What are the hallmarks of addiction? How can you tell if you are addicted to something, be it drugs, work or some other compulsion?
Essentially, addiction happens when you rely so much on an external substance or process to fulfill an inner need, that the removal of the substance or process leaves you agitated, uncomfortable and distressed.
In the case of drugs, we have made the choice to be harsh and crass with our internal chemistry. Instead of allowing the body to be the infinitely wise and subtle conductor of an orchestra of neuropeptides, we aggressively stimulate and trigger massive cascades of short-term pleasure-feelings. The more we do this, the more we lose the power to respond with sensitivity to the challenges of our life. We become powerless and ineffective, sometimes quite insane?we become toxic, "dirty" creatures (interestingly, the root meaning of sanity is "clean.")
Many of us become addicted to our work, finding it increasingly hard to relax, release and enjoy the simple pleasures of life beyond the rollercoaster of our jobs' demands. And, of course, as a culture, we have become addicted to stress, addicted to thinking, addicted to the high and lows of the "fight or flight" response.
Addiction to anything reduces us spiritually, cripples us emotionally and poisons us physically.
Recovery from addiction requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses every problematic issue simultaneously?the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
So how can qigong help?
Lets take addiction to drugs (including nicotine and alcohol) as the model:
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Years ago I started asking counselors in training with me to buck the trend and stop using the term “drug treatment” to describe the help and services they provide to people with alcohol and other drug problems.
First, consider the meaning of "treatment". It describes the manner in which one person behaves toward another. It’s a one-way street, not an interaction. In medicine, orthopedists provide treatment for broken arms. Oncologists provide cancer treatment. As patients, we may not fully understand what they do, but we generally trust them and hope for the best possible outcomes. In day-to-day life, treatment may refer to the way a husband treats a wife, a wife treats a husband, and a parent treats a child. In close relationships such as these, people hope for the royal treatment, not the silent treatment, and certainly not abusive treatment. Treatment can also describe the way we handle other things, besides people. Interior designers prepare window treatments. Hollywood screenwriters prepare script treatments. Garbage truck drivers deliver a load for waste treatment.
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The Seven Challenges ProgramThe Seven Challenges is described as “a comprehensive counseling program for teens and young adults that incorporates work on alcohol and other drug problems.” The program addresses much more than substance issues because it also helps young people develop better life skills, as well as manage their situational and psychological problems. Although there is an established structure for each session and a framework for decision-making (see website for the youth version of “The Seven Challenges”), it is not pre-scripted as in many traditional programs. Rather it is “exceptionally flexible, in response to the immediate needs of the clients.”
Independent studies funded by The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and published in peer-reviewed journals have provided evidence that The Seven Challenges significantly decreases substance use of adolescents and greatly improves their overall mental health status. The program has been shown to be especially effective for the many young people with drug problems who also have trauma issues.
Just recently, a new version of The Seven Challenges program was introduced for adults and is being piloted in a research project. Soon, a book geared toward the general public by Dr. Schwebel that incorporates much of the philosophy of the program, as well as many of the decision-making and behavior change strategies, will be available.
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Dropping any story or narrative in your head about what’s happening right now … what are the sensations you’re feeling at this moment?
What are you smelling, tasting, feeling, hearing, seeing? What colors, textures, qualities of light can you perceive? What does it feel like where your body makes contact with your clothing, with your chair, with the earth?
This is your pure sensory experience, and it is rare that most of us let ourselves just stay in this place.
Usually, we’re caught up in a narrative about ourselves, our lives, our current situation, other people. We might notice the pure experience, but almost immediately we start judging it, wishing it were different, getting upset at it, or wishing it didn’t have to change.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with having thoughts about our experience — it’s natural. But it can be the cause of anxiety, fear, unhappiness, frustration.
Dropping into the mindfulness of pure experience is a way we can deal with those problems, in any moment.
Actually this is what meditation is, for the most part — dropping into pure experience. Many people misunderstand, and think, “I shouldn’t be thinking! I’m screwing this up, because I keep having thoughts.” This is not a problem. When you meditate, thoughts will come up. You will get lost in a train of thought.
What you want to do, in meditation, is get better at noticing when you’re lost in a train of thought. Then, after noticing, simply return the the immediate sensations of your breath and the rest of your current experience. It’s like waking up from a dream. Meditation is training to wake up more often, and stay awake longer.
Let’s talk about dropping out of thought and into pure experience.
What Pure Experience IsSo what do I mean by “pure experience”? Isn’t everything part of our experience, including thoughts? Yes, that’s technically correct (the best kind of correct), but it’s useful to distinguish between our train of thoughts (what I like to call our “story” or “narrative” about our experience) and the actual sensations of what’s happening right now.
A couple examples of the difference between the two:
Noticing Thoughts, and Returning to Pure ExperienceWhat happens when you (inevitably) start thinking about the sensations instead of staying with them?
Well, this can lead to an extended daydream as you get lost in the narrative about your experience. Now you’re not actually experiencing the moment, but caught in your story and judgments.
These judgments usually aren’t helpful — they say some version of, “I don’t like this situation (or other person, or something about myself) and I want it to be different.” Or, “I love this so much and I never want it to end, but it will, oh why does it have to end?” Either way, we can be unhappy, frustrated, clinging to what we don’t want to lose or rejecting what we don’t want to experience.
Instead, we can let go of the story, let go of the judgment, and return to the sensations.
We can practice getting better at noticing whether we’re “in our head” or “in our body.” That means noticing whether you’re lost in thoughts, or present with your experience.
Once we notice being lost in thoughts, we don’t have to judge that. We can just notice, non-judgmentally, and then make it a habit to return to sensation. What sensations can you notice right now?
Don’t judge the sensations, just pay attention to them. Don’t push them away and wish they were different, just be curious about them. Don’t cling to them if you like them, but notice with gratitude and let them flow past you lightly.
This is returning to pure experience, with mindfulness and gratitude.
This is the joyful mindfulness of the present moment. Practice now!