By Laura Abbruzzese, MS, LCDC, LPC-I – Clinical Services Coordinator
Mindfulness can be defined as the awareness that comes from paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, moment-by-moment, non-judgmentally, and with kindness if possible. Mindfulness is being aware of our personal thoughts, body sensations, feelings, and surroundings, as they are right in THIS moment — and then in THIS one — and so on, without ever trying to change anything or make anything happen.
Without training, our minds are rarely in the present moment. Instead, we tend to live life on “autopilot.” We are lost in our thoughts, often busy rehashing the past or rehearsing/worrying about the future. As a result, we constantly miss the only true moment we have to live, while putting our health at risk. Habitually ruminating about the past is associated with depressive symptoms, and worrying about the future lends itself to anxiety.
How does this relate to addiction? Mindfulness training teaches us to stay in the present moment as much as possible, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Mindfulness teaches us that we can lean into discomfort, rather than avoid it by reaching for a drink or a drug.
Through mindfulness, we learn the truth of impermanence: no thought, body sensation, or emotion is permanent. With this new awareness, our relationship to discomfort shifts. We become more aware of what’s happening in our own minds. We create space to make a decision, rather than acting on impulse whenever a craving or a negative emotion arises.
The metaphor of a waterfall can help us understand and visualize how to be in a state of mindfulness. Powerful emotions can often feel like we are standing directly underneath a waterfall, getting pounded by our uncomfortable feelings. If you’ve ever stood underneath an actual waterfall, then you know there is a space between the cliff and the downpour of water. Mindfulness allows us to step into that space, observing our thoughts and emotions, rather than getting clobbered by them. In that accessible, safe space we can find freedom.