mindfulness and addiction

The Joy of Missing Out

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

At the moment I’m teaching an online course called Calm In the Storm, which is about finding peace in the midst of our turbulent and contentious times. I often benefit from teaching because it focuses my attention on particular aspects of practice, and as Seneca the Younger noted, “Men learn while they teach.”

This course has forced me to become more conscious of my relationship to the news, to social media, and the technology that delivers those things to me. And it’s this, more than anything I’ve said about mindfulness or equanimity, that’s had the most powerful effect on my sense of wellbeing over the last few weeks. In fact, the result of changing my relationship with technology, the news, and social media has been astonishing. I feel much calmer and more at peace than I did even just two weeks ago. I’m less anxious. I have more of a sense of clarity and purpose. I’m getting more done and consequently I’m feeling more of a sense of confidence and accomplishment.

See also:

Before I discuss what changes I’ve made, I want to say a little about my social media use, which is probably a little unusual. I’ve already been withdrawing a lot. I was a big Google Plus user, but Google is pulling the plug on that soon, and so I’m barely there these days. I’ve already withdrawn from Facebook since I find that there are too many argumentative people there. I recently stopped using Instagram, partly because it’s owned by Facebook (who can’t be trusted with personal information) and partly because I found that it my use of it was caught up with an unhealth desire to be acknowledged by means of “views” and “likes” and whatnot. So Twitter is the only social media service I currently use heavily. But you can probably apply what I’m going to talk about to any social media site.

Social Media Addiction

I had been finding myself spending too much time on Twitter. And it didn’t have a good effect on my emotional life. Much of the content there is fueled by outrage. The short format does not exactly encourage deep thought, and tends to promote sloganizing, blaming, shaming, and arguing.

My mind kept turning to Twitter over and over again during the day. I spent a lot of time reading discussions, and following links  to articles that people had shared. I experienced FOMO—the Fear of Missing Out. If I’d been away from Twitter for any length of time, I’d feel a sense of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Even while I was on the app or the website, I’d see those notifications of new tweets, and feel the need to what they were about. Click. Twitter is designed to be compulsive: you “like” and “share” counts on popular posts tick upwards as you watch, and notifications keep appearing to announce the arrival of new tweets. There are always new tweets.

News Addiction

My Twitter addiction overlapped with a news addiction. There’s a sense of crisis unfolding around us, both in my native Britain and in my adopted home, the US. It felt important on the one hand to stay informed, but also I was aware that the news can create anxiety, and anxiety can create a compulsion to stay in touch with the news. This is an unhealthy vicious circle.

So here are some steps I’ve taken to find some sanity and calmness in the midst of the current state of crisis.

Step 1: Reducing Access to the News

I get my news online. And again this can be compulsive, so I needed to reduce my access to that form of stimulation. (I don’t have cable or an antenna, so I already don’t watch the news on TV. When I’ve seen the TV news while visiting family, I’ve been shocked by how visceral, urgent, and unpleasant the experience is.) The Chrome browser on my iPhone had been creating a custom list of news articles that appeared every time I opened a new tab. I’d often spend too much time browsing those, so I switched off that feature. My phone came with the Apple News app installed, and headlines from that would appear in the notifications center. So I deleted that app. Both those changes have saved me a lot of time.

I still glance at the news. Often just reading the headlines and a brief description of a news story tells me what I need to know. The rest is needless detail. I do delve into some articles when they really interest me. Usually those are about science or psychology.

Step 2: Limiting Access to My Phone

I no longer sleep with my phone by my bed. It used to function as my bedside clock, and so it would be the first thing I’d touch in the morning. And as soon as I’d picked my phone up I’d be aware of emails, text messages, and app notifications that had come in overnight, so I’d get sucked into work and social media as soon as I woke up.

Now I charge my phone overnight in the living room, and leave my Apple Watch charging by my bedside overnight so that I can tell the time or set an alarm. If I didn’t have that I’d go buy myself a simple alarm clock, which would work just as well.

