Last month it’s been four years that I’ve been part of The SUN Network and about five years since I started my own recovery. For Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d share a bit about my wellbeing practice and how it’s evolved. I hope this is helpful, encouraging or at least I hope it makes someone smile.
Expectations and Starting with Kindness:
First I taught myself a bit about mindfulness and meditation. As often is the case, I was ‘all in’ and I expected that I would somehow transcend normal consciousness, tapping into a state of mind free from thoughts, a sort of nirvana. That’s hilarious, as nothing like that’s happened–not even close. But I did learn something very helpful right at the start. I had learned a tip that every time I noticed my mind wandering, I could smile, and even chuckle to myself. That means in 60 seconds of practicing noticing my thoughts, I smiled and chuckled the entire time, over and over again, smiling, chuckling. My default was to feel like a failure and be anxious that I was doing it wrong. But the smiling really made a difference and I got one of the biggest surprises, and loveliest gifts of this experiment. I found the smiling and being gentle and kind to myself during my few minutes of mindfulness was overflowing and showing up in other parts of my day. For example, if later that day I happened to drop my keys, sometimes instead of swearing or grunting in frustration, I would automatically smile or chuckle, just like I’d practiced in those few minutes in the morning. This has made such a difference to me that I’ve named my Recovery From Addiction course using the subtitle of ‘Through Kindness’.
Help with Focus
My partner really doesn’t like guided meditations. Maybe she’s a rebel and doesn’t want someone to tell her what to do. I’m a bit like that though I have learned from mindfulness practices. Still, I’ve customised them until they are my own. Otherwise I’d get bored, give up, and miss out on the goodness they offer. One big change I stumbled into is instead of closing my eyes, I look out the window. Now I don’t try to cut out stimulus. My mind races so very fast, it seems to help me to give my brain a bit of something to ‘chew on’ and then I can relax better and not be quite so overwhelmed by my thoughts. Another thing that helps me is to focus on my breathing. If I listen to my breathing it means I have something to do with my attention. I suggest trying different things; experiment and do what you like and what works for you.
Practicing Resetting Expectations
Every time I think about my addiction, when my mind wanders and obsesses and imagines my drug or behaviour of choice, I suspect that I’m ramping up dopamine in my brain. That’s because I feel drawn to act; my cravings grow the more attention I give to them. My mindfulness time is like a slow release antidote. I practice relaxing, noticing my breath, enjoying the clouds drift by, the beautiful blue sky, the branches in the tree swaying. And every minute I do this is a minute I’m not ramping up the dopamine, not revving my mind toward my addiction. Instead of cultivating dopamine, I think I’m allowing serotonin to thrive. Serotonin is related to contentment and good feelings, but calm and satisfied ones. So I’m weaning myself off the intense and unhelpful escalating feelings and thoughts by practicing feeling good about gentler and calmer pleasures. After doing this a few years in the morning when I sit in the same chair and look out the same window, I can sometimes visualise and remember the calming nature images and feelings during my day, even when I’m driving or in a meeting. As soon as I notice myself fantasising about my addiction, I try to redirect my attention to the feelings I get from nature.
Noticing instead of Mindfulness or Meditation
Five years after I tried meditation for the first time, I don’t even refer to what I do as meditation or mindfulness. I quite happily allow my mind to wander. Maybe I reflect on the previous day, things I’m grateful for, things I’m not so happy about. Every minute that I can not touch my phone is a successful minute in my Noticing Practice. I notice how I feel about things and I practice being kind to myself about my feelings. I notice the beauty of the birds perched on the branches of the tree through my window. Sometimes I skip this practice completely and instead go outside for a slow jog around a big field or along the river. I try to appreciate the sky, reminding myself that the sun nourishes me with vitamin D. I sometimes remember to be thankful that the beautiful trees are taking care of me by creating oxygen for me to breathe (but usually I forget to remember that). I describe these times as ‘connecting with myself’ as weird as that sounds, and these experiments are still evolving as I try new things and keep doing the ones that are fun or helpful.
Until next time!