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Meditation has been one of the greatest tools in my own recovery. I discovered meditation years before getting sober, but really dove back into it with the 11th step. I eventually found that my meditation practice was the strongest tool for growth in my recovery, helping me address many different pieces of my thinking, behavior, and spiritual life.
Meditation has many benefits. One study found that meditation increased grey matter in areas of the brain associated with working memory and executive decision making, suggesting an increase in memory and the ability to make decisions. Another study by the same author found that people who went through an eight week mindfulness course had changes in the posterior cingulate (mind wandering), the left hippocampus (learning, memory, and emotional regulation), the TPJ (empathy and compassion), and a decrease of activity in the amygdala which reduced fight or flight response and anxiety levels.
So we know meditation can be helpful from a neuroscientific level, but what does this actually look like in our recovery life? Other than a practice to reduce anxiety, how does meditation serve us in our lives? We don’t need a Buddha statue and some prayer beads. All we need is a few minutes a day!
If you’re a member of twelve-step groups, you’re probably familiar with the tenth and eleventh steps. You may think of meditation in relation to the 11th step mostly, but it can also be a wonderful practice in the 10th step. Meditation can be a practice of taking inventory and checking in with ourselves. I have found that my meditation practice is really the foundation of my inventory process. When we sit and clear the mind, we can see clearly where we have caused harm to others. We can also take a look at meditation vs prayer and how they both serve us in our inventory-taking process.
In meditation practice, we pause and notice what is present for us. We may be busy during our day and not be able to see what is going on within us. When we set time aside to meditate, we can really take a moment to dig deeper. Although there may not always be something that arises blatantly, it’s a great habit to get into. When something does come up, we’re able to be with it and see it before it causes too much harm on ourselves or others.
Taking Right Action
As we meditate more, we are able to be more present. As the studies mentioned above suggest, meditation can help us respond instead of reacting from instinct. Our ability to make decisions increases and we don’t just react out of fear or anger. As such, meditation practice gives us the ability to check our own behavior. I’ve found that since beginning meditating, I don’t cause as much harm with my actions in daily life.
Whether it’s a stressful situation at work, a difficult experience with another person, or anxiety in my own life, I’m able to see it and not react. Meditation can help give us that extra moment of pause before responding. With regular meditation practice, we can see what’s happening and not respond. We see we don’t have to believe every thought we have. This is incredibly valuable in relation to relapse, but also applies to any behavior in our lives.
One of the unexpected gifts of meditation in my recovery has been the building of a whole new spiritual practice and community. I found a sober group of meditators, built wonderful new friendships, and found a way to live my life that made sense to me. Through the principles of mindfulness and compassion, I have been offered a whole new perspective in life.
Because there were other people who were in recovery and interested in meditation, I was able to build a community and support network with whom I could deeply relate. Although twelve-step served me well, I found much more ease when I added a meditation practice. This is just my experience, and I don’t mean to say everyone should meditate or that it’s 100% the answer for you. But what it did do for me was allowed me to dig a little deeper into the spiritual aspects of being a person in recovery.
I know this may sound silly, especially to people who are very active in twelve-step programs, but meditation has allowed me to take some control back of my behavior and life. When I first attended a Buddhist Recovery meeting in Los Angeles, I heard the secretary of the meeting read something from the format that really touched me. It said that all people have the potential to free themselves from the suffering of addiction. Now, it didn’t say we do it alone or by keeping secrets. The program suggested sponsorship, meetings, and a course of work. But it did encourage me to take some accountability for myself and my behavior.
To me, this was a huge game-changer in my recovery. Turning my “will and my life over” to me meant turning myself over to the principles of mindfulness and compassion. As I trusted in these processes and principles, taking action to cultivate them, I was able to really look at my own responses to situations and what I create for myself. In mindfulness meditation, we can learn to see how we make problems worse. The practice has helped me to slow down and not react in a way that causes any further harm.
You can sign up below to receive a free introductory guided meditation every day to your email, or check out a few guided meditations on YouTube!