Step 3: Improving My Following Habits

I’ve often been astonished by the grace with which Chelsea Clinton and Cory Booker in particular deal with critics. They’re invariably kind. If there are more people like that, please let me know. I want to drink in and fill myself with their positivity. I’ve unfollowed or blocked people who I find are simply interested in attacking others, or who post nothing but insults. I deliberately choose to follow some people I disagree with, but not with the purpose of arguing with them; I just like to be exposed to a different way of thinking. I don’t want to exist in a bubble.

Step 4: Deleting the Twitter App

I wanted to cut down on my Twitter use, but it was remarkably hard to do so. I deleted the app from my iPhone, but I could still access it on my computer, or on my phone’s browser (I use Chrome and sometimes Safari). In fact Chrome on my iPhone had conveniently created an icon for accessing Twitter, because it was a site I visited often. Merely deleting the Twitter app didn’t make much difference in my usage. But it was an important thing to do in combination with the following two steps

Step 5: Blocking the Twitter Website On My iPhone

I wanted to make it even harder to access Twitter on my phone and I wondered if it might be possible to block an individual site. I discovered that it was. By going to Settings > Screen Time > Content and Privacy Options, I could toggle on the “Content and Privacy Restrictions” at the top of the screen. I could then, on the same screen, go to Content Restrictions > Web Content and tap on “Limit Adult Websites.” And then under “Never Allow” I could enter the URL for Twitter. Yes, I’m treating Twitter as if it were a porn site!

Now I can’t access Twitter on my phone at all, unless I undo those changes. But I don’t need it to be impossible for me to access Twitter. I just need there to be some friction in the process so that it’s easier to avoid it. If you’re on an Android device, I imagine there are similar settings.

This left my computer as the only way to access Twitter. Of course I’m on my computer a lot, so that had to be dealt with.

Step 6: Limiting Twitter On My Computer

Enter, Stayfocusd. This is a browser plugin for Chrome that allows you to limit the amount of time you spend on certain sites. It will even let you block them altogether. I decided to go with a 20 minute daily limit for Twitter. Once the 20 minutes has expired, I can’t visit the site at all, and just see a screen that says “Shouldn’t you be working?” You can’t extend the time limit once it’s expired. No cheating! (There’s an equivalent for Firefox and no doubt for other browsers too.)

This has led to me being much more selective in what I pay attention to on Twitter. I visit two to three times a day, and knowing that I don’t have much time I focus my attention on what seems particularly meaningful. I find that my mind now skips over snark and outrage, and tends to focus on more substantive contributions. I’ll open a couple of articles in new tabs, and then close Twitter.

Step 7: Reducing Other Notifications

Your brain is a hot commodity. Marketers spend billions of dollars to try to attract your attention, because attention is time, and time, as we know, is money. So in an effort to reclaim my attention, I’ve turned off notifications where possible. Essentially I’m down to silent email notifications (I don’t want to be disrupted while I’m working) and audible alerts for calendar events (since those are things I need to be interrupted by), text messages, and phone calls. When I really want to focus my phone goes on Do Not Disturb mode. Life on my phone is pretty quiet. It’s now 3:00 in the afternoon, and my phone tells me I’ve used it for a total of 16 minutes so far today.

From FOMO to JOMO

There have been some withdrawal symptoms. I’ve sometimes restlessly picked up my phone and stared at it, feeling the emptiness that comes when you expect to see something but find nothing. And for a while I felt drawn to check Twitter, over and over. But that is passing. This morning I found myself looking at my phone and thinking, You can’t bring me happiness. You’re a tool for me to use. My mind is not a tool for you to use.

The benefits have vastly outweighed the discomfort of these minor withdrawal symptoms. The results of these changes, as I’ve said, have been powerful. I’m much calmer, happier, and more focused. I’m getting more work done, which pleases me. I’ve also been reading more. I’m now almost finished a novel that I started about a week ago. That is satisfying. I feel that my mind is my own again. I feel free.

One of the participants in the course wrote, “Anything that stimulates my solar plexus when I read it, I am going to notice, breathe, then make a decision regarding whether this enhances or detracts from my quality of life. It feels good and empowering to be making these decisions.” Simple practice; deep results.

The changes that I’ve described have in fact had more effect on my wellbeing than my daily meditation practice. My daily life has more of the simplicity and joy of a meditation retreat.

