Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: intuition

Recovery, Step 11: Meditation.

The other night I was up in the middle of the night, sleepless, thinking about a letter I had to write. Thoughts

(you haven’t written a letter like this in a long time, what do you know about these issues anyway, ??who the hell do you think you are??)

kept me awake. So I focused on my breath and meditated.

About three minutes later an answer appeared, bubbling up like the fragrant bay leaf in jambalaya.

I’ve been meditating regularly. The intuition muscle is working.

The next morning I wrote down what had come to me in meditation. I thought, “This could be brilliant or it could be bullshit.” So I sent the idea off to a friend of mine who does this kind of writing. She wrote right back:

FABULOUS, GO W/IT!!

The power of intuitive thought.

Also: the supportive power of community.

//

When I meet newcomers to recovery, I notice how fidgety some of them are, and I sometimes ask them if they’re meditating each day. Most are not. They say they don’t know how. They say they’ve tried and can’t. Sometimes they say they’re “not on that step yet.”

When I first worked the steps, I got “previews” along the way, and meditation and prayer were two of those previews. So were amends. Just because I may not yet be taking Step 9 doesn’t mean I can’t make up for something I screwed up yesterday. Right? And just because I may not be on Step 11 doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to pray or meditate.

The other day in my home group I talked about turning problems over to meditation and prayer and a guy approached me after the meeting to talk about meditation. He wanted to know how I did it. Fiftysomething; two weeks sober; he’d been around the New Age Block, had tried various meditation methods and he was interested in getting the lowdown on how to do it the “right” way.

Newsflash: There is no right way.

As Mary Karr might say,

There’s just the application of the ass to the seat. 

As Yoda might say,

Do or do not—there is no try.

Meditation is for the Recovery Warrior.

Yoda knew about The Force.

//

When I got sober the second time, days after my relapse, I was told to meditate every day.

[I received this direction from Sluggo, a former heroin addict, fellow mom, experienced Zen meditator. She generously pinch-hit as a long-distance sponsor for me for a while when I was between sponsors In Real Life. Her experience with sobriety and Buddhism is here.]

Sluggo taught me this Way To Meditate (one of many):

  • Sit facing a blank wall.
  • Sit with your back held upright and easy. 
  • It’s better to sit crosslegged or kneeling on a cushion on the floor, but if you’re sitting in a chair, sit away from the back.
  • Rest your hands on your thighs.
  • Set a timer for two minutes.
  • Close your eyes halfway and gently unfocus them.
  • Hold still, begin by focusing on your breath. 
  • Each time you notice a thought, let it pass and bring your attention back to your breath.

That’s it.

The hard part is not how to do it. The hard part is actually doing it.

If you’re an addict like me, you’re afraid of your thoughts and you may not drink or use anymore but there are a lot of other things you do or are tempted to do to avoid your mind (eat, shop, gamble, work, clean, exercise, watch Netflix…). Meditation allows me to accept my mind. A powerful tool to correct self-rejection and self-censure.

Sluggo said: Add a minute or two each week or so until you get up to the length of time you want. She said: Do it at the same time every day. She said: I put my kid on the school bus, go upstairs, and meditate.

I don’t “try” to meditate. I either do it, or I don’t.

Sometimes I don’t. On those days, easy does it. I don’t beat up on myself for not doing it or for doing it wrong. I don’t congratulate myself for doing it or for doing it right.

Just now, I put my kid on his bike to soccer practice, and I’m here ready to meditate.

Fifteen minutes.

Let’s do it.

How I Meditate.

A guy I know said the dean of his college once told him that if he had the Psalms and the works of Shakespeare, he would have all the literature he needed to express life’s joys and pain.

Sonnet 66 begins:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry

Yesterday I found out someone in my recovery communities committed suicide. Carbon-monoxide poisoning. Long-time member, I witnessed his working the program. I can hear his voice in my mind. … Lots of addicts and alcoholics and “adult-children” have known people who have killed themselves. A reader not long ago emailed me to say he was having trouble stopping himself from thinking about a recent suicide.

