Practicing the Art of Mindfulness

by | Dec 21, 2015 | Recovery | 0 comments

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In celebration of the new Star Wars film, we’d like to discuss one of the most important lessons that the films have to teach us. (TeeRoar/Shutterstock)

In celebration of the new Star Wars film, we’d like to discuss one of the most important lessons that the films have to teach us. (TeeRoar/Shutterstock)

This weekend, people all over the world were excited for the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens after so many years away from the franchise. We thought that it might be fun to publish an article relating to the film in some way, when we realized that the franchise itself contained a very important life lesson. While it may seem as if Star Wars is all about space battles and family drama, the truth is that a great deal of the franchise is actually about the art of mindfulness. In fact, every one of the prequel films contains the exact same line: “Be mindful of your thoughts.”

The line is primarily spoken to a young Anakin Skywalker, as he struggles to understand the difference between his thoughts and his feelings. Recovering addicts and alcoholics are all too familiar with this struggle, and it sometimes leads us down a dark path. And much as Anakin traveled the road that would transform him into Darth Vader, our failure to practice the art of mindfulness may sometimes cause us to behave in ways that do not suit our usual demeanor.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

Yoda is one of the most mindful characters in the entire franchise, and he is also held in the highest regard. (360b/Shutterstock)

Yoda is one of the most mindful characters in the entire franchise, and he is also held in the highest regard. (360b/Shutterstock)

There is a 2014 article by family therapist Robert C. Jameson, which opens with the following Chinese proverb:

“Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”

In other words, we must be mindful of our thoughts because they determine what we do, who we are, and how our lives will play out. Without mindfulness, we are directionless. We are acting on impulse, and our destiny can change in a heartbeat. If we are mindful, however, then we can do away with the lack of inhibitions associated with addiction and learn to put ourselves to greater use. Our destiny may not always be exactly what we want it to be, but it will certainly be better than spending night after drunken night in a jail cell because we racked up too many DUIs or found ourselves subjected to other legal issues with potentially even worse consequences.

But mindfulness has benefits that entail more than simply the sheer avoidance of trouble. It is one thing to no longer be as directionless as we were, but it is another thing entirely to actually possess a sense of direction. Mindfulness allows us to see where we are headed, and in an honest light. If we are trying to remove our character defects, we must be mindful enough to see when we have exhibited them. We must recognize when we have been rude, inconsiderate, dishonest, or selfish. Through this realization, we are able to experience personal growth and begin putting our character defects aside.

It is highly important that we learn the value of such growth if we are ever to remain sober. There is little point in sobriety if we are to continue acting in the same manner as we did when we were abusing our drugs of choice. If we are to give our new life meaning, then it must be new in the truest sense of the word. We must do everything we can to ensure that our time in sobriety is put to the very best use, and learning the importance of mindfulness will enhance our ability to do so.

Those around us will benefit from our mindfulness as well. The mindful person is more thoughtful, more considerate, more attentive to the needs of others. When we become mindful, we learn when to put others ahead of ourselves for the sake of a greater good. Those who love us are put under a great strain by our addictions, to the point that they may not even feel like themselves at times. The least we can do to repay them for sticking by us is to show a little thought when considering our dealings with them in the future. Mindfulness will teach us to appreciate that every action we perform and every word we speak around another person will have an effect on them, whether great or small.

In short, we should be mindful of our thoughts because doing so will make us better people. After we have spent so long suffering under the weight of alcoholism and addiction, the promise of a better life is one worth fulfilling. But our lives do not improve overnight. Improvement takes work. It takes effort. Above all, it takes care. Because if we do not care about who we are to become, then we can never hope to improve at all. This lack of care, if left unattended, will lead us down a dark and dangerous path.

The Detriments of Ignorance

Failure to practice mindfulness can easily lead us down a dark path. (Stefano Buttafoco/Shutterstock)

Failure to practice mindfulness can easily lead us down a dark path. (Stefano Buttafoco/Shutterstock)

Ignorance is essentially the opposite of mindfulness. When we are ignorant, we do not take others into account. Ignorance leads to selfishness, but it also leads to much more than that. Turning our thoughts inward will also lead to a wide array of negative emotions, which will often take their toll on us.