Am I missing out? Yes. I’m missing out on stress, anxiety, and overstimulation. “Missing out” is wonderful. I invite you to join me, perhaps in some of the ways I’ve suggested, and perhaps in ways of your own, in moving from the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) to the Joy of Missing Out (JOMO).

  • If you find this article helpful, perhaps you’ll be interested in making a one-time or recurring donation to Wildmind to help support our work.
  • And it’s still possible to enroll in my online course, Calm In the Storm. One couple who are participating wrote this morning, “Our mood and productivity is way up, as is emotional resiliency … We both thought that we would experience more withdrawal than we actually are, and are feeling more relief and release from the firehoses of negativity than expected.”
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Gratitude

Cropped view of an orange sunflower

What I’m Thinking
I have so much gratitude for this life I’m able to live here in the West. So many beings in the world don’t know where their next mouthful of food is coming from. So many parents in the world live with the painful fact that a birth of a child could mean a death of that child before it’s aged one. So many people in the world don’t even know if they will survive the day through fear of being bombed. So many people are refugees fleeing their countries from fear of being killed because of their sexuality, because of falling in love with somebody of the same gender, or different class or caste, because of their political beliefs. And all I have to worry about in my life is my recovery, healing from familial traumas. How fortunate am I not to have the extra distress of war, poverty, hunger and extreme homophobia. May I make the most of this precious life. May I live for the benefit of all suffering beings.

Quote of the Month
While on retreat this past weekend, I heard the expression, ‘Mindfulness from breathing’. Buddhist teacher Amitaratna says we’ve been misled, it’s not mindfulness of breathing we need to be practicing. It’s mindfulness from breathing, a mindfulness that needs to arise from our breathing. A subtle difference all of us could benefit from. On this retreat she taught us how to unhook ourselves from our addictive habitual thoughts by finding our smile within and then drop into the throat and into the heart opening. From this spaciousness mindfulness from breathing will arise.

What I’m Reading
Compassionate Inquiry, a manual outlining the methodology of Dr Gabor Mate one of the Guru’s of Addiction and ADHD. He reminds us that those of us with addiction should never be seen as our diagnosis, and that addiction is often a symptom of disconnection that happened in childhood. And that whenever we are activated by something, that it’s never about the present, it’s always to do with something in the past. And the way out of our habitual responses to triggers, is becoming aware of what we make things mean, and how we can begin to reframe. This manual will be out on the book shelves in 2020.

What I’m Listening To
Bob Marley Redemption Song – he reminds us to ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds‘. This is my favourite teaching at the moment for freeing us from the vicious cycle of addiction.

What I’m Doing

I’ve launched a course on Insight Timer, break the vicious cycle of addiction. 10 sessions exploring our triggers, body, feeling tone, thoughts, emotions, thinking, actions, gains and cost of our addictions. It’s a great precursor to our Wild Mind Course beginning January 7th. Daily input, videos and in class session, exploring mindfulness based addiction recovery.

Something I’m doing
I’m often asked when are you going to do something at home. Well I’m in Chatham Kent Ontario November 9th a day on the Listening Body – A Mindfulness Approach for recovery. I hope to see some of you. Sign up to my newsletter for details of what I’m up to for the rest of the year.

Back by popular demand, January 7, 2019: The online Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery Retreat

And the new expanded edition of Eight Step Recovery with a foreword by Jon Kabat Zinn and Dr Gabor Mate.

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Abstinence or harm reduction ?

What I’m Thinking
Everyone’s recovery is unique. Once upon a time, there was the strong binary opinion of all or nothing. Abstinence or you are doomed. The argument was harm reduction versus Abstinence. While this view is helpful for many, it was a major hindrance for others. If some people couldn’t keep their abstinence for more than a month without slipping, it became an excuse filled with facilitative thoughts like: “What the heck, I may as well keep on using.” Or some people were told there was no hope for them, they were doomed. Abstinence is a concept that needs to be explored with each individual in recovery. The teachings of the dharma make it clear that we are all in training, and we need to start exactly where we are. In the raft parable, the Buddha says the raft is useful for crossing over but not for holding onto. In the same way, abstinence and harm reduction are useful behaviours to help us cross over into recovery, but not if we hold tight to these views. Nobody is doomed in the teachings of the dharma. What works for one person, may not work for another. When you see what the dharma is pointing to – it’s a non-dual reality.

