About to relapse? Feel like you can’t hold out any longer? Try some simple Buddhist techniques to clear your head, soothe your soul, and gain a little of that serenity that we in recovery so dearly need.
Now, let me begin with a caveat. I am not a Buddhist and certainly not an expert on the religion or on meditation in general. I do practice certain Buddhist techniques, and I find them very helpful, especially in moments of temptation. I urge you to try these techniques – but to find full knowledge of them on your own, through readings or the teachings of someone more qualified than I.
So, disclaimer aside – here goes.
We spend a lot of our lives living outside the moment, and as any Buddhist will tell you, this aint’ the path to happiness. We walk through life partially unaware, we are here, but our minds are elsewhere.
A great way to achieve some serenity in life is to train yourself to enjoy and appreciate your life, moment by moment. To literally stop and smell the roses, and just keep on smellin’ them!
Using the roses analogy as a starting point – lets imagine you are walking through a park on a lovely Indian summer Saturday. It’s beautiful, and pleasant, and you’re feeling alright. But you’re also stressing about a work presentation to come on Monday, wondering if the parking meter has expired, thinking about what you need to pick up at the store for dinner…etc. etc. You are in the park, but at the same time, your mind is elsewhere, and as a result you don’t enjoy the experience nearly as much as you would have if you had just been in the moment, and forgotten all your troubles and worries for a while.
And unfortunately, all that mental effort you expended to keep that internal dialogue running through your mind probably didn’t amount to much good at all. That work presentation is still coming, the parking meter was OK, or it wasn’t – and you will likely do just fine at the grocery store without a whole lot of preplanning. In fact, you’d probably do better on that presentation for giving your mind a rest and gaining a little clarity.
Without effort, we suffer a constant barrage of mindless internal dialogue. Our brain just seems to like to blather on to itself. Not much comes out of it, usually, but it’s all most of us know, and so we don’t think about it. Worse, for those of us struggling with sobriety, that voice inside our head seems determined to sabotage our efforts. The voice of addicted thinking, it tells us we can’t hold on any longer, argues that we could maybe have just one drink and runs a dialogue blaming someone or something else for how we’re feeling right now.
If you could just shut that voice up – you’d find you thought about taking a drink or a hit, or whatever, a whole lot less often.
Part of achieving serenity through Buddhism is accomplished by eliminating that voice inside your head, and enjoying the still and silence of your mind for a while, appreciating the moment you’re in for what it offers.
How to Silence the Voice
OK – so now, if you’re game – try a little experiment right now. Turn away from your computer screen for a sec, and just sit there, not thinking about anything, and see how long you can keep your inner voice silent for.
OK, so it’s not easy!
But it’s not as hard as you think either, it just takes a little practice, and there are some techniques you can use to help you stay focused.
In this first step, you don’t even need to silence your inner voice; you just need to keep yourself focused on the present moment. You can get into a meditation position or whatever, but you don’t even need to do that, just sit somewhere comfortable, and start to think about this moment.
And not this moment as in around this moment, I mean this moment, second by second. Forget about anything that happened before this second, and don’t think about anything that’s coming after this second – just be. For this moment, don’t be a mom or a dad, don’t be a worker or a boss, don’t be a drunk or a junky – try to be nothing, to leave everything in your life behind. Take a break from all that, free from any responsibility or worry – this time is yours alone, and you deserve a little vacation. Use your senses, in this first stage, you don’t need to quiet your inner voice, you can still think to yourself about anything around you, but only as it comes.
- Listen – to the noises in your environment.
- Feel – think about the feeling of the ground on your feet, the sun on your face.
- See – really look at what’s around you.
- Smell – what does your environment smell like?
Just concentrate on your sensations as they arise, and try to stay focused on them for as long as you can. At first, you’ll find your mind wandering away frequently. Don’t worry, it’s normal, just bring it back to the present whenever that happens. The more you do this, the easier it gets, and the longer the intervals will be between wanderings. It’s a liberating experience to leave your worries behind for a while. Rarely is there anything very troubling in our immediate environment, and so this experience tends to be calming, and pleasant. It may sound boring, but really, it’s not at all – it’s a relaxing break.
Once you get comfortable staying in the present for a while, perform the same exercise, but this time quiet the inner voice.
Feel the sun, but don’t commentate on it to yourself, just experience it. Hear the birds, enjoy the sounds, but don’t "think" about them Just be in the moment, free from worries, and in the silence of your mind. Again, at first it’s a bit tough to quiet the voice, but every time you start hear it, just turn it off, and refocus.
With practice you’ll find it easier to stay silent. Once you can do this, you’ll understand what I’m talking about here! It’s an amazing thing to be able to sit quietly, in peace, with no worries, and enjoy the experience without talking about it to yourself.
It is serenity embodied, and you will find it carries over into the rest of your day – leaving you less prone to stress and worry, and less prone to relapse provoking thoughts. And then whenever you do feel temptation arise – forget about day by day, tune out that voice for a while, live second by second for a bit – and when you return – you’ll feel a whole lot better, and that urge to drink; it will likely be gone.
These simple exercises will help you to stay sober, but more than that they teach you happiness. Live in the moment, enjoy what comes – and learn that a lot of what you worry about – what makes you miserable – is not as important as you think.