Emotional pain is ubiquitous to the human condition. Pain is unavoidable and even inevitable in our human journey. One of my favorite sayings is “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Research shows that it is our attempt to avoid pain that actually leads to suffering.
In the relational program at Alsana we address the inevitability of pain as part of the human condition. The relational dimension is the glue that connects all of the dimensions of the Adaptive Care Model and it is the foundation on which recovery is built. At Alsana, we believe that recovery happens through relationships. Treatment at Alsana integrates relational work, which includes relationship with others, self, and something outside of ourselves (based on clients’ personal belief systems).
As part of exploring a relationship with something bigger than ourselves, we recognize that acceptance of pain without judgment is a pathway to peace and contentment. Avoidance of pain is what truly leads to human suffering. There is a Sanskrit word for suffering that doesn’t quite translate into English, “Dukkah.” It literally translates into “a poor axle hole” on an ox-drawn vehicle, which results in a bumpy, stressful, and uncomfortable ride. The term “Sukkah” is the opposite of suffering and it literally translates to “a good axle hole,” which results in a peaceful comfortable ride. I like to think of pain as the unavoidable road we are on, but we can choose the vehicle on which we traverse the bumpy road. Mindfulness is the vehicle that results in a ride of peace and comfort, and avoidance is the vehicle that results in a ride of misery and suffering.
At Alsana, we help clients explore their pain without merging with it. This is mindfulness. We often have an image of mindfulness as someone who is super-Zen, sitting legs crossed, eyes closed, palms up, thumb and index finger linked. This meditative pose might be one version of mindfulness, but true mindfulness is simply curiosity without judgment, acceptance rather than avoidance, and observation without merging.
Mindfulness is something that you can start today. I talk about mindfulness in three steps:
- Breathe. Breath work is one of the most beautiful and miraculous aspects of our being. The word “breath” has Greek and Latin origins to the root “spiro” (like spirometer or respiration). Spiro is also the root of the word “spirit.” Breathing is a spiritual act and is one of the most mindful experiences we can engage in. Breathing is one of the only involuntary responses that can be voluntarily controlled. One of the only ways to manually deactivate a sympathetic system response (fight or flight) is by controlling your breathing. Breath work is a mindful act with spiritual connections.
- Notice. The next step in mindfulness is to simply observe without judgment. Notice your breathing, notice your emotions and feelings. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? How does the emotion feel in your body? Raise awareness here with curiosity. If judgment starts to rise to the surface, just allow it to float by and return to neutral descriptors of your experience. If you notice that you begin to merge with the emotion so that you feel consumed by it, try to create more distance by notice things outside of your body to anchor you to your surroundings. If you start to stray toward future thinking or past experiences, just gently refocus your attention on the present time and your current surroundings.
- Release. The final step is to let go of what we are holding that is not serving us. This might be tensions from our previous attempts at avoidance of pain or the suffering associated with merging with our pain rather than accepting it. I like to think of releasing these tensions on my exhale as part of my breath work.
These three steps can be your first experiment with mindfulness in your recovery process. Mindfulness is a practice, not a one-time antidote, so it will take time to experience the benefits of mindfulness. If you have questions about mindfulness, our relational program, or Alsana, please reach out to us: 888.822.8938.