Negative Jargon in the Addiction field Clean, Dirty, Addict, Abuser, Junkie
One of the basic meditations to help calm the mind and the central nervous system is the practice of loving-kindness, traditionally known as the Metta Bhavana. In this practice, we are learning to love ourselves and all other sentient beings. There is so much negative jargon in the field of addiction which is demeaning. This kind of language labels a person by their illness, rather than their potential. This narrative also implies permanency of addictive behaviours and no room for change. The Buddhist teachings can be summed up in two words. “Everything Changes.” We can all change because things are always changing. And we all have seeds of potential within us. These seeds need to be watered with loving kindness.

What I’m Reading
Recovery Groups by Linda Farris Kurtz. A book looking at the history of recovery groups for addiction and emotional trauma. And although it doesn’t refer to the history of Buddhist recovery groups, there is a lot the Buddhist Recovery world can learn from this book.

Something I’m doing I’m off to Spain to ordain someone into the Triratna Lineage. And will be presenting at the 5th International Mindfulness summit in Zaragoza. As well as delivering mindfulness and compassion workshops for addiction in Valencia. And co-leading a retreat with Kevin Griffin in July, and leading another in September. Join me on retreat.

Back by popular demand, January 1, 2019: The online Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery Retreat

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Who needs willpower anyway?

I confess that I have a bit of an addictive personality — not in the sense of being an alcoholic or a drug addict, but more in terms of getting hooked on stimulation. A minor example is that I had a tin of mints in the car recently, and I would often find that as soon as one mint was gone, I’d reach for another. The mints are sugar-free and this form of addiction isn’t a big deal, but boy can I get through a tin of mints quickly!

Similarly I can overeat, particularly on unhealthy foods like potato chips or popcorn. Again, as soon as (or even before) one morsel has been swallowed my hand is delivering another to my waiting lips. This is a bit more serious because I’m maybe 12 to 15 pounds (roughly 5 to 7 Kg) overweight, and although I run and generally try to eat healthily my occasional binges make it hard for me to lose that excess.

You might say that I lack willpower. A lot of us would say that about ourselves. But what I’m finding successful in reducing these little addictions has nothing to do with willpower. Instead, I’ve been practicing being mindful of cessation — specifically of the way that flavors fade away in my mouth.

The flavor beginning to fade away is the trigger for my habit. My normal, unmindful, habit is to reflexly seek a new “hit” of flavor as soon as the previous one has started to fade. So the phenomenon of a flavor fading away is what I’m choosing to observe.

This is a really interesting practice! Watching a flavor decay, curving slowly down to non-existence, gives me an opportunity to practice equanimity and non-reactivity. As the flavor fades, I feel no desire to reach for another hit. Watching the old flavor disappear is actually way more satisfying, just as watching the fading away of a sunset is satisfying. And I’ve discovered that I can observe the fading away of a flavor for a long time. I’ve found that the flavor of a mint is still detectable in my mouth an hour and a half after eating it.

So far this is working very well.

Now, I can also get addicted to mental stimulation as well, and this often manifests as a restless desire to consume social media. If I get a bit bored I reach for my phone or open up a new tab in my browser so that I can check twitter.

I’ve been writing this article as I wait to renew my driver’s license at the local Department of Motor Vehicles. Having written the previous paragraph I picked up my phone and my finger moved toward the Twitter icon. But before it got there I checked in with the feeling tone of my restlessness. And I just watched it as it faded away. The feeling itself is hard to describe. Fortunately I don’t need to describe it, but just observe it passing. Again I found that it was enjoyable to observe it passing away, and when it was gone I had no desire to read Twitter. Instead I just let myself connect compassionately with the other people waiting with me. That was enjoyable too.

I’ve found that the concept of willpower is overrated. We either strongly desire to do the “right” thing or we don’t, and the difference is often to do with strategies. If not eating a mint or not opening Twitter can be made enjoyable (making it enjoyable is a strategy), then that’s what we’ll do.

