One of the reasons mindfulness is an effective complementary treatment for drug and alcohol abuse is that it reframes the way you see the world. For someone struggling with addiction, the world can seem like a very cold and hopeless place. You might have experienced a lot of suffering, and may see few possibilities ahead. And this is why the mindfulness principle of Beginner’s Mind can help.
The human brain is brilliant, but it can trip you up very easily. As you grow up, your brain learns to interpret experiences in certain ways and react accordingly. This is crucial in many scenarios. It would be disastrous if you did not instinctively react to placing your hand on a burning stove! However, we gradually learn to overlay our own expectations over the reality of what is in front of us.
As a recovering addict, you need to change your interpretation of the world. When you experience a distressing event, your interpretation may be that life is hopeless and that you might as well drink or take drugs. Your instinct may be to reach for a bottle, rather than trying to interpret the event differently.
Beginner’s Mind and Addiction
The mindfulness principle of Beginner’s Mind asks you to take this moment as if you are seeing it for the first time – because you are! Without thinking about how you should be reacting, or how you would normally react, whatever is happening is suddenly fresh. You experience life unencumbered by the past, and you notice far more than ever before. Beginner’s Mind gives you the chance to be inquisitive again, and the world becomes your playground rather than the minefield it may have become during your addiction.
You can’t forget what you’ve learned from the past. But you can note your assumptions and feelings about the present, and let them go along with any judgments. Try not to be overcome by the urge to accumulate new insights or “make use” of the moment. Anything this moment can teach you will still be there in the next.
Beginner’s Mind gives an addict an opportunity to reframe a world which may seem very dark. It allows you to consider different ways of reacting to events that once triggered intense cravings. It is an important tool for getting out of your own way in recovery.
Letting go of expertise
It may feel strange to let go of what you know about life. After all, isn’t expertise a good thing?
While expertise can get you far, it can also close down opportunities. The famous saying goes that:
“in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”
The patterns you have learned may have once been helpful, but they no longer are. Take a chance, and try to experience a poignant moment today as if you never have before.