For instance, imagine your anger when someone cuts you off in traffic. You have no idea where they are going or why they are in such a rush, but your first instinct is to despise this person for the inconvenience they have caused you. And if you allow this hate to fester, then it will eventually get the better of you. We led the above section with a Chinese proverb that outlines the basic progression of thoughts into actions. We also led the article by mentioning the focus on mindfulness in the Star Wars films. These ideas are combined in the following quote from Yoda in Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

We already discussed the fact that a lack of mindfulness may result in anger and hatred. But it may also result in fear. It is all too easy to become focused on our worries for the future, often because we are not mindful of the present. In such instances, we are not following the 12-step maxims of taking things one day at a time. We fear that we may lose our job, or perhaps a relationship that is important to us. But if we still have those things today, then we currently have nothing to fear.

This mindset may sound reckless to some, but remember that it has brought sobriety to hundreds of thousands of people since the creation of programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Not only does the “one day at a time” rule allow us to focus our mindfulness toward the appreciation of what we have today, but it allows us to develop an appreciation for the importance of gratitude in general. When we last discussed gratitude, we noted that it was one of the keystones of sober living. Gratitude is one of the key aspects of sobriety that will help us to change our lives for the better.

Gratitude is also a major aspect of relapse prevention. When we get drunk or abuse illegal drugs, we are not expressing gratitude for our lives as they are. Many of us are instead attempting to alter our state of consciousness in order to forget who we are. There is some aspect of our lives that we are trying to tune out. Mindfulness enables us to realize that this practice is unnecessary. More than that, it is futile. Even if we drink to the point of blacking out, our problems will still be waiting for us when we arise in the morning.

If we are not mindful of our thoughts, we allow ourselves to feel like victims. It can be hard to break such a habit, and the impact that such a thought process may have on our lives can be incredibly negative. As such, we must be wary of our thoughts at every turn. More importantly, we must take steps to ensure that we do not act on our thoughts in a way that is harmful to ourselves or others. Some of the tips below should help you in this endeavor.

The Art of Being Mindful

Mindfulness may not turn you into a hero, but it will change your life for the better. (catwalker/Shutterstock)

Mindfulness may not turn you into a hero, but it will change your life for the better. (catwalker/Shutterstock)

The problem with mindfulness is that we may easily convince ourselves that we are being rational when we are not. Our more harmful lines of thought do not seem irrational to us when we are gripped by strong negative emotions. Fortunately, there are ways to become more mindful. We’ve previously spoken of methods such as walking meditation and Zen sitting meditation. We have also discussed the importance of embracing better nutrition for mental health. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to our basic mindset. Fellow treatment center Transformations suggests that we should ask one simple question.

The first question that you might ask yourself is “Am I totally and completely surrendered to a new solution?”

This may sound overly simple, but it is almost deceptively complicated. Total and complete surrender does not come easy to the addict or alcoholic, accustomed as he or she may be to using drugs and alcohol to resist natural thought and slip into an altered state of mind. In order to truly embrace a new, more mindful way of living, we must first appreciate the fact that our old way of living did not work. We must accept that we do not have all the answers, and that our thought process has often misled us in the past.

Furthermore, we must be entirely committed to personal growth. We must want to experience the benefits of mindfulness, while simultaneously desiring to avoid the detriments of ignorance. It is easy to say that we want these things, but showing it is another matter. When given a choice between the two, we may occasionally stumble. This is okay, provided that we are able to learn from our experiences and move forward. Our mistakes are forgivable, as long as we are willing to learn from them.

Willingness is a big part of mindfulness, because being mindful takes a great deal of effort. This is why many people in recovery will not make any big decisions without first consulting their sponsor. We may think that we have looked at a situation from every angle, but this assumption is steeped in arrogance. Upon running a problem by an outside party, we may come to the realization that there are many aspects of the situation that we have not taken into consideration. This is why it is important to have a strong and sober support network, so that we may always have people upon whom we can lean when we are in a bind.

The Tenth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous may also teach us to become more mindful. The principles of this step include perseverance, vigilance, and maintenance. Through these virtues, we learn to take a daily inventory and to admit when we were wrong. Many work this step by writing out an assessment of their day before they go to bed each night. They will note every moment in each day during which they found themselves struggling, either with their sobriety or their character defects. Some even do spot-checks throughout the day, which will further increase their abilities to remain mindful of their character defects as they arise.

By taking a continuous moral inventory and relying upon the wisdom of others, we can embrace the art of mindfulness and learn to live our lives in a more fulfilling manner. It is not always easy from the start, and even those of us with years of sobriety may falter from time to time. But it is far better to fail occasionally than to never try at all. Be mindful of your thoughts, and your destiny will improve as a result. More importantly than anything, you will find yourself enjoying a sober way of life that is far more useful and enjoyable than any life you have led before.

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