I’ve been finding that observing the process of cessation of an experience is fun. Maybe that’ll be true for you as well. Maybe not. I’m just suggesting this as an experiment that you might want to try.

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Thoughts without a sTinker

Dr Kenneth Hardy

What I’m Thinking
Thinking can get us into trouble. Thoughts without a sTinker is the way of the liberated. When the thought arises, I want a drink, or a line of coke, a cream cake, some porn, another video game, we don’t have to identify with it, we let it arise without a sTinker. When there is nobody to identify with the thought, there is no thinker, no acting out of the thought. This is the awakened path to recovery.

Inspiring Jargon
Do Not Suppress Addictive Thoughts Is the title of an article by Lance Dodes M.D where he explores the Heart of Addiction. This is such wise advice. If we don’t suppress the thought, how do we work with those facilitative thoughts that tell us: “I deserve a drink, I’ve had a hard day, Nobody will know if I just have one?” Thoughts will arise out of the heart-mind, it’s what the heart-mind does. These thoughts can be treated in the same way as a television, or a radio playing in the background. If we are working at home and someone has the tv or the radio on what do we do? We continue working, we might stop for a moment because we hear something interesting but we get back to our task. This is the same with thoughts, we can be busy doing something when a thought pops up. We can just treat our thoughts like the tv or radio in the background, turn your thoughts down by not identifying with them, and they will quieten.

What I’m watching
Socio Cultural Trauma by Dr Kenneth Hardy. In this TED talk, he examines the impact of trauma specific to the People of Color communities in North America. And although it focusses on People of Color, this brilliant talks highlights how trauma specific to a race of people, can fragment and dislocate communities. And dislocation and fragmentation often leads to addiction, violence, and ill mental health.

What I’m Obsessing about
Relapse. I’ve witnessed many people relapse, and sometimes the thought of relapse scares me. A reminder for me to let that thought arise and cease. I’m beginning to see that the word relapse isn’t helpful. When we relapse, what we’ve actually done is picked up our choice of distraction in the moment. If we could admit we have picked up rather than calling it a relapse, it may give us the pause to put whatever we picked up, down in the next breath. Simple as that. One breath at a time. One day at a time can be too long for some people in recovery. And long enough for them to slide into a relapse. If we could just say one breath at a time, and remember with every breath we can do something different, this may put the breaks on using. My Teacher the venerable Sangharakshita says: “Every decision is a good decision, you can always make a new decision.”

What I’m Listening to
Chevala Vargas is one of Mexico’s famous singer. Born in Costa Rico in 1919, she was raised by her uncle due to an acrimonious divorce of her parents. Aged 14 she fled to Mexico for refuge and began singing on the streets. Known for dressing like a man in pants and a poncho and singing renditions of Mexican rancheras, she ended up having affairs with celebrities like Frida Kahlo, Ava Gardener and many other famous women. However, her career took a 15-year pause, where she became a gutter alcoholic in the hills of Cuernavaca. Her story a tragic one, her music melodramatic, however she finally abandons alcohol which was one of the loves of her life for over 50 years. In her 70s becomes an international star, performing at Carnegie Hall aged 83. In 2012 Mexico gave Chevala a state funeral.

Something I’m doing I will be in Mexico this month, exploring Compassionate Inquiry, Mindfulness Approaches to addiction and reflecting on the Buddha’s Parinavana. Nirvana after death, a freedom from Samsara (psychological negative mental states) karma, rebirth and the dissolution of the body, feeling tone in the body, perceptions/thoughts, mental activity and formation and consciousness. Breath by breath, is the opportunity for spiritual death and rebirth. Anything can change in just one breath. We do not have to wait until we die to let go.

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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New Year Ramblings

What I’m up to
On January 1st I launch the online Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery course for 28 days. Mindfulness Based Addiction Recovery course during the month of January 2018. For people in recovery and people working in the field of recovery

Join me – and free your mind from addictive behaviours and substances. It takes 21 days to change a habit, and a lifetime to maintain the change. You lose the past and gain a new freedom. All addictive behaviours begin in the body. Sensations in the body drive our habits. And the breath can put a break on our habits. By breathing fully into the body and out with awareness. Sounds simple but not easy. And Guess what. You have me to coach you daily for 28 days.

