Twice a week I have the privilege to lead a mindfulness group for people in recovery. I’m surrounded by clients who have been hospitalized for attempted suicide, lived on the street, cut or starved themselves, been addicted to alcohol, methamphetamine, marijuana, or a variety of prescription drugs, including the epidemic Oxycontin. Most of them have experienced significant trauma, and all of them live with some level of anxiety.
They have all been diagnosed with some kind of disorder: Alcoholism, Drug addiction, Bi-polar disorder Borderline Personality disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Eating disorder, depression, and the list goes on.
Diagnoses are essential; they provide a focus and direction for medical treatment and in most cases, satisfy requirements for insurance coverage. Knowing what they ‘have’ can also give the client a sense of relief, stability, and hope for recovery.
Diagnoses can also be limiting. I often see clients use their diagnosis to confirm the belief that there is something seriously and irrevocably wrong with them.
In my room, they are invited to leave their diagnoses outside. I guide them to focus on their experience at the moment – not what they have, and not what’s wrong with them. At first, there is a lot of squirming, and discomfort as they begin to examine, “Who am I RIGHT NOW without a label?” Sometimes their anxiety spikes or they disassociate, or they get angry with me. Often, though they don’t say it, I know they think I’m weird.
Sometimes, magic happens. Occasionally in a single session, more often over time, they develop a new sense of themselves that is much bigger than their diagnosis. They learn to tap into a state of awareness that is without right/wrong, good/bad – a place of openness, kindness, and infinite compassion. As judgment drops away they learn to accept what’s arising at the moment. They discover what is indeed happening with them JUST IS. There is nothing wrong with them.
I call this state ‘Being’.’ You may have heard to it as ’Wise-Mind’ (from DBT – Dialectical Behavioral therapy), Authentic Self, Over-Soul, etc. What I know about this place is that it is the truth of who we are, hidden underneath layers of conditioning – reactive behaviors, thoughts and emotions we have adapted over our lifetime.
Conditioning is a complex and interwoven web of survival mechanisms we adapted in the past to keep us safe. Unfortunately, even after the danger is gone, the conditioning remains wired into our near pathways. Without any intervention, the conditioned behaviors, thoughts and emotions repeat over and over. This makes us feel less than, inadequate, damaged, doomed to suffer forever, lost and utterly hopeless.
The good news is that your Being is alive and well, waiting to be called forth to guide you into full recovery – whether it’s from addiction or a mental health disorder, or something not clinically diagnosable – such as burnout, feeling stuck, difficultly loving yourself or others, or feeling like you aren’t living up to your full potential.
One of the best ways to tap into your Being is through Mindfulness. If you’re curious, I invite you to try this simple practice I offer all my clients – whether in a group, or one-on-one. It’s adapted from my book, The Power of Pause: simple meditations for complicated lives.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Begin to focus on your breathing. Notice, without judgment, the length of your inhalation and the length of your exhalation. Sense the breath coming in through your nose and mouth, and imagine it filling every cell in your body with new life and new possibility. Sense the breath moving out and taking with it everything that is past and no longer needed. Now, pay special attention to the end of each exhalation. Notice the moment when the breath pauses, just before the next inhalation occurs. Feel into that gap. Let the breath dissolve into space. Can you allow yourself to surrender into the unknowable – the ocean of possibility?
Next time you’re in a stressful moment and feel compelled to react in a familiar and habitual way, bring your awareness to the pause at the end of your exhalation. Ask yourself, “What might happen if I let go of everything I know into this space? Now, what do I choose?”
The material presented in this article is intended to offer information of a general nature to help you in your journey towards well-being. Please note that these recommendations are not to be substituted for proper medical treatment. And, there is now evidence demonstrating that Mindfulness-based meditation and self-awareness area viable support to treatment.