In my mind it’s not evidence of the failure of recovery programs. Sometimes people need more help than they’re getting, or than it’s possible to get. There are significant and growing holes in social safety nets. … I’ve certainly had to get extra help. When I came to the 12 steps in 1999, I was ready to top myself—and I had what you might call a good life. I had a healthy kid, a house, resources. For folks who don’t have all that, it can be much more difficult to heal.

Tired with all these, from these would I be gone …

//

Meditated this morning. It’s sometimes a fucking drag to meditate because I tell myself I’m not doing it “right.”

There is no “right way,” though. That’s just my addict-voice talking.

Here’s how I meditate: I close the door. I kick my cushion to a spot on the floor in front of a blank space.

I sit at the edge of the cushion, with my knees pointed outward, my heels pulled in together. This is a modified lotus position. The full lotus position requires each foot to rest on the opposite thigh, but this isn’t relaxing for me. My legs go to sleep that way.

This stock photo shows a woman sitting in the position I use:

 

If it’s cold, I cover my legs with a blanket.

I turn off the phone’s ringer.

I set my phone’s timer for 12 minutes. That’s how long I meditate; I’ve worked up from 2 minutes, and I don’t give myself any shit for not doing it longer. I set the ringer for a harp sound and make sure it’s going to ring just loud enough for me to hear—so I can relax and know I don’t have to watch the clock, and I’m not shocked when the alarm rings.

When the timer is set, I rest my palms on my thighs, close my eyes, inhale into my belly, and begin to watch my breath. Then, partway through, I open my eyelids to half-mast. This was a suggestion from my friend Sluggo, who helped me online when I first started getting sober, and who meditates regularly. She says it’s important “not to go to dreamland” while we’re meditating.

The idea of meditation is to stay in the world, not to escape it,

she told me.

Words from Thich Nhat Hanh usually scroll through my mind:

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out

Or else, he sometimes says:

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in
Breathing out, I smile

This is from the last in a series of recordings I listened to while my mother was dying 12 years ago—Disc 2 on this site.

When I get lost in thoughts

(how will i be able to choose the right school for my son, how will i be able to pay the bills, how can i get all the work done, how could so-and-so have killed themselves, how could my mother have smoked herself to death, i miss daddy, i’m worried about so-and-so who called yesterday and is in trouble is being evicted wants to drink is suicidal and i don’t know what to do to help them there’s nothing i can do nothing i can do nothing)

I lead my attention back to my breath. It’s hard, man. It’s hard. I just keep doing it.

My experience of meditation is not nirvana. I don’t do it to “feel” anything. It’s an exercise. It’s about just carrying on leading my attention back to my breath. Letting go of the compulsive thoughts. Making space for the “intuitive thought” to rise.

//

I want to “help” everyone. I want to save people I can’t save. I want to bring people back to life who have been dead for a long time. I want to turn back the clock, take back things I’ve said, put things back the way they were before. I want to do impossible things, be God.

Breathing like this counters all that compulsion and magical thinking. It’s a discipline that changes the body’s neurology. It’s scientifically proven that if you do this regularly, if you meditate and focus on your breath and if, in particular, you focus on thoughts of “loving-kindness” toward fellow beings, you change your nervous system permanently, you foster an optimistic attitude, and you prolong your life.

Which means you increase your chances of helping others and serving the higher power of your choice.

Step 11: the way I get the day’s memo. It’s among a few simple ways that give me any hope of discerning true impulses and thoughts from the distortions of addiction. (The other two are prayer and checking my thoughts with a mentor, a sponsor, therapist, pastor, friend, whatever.)

I can’t do this online or over texts. I can’t eat online, I can’t pray online, I can’t hug my son via text, I can’t make love in a text. I can try, I’m sometimes tempted to fulfill these appetites in a virtual way, but it is not the same. All the stuff that nurtures me has to be done in real life (“IRL”).

So that when the opportunity arose to go to New York, I took it to meditation and I could go with peace of mind. So that when P called me two hours ago and asked whether I wanted to go for a walk with her and her dog, I could say Yes because I wasn’t grasping at the compulsion to Get Just A Few More Things Done. So that when I miss Mom and Dad I can know that there was nothing I could do to save my parents and I can put down my self-blame. So that I can trust I can do the next right thing (pick a school/take a job/help a friend/let go of a situation), to the best of my ability, in whatever given situation. Mostly, so I can stop obsessing and start living.

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