What I’m Thinking
I need to pay attention to my personal recovery. It’s so easy to be out there in the world writing books, giving talks, coaching people and changing lives. And it’s so easy for me to neglect myself and not be walking my talk. The Buddha was inspired by a mendicant begging for alms. He thought that this beggar may have the answer, and why? This beggar was not clothed as a Saddhu, a Deva, or an Asura. He was not on top of a mountain giving great sermons. He was simply radiating stillness, simplicity and contentment. This is what I’m thinking about by right now. Can I simply live recovery breath by breath, and let the teachings that flow from me just be icing on the cake.

Inspiring Quote
“Consider the eight-part program laid down in Buddhism: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right-mindedness and right contemplation. The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute for or addition to the Twelve Steps. Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than considerations of self-care basic to Buddhism”.
This was written by the co-founder of AA Dr Bob in a pamphlet called Spiritual Milestones. This is a priceless gem because many people often question how does Buddhist Recovery fit in with their 12 step Recovery? Or wonder if Buddhist Recovery will contradict their 12 step program?

What I’m Watching
The Dhamma Brothers
Unfortunately, this is a documentary you have to pay for. And it’s worth every cent. This documentary follows the lives of several men in a maximum security prison in the USA, with one of them on death row. Donaldson correction centre in Massachusetts was the first prison in the West to introduce ten-day Vipassana retreats as taught by SN Goenka. Two of Goenka’s assistant teachers moved into prison for ten days and slept in a prison cell for the duration of the course. The impact on the men is moving to the extent it changes some of their lives forever. Ten hours a day of focussing on the bodily sensations and 10 days of noble silence, transformed a whole prison culture. The course was such a success that the people who taught it couldn’t wait to go back to prison and teach it again.

What I’m Obsessing about
I have a year of travel, retreats, public speaking, and professional training. I’ve been thinking about how to take good care of myself. Because for anyone who is in recovery from addictive behaviours and substances this can be a time of picking up and relapsing. So it’s a time for me to work my recovery program.

What I noticed
When we help others we help ourselves. And when we help ourselves we help others. On Christmas day I travelled by ferry to the city and opened up the doors of my Buddhist centre for our weekly session Recovery Mondays. Five people turned up, and we meditated on forgiveness and spoke about the family members we needed to make peace with, in our thoughts. I noticed that I still have some resentment towards my mother. I’m angry because she wants to re-write my story and tell me what she thinks she did, rather than what she did. Laughable, so what if she wants to re-write my story. I can rewrite mine too. It was a delightful evening getting in touch with this awareness and sharing the evening with others. I see more clearly that making peace with my mother does not mean I have to be in physical contact with her, it means I have to cultivate positivity every time she comes to mind and wish her unconditional loving-kindness.

Something I’m doing
I’ve asked someone to mentor me through my own 8 Step Recovery Program. I figure that if I expect others to be mentored through the program I could at least see what it’s like to be mentored. More about this next month.

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Gratitude

Vimalasara


What I’m up to

Last month I was appointed as the new President of the international organization Buddhist Recovery Network BRN. Sounds grand, but I have the task of bringing this organization out of dormancy and popularizing Buddhist Recovery in all its guises to the rest of the world. I have also been invited to be part of the Menla Retreat Centre (Upstate New York) Faculty as the lead teacher in Buddhist Recovery and Mindfulness Secular Recovery. Kevin Griffin and I will be launching their first Buddhist Recovery Retreat in July 2018.

What I’m Thinking
Another year with more fatalities and casualties from opioids. And as the month of December looms for many, the increase of overdoses, suicides and self-harm will escalate in some parts of the world. While I write this, I make my decision to open the doors of my Buddhist centre on Christmas day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day to be of service.

Inspiring Jargon
It works if you work it. If you don’t it won’t
Many people who have been in the rooms of 12 steps will be familiar with this jargon. It’s a reminder to me that if I want recovery If I want abstinence and sobriety of mind, I have to work a program. I have to be active in my recovery. While self-pity, blame and distractions may seem energetic and the best way to deal with our hurt and frustrations. These habitual behaviours will keep us in the hell realm of our addictions.

