As is the case for many other recovering addicts, mindfulness has been a monumental part of my recovery. While it took medical intervention to detox and behavioral therapy to change the way I saw my substance use, it is mindfulness that has helped me stay clean upon leaving an alcohol and drug rehab center.
Mindfulness asks you to be in the moment rather than trying to run from it. It reminds you that you only need to stay clean now, rather than somehow guaranteeing lifelong success. It changes the way you live in the world, which is incredibly important for those of us whose experience of life was, for so long, lacking joy and health.
For this reason, I practice mindfulness daily. It works more effectively than any other treatment I’ve ever tried. However, once in a while its impact goes beyond efficacy.
The other day I took a mindful walk around a lake near to where I live. I took each step slowly, often stopping to sit on a bench. In the midst of the walk, I encountered the world on a level I rarely achieve. Life opened up for me and what became an hour-long walk was poignant.
During the walk, I tried to let any thoughts go, even if they seemed insightful. Looking back later, I realised I had learned some significant lessons about my life, my addiction, and the world itself.
Here are 3 incredible life lessons I learned on a mindful walk.
1. The present is always happening
When we talk about the present, we are usually referring to a particular moment. The present is now. And now. And now. And now! However, a mindful approach sees the present somewhat differently.
Often when I practice mindfulness, I try to experience the moment. I engage my senses and try to pin down what I’m feeling. This leaves me constantly missing the moment – as soon as I think I have it, the next moment has already come and gone.
Walking around the lake the other day, I let go of the moment. Instead, I simply lived. There was no one moment to pin down, as the present is constantly happening. This may seem overly esoteric, but it is a very helpful lesson when trying to stay sober.
The lesson for addicts: Mindfulness helps with sobriety in that it tells you that all you have to do is stay sober now. Seeing life moment by moment helps, but it is in recognizing that the future is just an illusion that we find a more significant peace. You don’t have to get and stay clean for the rest of your life, as you can never guarantee that will happen. You only need to be clean in the present. The future does not exist yet, so trying to control it only distracts you from the only time we truly have.
2. Living in the present is simply stripping away interference
Speaking about living in the present is tough, because we are always living in the present. That is simply the way life works. Thinking about the future or the past does not change the fact that we are living in the present. This makes mindfulness very difficult for some people to understand. How do you find this elusive present moment?
The answer is simple: you don’t. Instead of trying to find some magical moment, you strip away the thoughts and behaviors that are interfering with the present. Note any thoughts about the past or future and let them go, reminding yourself that you are here. That can be as simple as repeating the words “I’m here” in your mind.
Let any feelings be rather than trying to push them away or run from them. If you notice yourself reaching for your phone to distract you, simply note the urge and let go.
Telling yourself to live in the present creates a challenge that seems insurmountable. However, if you simply think about it as stripping away the thoughts and behaviors that are trying to numb or distract you, the process becomes much easier.
The lesson for addicts: We often try to replace the drugs and alcohol with something else, whether that is a spiritual experience or a psychological trick. If instead we notice the cravings and the thoughts which are urging us to run from the present, we can let them go. You don’t need to replace them with anything, as present living is enough.
3. You are as worthy as you will ever be
I have dreams and ambitions that are realistic. I also have fantasies of lives I know can never be. Sometimes, these dreams, ambitions, and fantasies make me feel like a failure. I am so far away from achieving the things that I once believed would make this all worth it. This is a common experience for people leaving rehab, as we go back into a world where the consequences of our mistakes are all too real.
When present in a mindful sense, you realize that you are already as worthy as you will ever be. You are no less real now simply because you haven’t made millions of dollars or starred in a movie or gotten married or become a parent. The existence you have today is the same existence you will have if you achieve those things.
This is a tough lesson to learn for two very different reasons. One is that we cling to this idea that we are not enough, that we need to achieve certain goals to prove that our lives are worthwhile. The second is that acknowledging your current worthiness can make your dreams and ambitions seem insignificant. If I am already as real today as I will ever be, is there any point to achieving anything?
However, learning this lesson is crucial. If you are to wait until the circumstances are right to start living, you will struggle to get through each day. Recognizing the power of your existence without achieving those circumstances makes it possible for you to appreciate every single day, no matter how difficult or imperfect.
The lesson for addicts: Recovering addicts learn that we can live a meaningful life even though we have made mistakes. The reality we return to upon leaving rehab can look like a mess, but that does not take away from its worth.
If you are able to appreciate that you are as worthy as you will ever be, you will still want to achieve your dreams and ambitions. There simply will not be as much riding on it. You will want to achieve them because they are meaningful in the context of your life, and not because you need them to provide your life with meaning.
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