Alcoholics want it now – whatever it is: thrills, satisfaction, pleasure, the end of unpleasantness. This demand for instant gratification, this driving impatience is one of the marks of the addict/alcoholic, and unlearning that habitual craving is one of the toughest jobs of sobriety. One of the ways we do it is by counting the days, rewarding ourselves as we go along for our continuity, for our longevity. Meditation formalizes this practice of patience, one breath at a time.
In meditation you learn to be nonreactive. There’s a thought, you let it pass without jumping on board; there’s an itch, you let it be without moving; there’s a sound, you notice it and come back to the breath; there’s an emotion, you just feel it fully without turning it into a story. Learning this nonreactivity in meditation practice gives a formal structure to the nonreactivity you have to learn to in order to stay sober: I have the urge to drink, I go to a support group instead or make a phone call; I want to quit my job this minute, I wait and try to stick it out until the end of the day; I want to leave my wife, I remind myself that I spent twenty years trying to find a partner so maybe I can live through a bad day or two.
In Buddhism, nonreactivity is called mindfulness: the first step in Buddhist mediation. This simple–not easy–practice helps you to see the difference between what’s actually happening and what the mind is making up. Mindfulness means trying to keep the mind focused on what you are experiencing in the present moment without commentary, analysis or judgment; without reference to past experiences or plans for the future; without expectations or fear. Typically you try to follow the breath in this way but mindfulness can be applied to anything: sensations in the body, sounds, emotions, even thoughts. Finding the clarity of mindfulness, letting go of all the distractions that carry us away from the present moment, only happens with time, commitment and a surrender to the process.
Kevin Griffin is an American writer, meditation teacher and musician. He blogs on Buddhism and recovery for The Huffington Post. Visit his website here.