What I’m Watching
Seeing The Disgust in Food
A short documentary by Bhikkhu Samahita. He reminds us that over 3 million people die of obesity every year, and obesity causes death from heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. He points out that while food may look attractive to the eye and nose and taste senses. As soon as we place the food in our mouth, and chew it, the food becomes something disgusting to look at, and if we regurgitated it, we would most probably recoil with disgust. 32 minutes of food enlightenment, and we will realize how much we are a slave to food.

What I’m Obsessing about
My weight. After putting a pair of jeans on and noticing a roll of flesh hanging over the waistband, I went into horrified anxiety. Then paused, and took a breath, because once upon a time it would have set me off on a binge/purge cycle, or a hunger strike for a week. Instead, I set about doing crunches, pulled a muscle. I am now choosing to mindfully watch what I eat, knowing that while this may not get the results I want in a week, but the results will change with time, and cause less proliferation of thought and obsession of my body.

What I noticed
Gratitude. I attended an AA gathering this month, and my partner was one of the speakers on gratitude. As I listened to several speakers explore this theme, I noticed that gratitude is something that I can easily ignore. There are so many things I can have gratitude for, from the moment I wake up in a country where war is not on my doorstep, to the moment I place my head on a pillow in a house with a roof over my head, and enough money to pay my bills. I noticed too that once upon a time, I resented having to be grateful, often because people would tell me I should be grateful, and because I was so unhappy and resentful with my life. Now that I don’t complain about my life anymore nobody tells me I should be grateful, and gratitude has been a by-product of cultivating loving-kindness.

Something I’m doing
I will be delivering an online Mindfulness Based Addiction Recovery course during the month of January 2018. For people in recovery and people working in the field of recovery.

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Recovery capital

What I’m Thinking
The world needs recovery right now. These past few months we’ve had mudslides in Sierra Leone, Hurricanes in the U.S.A, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Earth Quakes in Mexico, Terrorist Attacks in Europe, and Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un squaring up against each other, and the most recent gun killings in Las Vegas. There is a lot of fear in society, and when there is FEAR we can either Face Everything And Recover by dealing with it or Fear Everything And Run. Reality can be traumatic, painful and hard. We can be at risk of addictions when we turn away from reality and fear feeling the excruciating discomfort of life. Addiction, Alcoholism and compulsive behaviors often escalate during the aftermath of a crisis, because people want to try and quickly forget the pain. And why would we want to dwell on the pain? In times of major disasters, catastrophes, terrorism, we need to tap into our ‘Recovery Capital’ resources that will help us during challenging times.


Inspiring Jargon

Recovery capital is the contemporary jargon that refers to the internal and external resources necessary for an individual to achieve and maintain recovery from substance misuse as well as make behavioral changes. Coined by (Granfield & Cloud, 1999. People are beginning to realize that recovery can be jeopardized by an individual’s social networks, lack of community support, cultural and racial barriers and taboos. Mindfulness and the language of the heart is what the Buddhist teachings offer. The breath and the heart are internal resources we can tap into 24/7. When we get in touch with breathing and loving kindness our external resources begin to flourish

What I’m reading
In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate.

Gabor Mate takes us into the dark grimy places of addiction with some of his clients he has worked with. And then he juxtaposes his own addiction to Classical Music, with the addictions of his clients. And the startling truth is, you wake up to the fact that this too – could be a matter of life and death. He left his eleven-year-old child stranded in a comic shop for one hour while going off elsewhere to buy music. He was lucky to find his son bemused and still waiting for him an hour later. He left a woman in the hospital while in labor, and ran over a bridge to buy music. He missed the delivery and made excuses to his disappointed patient and colleagues. He spent $8000 in two weeks, and while he never took his life over the debt he was running up, others may have in this situation.

What I’m Obsessing about
Raw Cashew nuts. As my friend Gabor says, Cashew nuts are really tough to eschew. Much easier just to chew.

