Cultivating Mindfulness & Meditation in 12 Step Recovery
What Is Mindfulness & What Is Meditation
The guiding principle is simple - to bring our mind back to our body, to restore our true presence, to become fully alive. All of this can be realized by all human beings under the light of Mindfulness.
We practice mindfulness in order to realize liberation, peace and joy in our everyday lives. Liberation and happiness are linked to each other; if there is liberation, there is happiness, and greater liberation brings greater happiness. If there is liberation, peace and joy exist in the present moment. We don’t need to wait ten or fifteen years to realize them. They’re available as soon as we begin to practice. However modest these elements may be, they form the basis for greater liberation, peace and joy in the future.
To practice meditation is to look deeply in order to see into the essence of things. With insight and understanding we can realize liberation, peace and joy. Our anger, anxiety and fear are the ropes that bind us to suffering. If we want to be liberated from them, we need to observe their nature, which is ignorance, the lack of clear understanding. When we misunderstand a friend, we may become angry at him, and because of that we may suffer. But when we look deeply into what has happened, we can end the misunderstanding. When we understand the other person and his situation, our suffering will disappear and peace and joy will arise. The first step is awareness of the object, and the second step is to look deeply at the object to shed light on it. Therefore, mindfulness means awareness and it also means looking deeply.
While we are fully aware of, and observing deeply an object, the boundary between the subject who observes and the object being observed gradually dissolves, and the subject and object become one. This is the essence of meditation. Only when we penetrate an object and become one with it can we understand it.
Our practice is to be aware that all the wonders of life are available in the here and now, and that we should stop running. While practicing sitting meditation we should stop. While enjoying our breakfast, we should stop. There are some people who sit down to have a meal but continue to run inside. They are not capable of stopping, being in the here and now, and just enjoying a slice of tomato or a carrot. Let us support each other in order to really stop. The awakened one said, “The past is already gone. The future is not yet here. There is only one moment for you to live. That is the present moment.” We have an appointment with life in the present moment. If we miss the present moment, we miss our appointment with life. We can all understand this. Our true home is in the here and now. It is in the island of self within. We can only touch life in all its wonders in the here and the now.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Transformation and Healing &
You can’t make radical changes in the pattern of your life until you begin to see yourself exactly as you are now. As soon as you do that, changes will flow naturally. You don’t have to force anything, struggle, or obey rules dictated to you by some authority. It is automatic; you just change. But arriving at that initial insight is quite a task. You have to see who you are and how you are without illusion, judgment or resistance of any kind. You have to see your place in society and your function as a social being. You have to see your duties and obligations to your fellow human beings, and above all, your responsibility to yourself as an individual living with other individuals. And finally, you have to see all of that clearly as a single unit, an irreducible whole of interrelationship. It sounds complex, but it can occur in a single instant. Mental cultivation through meditation is without rival in helping you achieve this sort of understanding and serene happiness.
The Dhammapada, an ancient Buddhist text (which anticipated Freud by thousands of years), says:
“What you are now is the result of what you were. What you will be tomorrow will be the result of what you are now. The consequences of an evil mind will follow you like the cart follows the ox that pulls it. The consequences of a purified mind will follow you like your own shadow. No one can do more for you than your own purified mind. A well-disciplined mind brings happiness.”
Meditation is intended to purify the mind. It cleanses the thought process of what can be called psychic irritants, things like greed, hatred and jealousy, which keep you snarled up in emotional bondage. Meditation brings the mind to a state of tranquility and awareness, a state of concentration and insight.
In our society, we are great believers in education. We believe that knowledge makes a person civilized. Civilization, however, polishes a person only superficially. Subject our noble and sophisticated gentle-person to the stresses of war or economic collapse, and see what happens. It is one thing to obey the law because you know the penalties and fear the consequences; it is something else entirely to obey the law because you have cleansed yourself from the greed that would make you steal and the hatred that would make you kill. Throw a stone into a stream. The running water would smooth the stone’s surface, but the inside remains unchanged. Take that same stone and place it in the intense fires of a forge, and it all melts; the whole stone changes inside and out. Civilization changes a person on the outside. Meditation softens a person from within, through and through.
Meditation is called the Great Teacher. It is the cleansing crucible fire that works slowly but surely, through understanding. The greater understanding you have, the more flexible and tolerant, the more compassionate you can be. You become like a perfect parent or an ideal teacher. You are ready to forgive and forget. You feel love toward others because you understand them, and you understand others because you have understood yourself. You have looked deeply inside and seen self-illusion and your own human failings, seen your own humanity and learned to forgive and to love. When you have learned compassion for yourself, compassion for others is automatic. An accomplished meditator has achieved a profound understanding of life, and he or she inevitably relates to the world with a deep and uncritical love.
Meditation is a lot like cultivating a new land. To make a field out of a forest, first you have to clear the trees and pull out the stumps. Then you till the soil and fertilize it, sow your seed, and harvest your crops. To cultivate your mind, first you have to clear out the various irritants that are in the way — pull them right out by the root so that they won’t grow back. Then you fertilize: you pump energy and discipline into the mental soil. Then you sow the seed, and harvest your crops of faith, morality, mindfulness, and wisdom.
Faith and morality, by the way, have a special meaning in this context. Mindfulness does not require faith in the sense of believing something because it is written in a book, attributed to a prophet, or taught to you by some authority figure. The meaning of faith here is closer to confidence. It is knowing that something is true because you have seen it work, because you have observed that very thing within yourself. In the same way, morality is not a ritualistic obedience to a code of behavior imposed by an external authority. It is rather a healthy habit pattern that you have consciously and voluntarily chosen to impose upon yourself because you recognize its superiority to your present behavior.
The purpose of meditation is personal transformation. The “you” that goes in one side of the meditation experience is not the same “you” that comes out the other side. Meditation changes your character by a process of sensitization, by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, words, and deeds. Your arrogance evaporates, and your antagonism dries up. Your mind becomes still and calm. And your life smooths out. Thus meditation, properly performed, prepares you to meet the ups and downs of existence. It reduces your tension, fear, and worry. Restlessness recedes and passion moderates. Things begin to fall into place, and your life becomes a glide instead of a struggle.
Our goal is to reach the perfection of all the noble and wholesome qualities latent in our subconscious mind. This goal has five elements to it:
1. purification of mind
2. overcoming sorrow and lamentation
3. overcoming pain and grief
4. treading the right path leading to attainment of peace, equanimity and
5. attaining happiness by following that path
Keeping this five fold goal in mind, we can advance with hope and confidence.
All of this happens through understanding. Meditation sharpens your concentration and your thinking power. Then, piece by piece, your own subconscious motives and mechanics become clear to you. Your intuition sharpens. The precision of your thought increases, and gradually you come to a direct knowledge of things as they really are, without prejudice and without illusion.
So are these reasons enough to bother? Scarcely. These are just promises on paper. There is only one way you will ever know if meditation is worth the effort: learn to do it right, and do it. See for yourself.
Venerable Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English