Mindfulness is a term that has gained popularity in recent years. We hear it frequently in the media around wellness, in advertisements for new-age businesses, in self-help literature, and in places like yoga studios and spas. It is now deemed to be a staple of healthy living, much like superfoods, cleanses, shakra alignments, and oxygen bars. But what exactly is it? And how is it relevant to your sex and/or porn addiction recovery?
In very simple terms, mindfulness is self-awareness. It has been associated with spiritual practices for ages and is often confused with meditation. Meditation is just one of the many ways in which mindfulness can be practiced, but there is much more to it. In practicing meditation, we are able to take our focus away from our thoughts and feelings, and bring it to our physical being. Similarly, there are ways for us to bring our focus to our thoughts and feelings in a way that helps us avoid becoming reactive or overwhelmed. This is the form of mindfulness that can be most helpful to people who are in recovery or in other stressful situations.
There is a tremendous amount of literature about mindfulness, its benefits, and the many ways in which it can be practiced. Eckhart Tolle, Michael A. Singer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thích Nh?t H?nh, and Osho are just a few of the great writers who have built their careers on their writings about mindfulness. Luckily, you don’t have to read all of them because I have done that for you and will sum it all up right here.
First, consider the voice that is at the front of your mind as you go about your day. It is your own voice and it narrates your life. It may sound something like this: “Ugh, I hate this day already. How long until I can go home? He looks like a bum today, did he bother to look in the mirror this morning? I’m craving something sweet, maybe a cookie. I shouldn’t. This diet thing is going well. Maybe just a half of one. Crap, I forgot to call the pharmacy. I have to go to the bathroom but I really hate doing that at work. Maybe I’ll wait until everyone leaves for lunch. Oh no, here she comes – she’s so annoying. Actually, she helped me last week so I guess she’s not so bad…” This voice makes decisions, changes its mind, judges people, reacts, and says all the things you think. It is an internal voice. When we try to stop our thoughts, these are the thoughts that are often the most difficult to stop. This voice, or this part of ourselves, is born out of our subconscious and it is reactive.
Many (if not all) of the snap judgments, the worries, the criticisms, and the resentments you have come from past experiences. They can be based on traumas, core emotional wounds, insecurities, or anything else that shapes how you view your world. The woman that is annoying may remind you of your mother, with whom you didn’t have the best relationship. The judgment of another person’s appearance may be a projection of your own insecurities about your appearance, which make you hyper-aware of the appearance of everyone around you. Your lack of enjoyment in your job may be linked to some symptoms of depression, or your resentment for your father who pushed you to enter this field when you weren’t interested in it. These are just some examples of how our thoughts may be dictated by our past experiences and our subconscious.
This voice is not your only voice. Many writers refer to mindfulness as the practice of “taking the seat of the observer.” Your observer is a separate voice. It is the part of you that watches the reactive voice with an understanding of the history that guides its decisions. It is the wise inner voice that has a bird’s eye view of the reactive voice. It is able to see clearly which parts of the subconscious are driving the reactive voice to react in certain ways. Mindfulness is the act of quieting down the reactive voice and listening to the wiser voice.
One of the most difficult parts of recovery is reflecting on your own life and the events that led to your development of an addiction. It is, at times, a painful process to go back and look at all the ways in which you were hurt or marginalized throughout your life. But this process allows you to gain insight and understanding about how you tick. You can strengthen your observer and have a clearer understanding of why your behavior patterns are the way they are. In this sense, mindfulness becomes the practice of self-analysis and awareness of yourself. When you feel tempted to act out or react negatively, you will be much better at identifying what it is about that moment that is causing you anxiety or is striking a subconscious nerve. The more you practice accessing this part of you, the better you will be at regulating your emotions, communicating clearer, and being empathetic toward others.