What I’m Listening to
Listening to Prince EA’s Jim Carrey “Crazy” Behavior Explained!!! Prince EA asks has Jim Carrey Lost His Mind? Or Has he uncovered a truth about the nature of reality? This is my favorite populist creative piece of art on the concept of anatta, non-self. A Buddhist teaching that can help every suffering addict, begin to maintain their abstinence and sobriety of mind.
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What I noticed
While sitting doing my daily meditation to help maintain my abstinence and sobriety of mind, I was confronted with the noise of power tools. After 35 minutes of oscillating between peacefulness and slight frustration. I began to laugh. My thoughts had become louder than any lawn mower I’ve ever heard. It was a subtle reminder that the power tools was not the issue, it was the agitated mind. When I’m triggered, it’s helpful to realize it’s not the trigger that is the issue, it is the stir crazy narratives that arise, in trying to avoid the discomfort of the seeing the trigger, or in my case this morning, trying to avoid the discomfort of the sound I did not want to hear.

Something I’m doing
I will be delivering an online Mindfulness Based Addiction Recovery course during the month of January 2018. For people in recovery and people working in the field of recovery. For more information please email mark@wildmind.org

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Meditation for recovery: program adapts Buddhist practice to fight addiction

EmmaJean Holley, Valley News: It’s 9 on a Tuesday morning, and Larry Lowndes is setting out the cushions.

Lowndes is the assistant director of the Second Wind Foundation, which operates an addiction recovery center in Wilder that serves as a space for a number of recovery groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step meetings. But Lowndes has recently introduced a new, less conventional program at Turning Point: Refuge Recovery, a peer-to-peer, mindfulness-based recovery group, grounded in Buddhist principles.

Some of the participants in the group have been practicing meditation, and sobriety, for …

Read the original article »

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Turning toward experience

Person standing facing aurora borealis

Apologies for not blogging these past three months, I’ve been at the home of my teacher, Sangharakshita, living in community and taking part in study and retreats for ordained members of the Triratna Buddhist Community.

I’ve been doing a lot of turning towards my direct experience. It has been a challenging practice. When I turn towards my experience, it’s all in the body: just pleasant, unpleasant, neutral (vagueness) or a mixture of all three feeling tone in the body.

Sometimes I like it and I want more, I cling to it, and begin to crave. Sometimes I dislike it and I push it way, and move into aversion. And sometimes, I just move into a vagueness, a boredom because I want an extreme sensation to arise. And then it becomes pleasant or unpleasant, and I habitually begin to oscillate between clinging and pushing away.

I realize how easy it is for me to become a slave of likes and dislikes, of clinging and pushing away.

When I push away I harden with my stories, reactions, judgments or anesthetize with my choice of addiction. When I push away I think I am pushing the people, the incident, the situation that I don’t like away. And when I turn towards my experience I soften, let go of all the stories, and I begin to see clearly that all I am really pushing away, or trying to block out, is the direct experience of pleasure and pain, or vagueness. That is the trigger, nothing more. No person or thing to blame. No buttons pushed.

It can be so hard to sit with my discomfort, and so I move away automatically by blaming someone, or distracting myself with an addiction or fall into self pity. It’s sometimes seems easier to sit with pleasant sensations, and then I cling to it, and become frustrated when it changes to unpleasant, and then I push it away. Nobody is pushing my buttons, I push my own buttons.

All this is a salient reminder that during the Christmas and New year holidays that if we experience aversion to someone overdoing it with alcohol, drugs, or food, or an aversion to all the consumerism, that our aversion is a strong reaction to not wanting to experience what is going on in the body.

If I feel a strong craving for foods that I don’t normally eat, or to alcohol that I don’t drink, it’s a reminder that I am turning away from the discomfort that has arisen in the body when one of the six senses clashes with the smell and sights of these stimuli.

It can be excruciatingly painful to stay with what is arising in the body, which is why we turn away with our reactions of blame, distraction and self pity. The Buddha taught there are worldly responses to feeling tone and unworldly responses to feeling tone.

Lust, anger, delusion, contraction, and distraction are our worldly habitual responses to feeling tone arising in the body. They inevitably lead to suffering. If we want freedom we have to learn to turn towards whatever is arising with a great expansive and relaxed mind, that is unworldly, unsurpassable, concentrated, and liberated. This will free us from the chains of our six senses that drag us down into a deluded pit.

More next month – be well

New Revised Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma published by Wisdom Books Spring 2017

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