and riding waves. All problems and preoccupations disappear instantly because all physical and mental energies are going to catching and surfing the wave. Being totally in the present moment profound. As Jon-Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), says, ““You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.’”
Next: Meditative Activities Add Meaning To Our Daily Lives