Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Choosing not to go there

I’m often asked whether I recommend meditation to those new in recovery.  It’s not something I feel qualified to answer, as individual practice is very personal.  There are some schools of meditation whose teachings would doubtless be more challenging for those who have only recently got sober, but mindfulness is probably not one of those.  There are however a few considerations for anyone wishing to explore meditation as an adjunct to recovery. 
Firstly, the importance of a good teacher cannot be overstated.  I have been privileged to learn, I think, with the best.  I got a solid platform on which to establish a platform some years ago from a teacher about whom, at the time, I knew very little.  Today I know better how fortunate I was to be taught by her.  Whilst there are some excellent books available, complemented by DVDs and downloads, there is, I believe, no substitute for sitting in a room with someone who embodies what they teach.  I know I learn best by example, and learning to meditate is no exception.  Finding a teacher with whose outlook you resonate is important, and attending interesting sounding events and following up word of mouth recommendations have served me well in this respect.

Within the mindfulness approach, there is something known as wise attention, or protective mindfulness which, to me, is key to those practising early in their sobriety.  There is a choice we all have, simply not to go to places that feel overwhelming.  Mindfulness starts with an awareness and acceptance of our own internal resources, and sitting for protracted periods of time in positions that perhaps feel uncomfortable, is probably not terribly helpful to those who might find more respite in learning about the applications of mindfulness in everyday life. 
Mindfulness is intended to complement one’s resources, not detract from them.  For this reason, when considering offering mindfulness in treatment settings, or for those who have recently completed a residential or day programme, I might well start with the shorter practices, such as the Breathing Space, or Mindful Eating.  I usually advise individuals new to the practice to keep their eyes open, with a soft focus and lowered gaze, which can serve an important purpose should sleep beckon, and may also feel more comfortable, particularly in a group setting.  Mindfulness of sight and sound seem to me to be two good practices that are perhaps more accessible to those of us recovering from substance dependence, or eating disorders than the Body Scan which is conventionally taught at the beginning of an 8 week course. 
For any of us, no matter how long around, we are responsible for looking after ourselves, and it remains important to remember that our meditation practice might easily become another opportunity to berate or chastise, if we do not bring to it the qualities of self acceptance and compassion. 

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