Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

The God Thing: How God Changes Your Brain.

I am acting like an addict and eating through the rest of the sugar in the house. I know this is what I’m doing; it feels the way it felt eating through the rest of the drugs I had before I went into detox two years ago. I know I need to change my behavior because I’ve come to this awareness in sitting meditation.

Lots of people say they can’t meditate—they can’t sit still; they can’t keep their bodies from fidgeting; they can’t quiet their minds. Most of all, they say they don’t know how.

There are so many instruction books and CDs out there. I should post a list sometime. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s are great. He’s on iTunes and other places.

How God Changes Your BrainI’ve been sitting each day for about 15 minutes since late July. It began as an experiment: I wanted to try what Andrew Newberg M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman suggested in their book, How God Changes Your Brain. They say that just 12 minutes of meditation practiced daily for eight weeks can reduce stress and “anxiety” (fear) and also slow the aging process.

And “God” can, in their estimation, constitute any force of your choice outside of yourself: but it has to be positive and loving. Their studies show that a fearful “God” can be extremely damaging to the brain.

(Sound familiar?)

Further, after having studied advanced practitioners of meditation and prayer (Buddhist monks, Catholic nuns, etc.), they concluded that “activities involving meditation and intensive prayer permanently strengthen neural functioning in specific parts of the brain that are involved with lowering anxiety and depression, enhancing social awareness and empathy, and improving cognitive and intellectual functioning.” In other words, meditation and prayer, if practiced diligently and long enough, can PERMANENTLY decrease fear and sadness, and make us smarter and more compassionate.

I think possibly the “improvements in cognitive functioning” can have to do with simple awareness and insight. Meditation has brought more awareness to my life. In meditation, I just let go of thoughts as they come by. It’s the discipline, the training of the mind to Let Go. I don’t look for any feeling to happen, I just let go. Just as exercise has benefits throughout the rest of the day, so does meditation. In letting go, during my day, other information can come in. This is awareness…

What I wanted was to be the Queen of Serenity, Rocketed Into My (Preferably Pink) Fourth Dimension of Recovery. What I got was an awareness that I need to quit sugar. It’s bad for me. Part B of this awareness: I might not be able to just “cut down.” Part C: Quitting might be a pretty painful process.

There is a certain serenity in all this. It’s real, for one. It’s not Pink.

Meditation opens my mind so I can accept, or at least entertain, these formerly threatening ideas.

The authors also give eight exercises to improve brain function. The top three, which they suggest are the most important and must be worked together, are 1) Having Faith (or, basically Being An Optimist), 2) Dialoguing With Others (or, basically Being Social), and 3) Aerobic Exercise (or, basically Getting Your Butt Off The Couch, Dude). Number Three, they say, can include yoga.

You know what, this is totally nothing new. It’s “no big shakes,” as my Dad used to say. Maybe the scans showing improved blood-flow to certain brain-areas are news. But the results are stories we’ve been hearing about for a long time, and I’m coming to the conclusion that all the books are basically saying the same stuff:

Meditation | David Servan-Schreiber, a physician and cancer-survivor who wrote The Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety and Depression Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy, recommends “heart coherence” breathing exercises (which I’ve trained in, and which are tantamount to meditation). Servan-Schreiber has recommended regularly practiced cardiac coherence as the single best way to protect longevity, stimulate the immune system (a project in which, as a cancer survivor, he’s particularly interested), and control anxiety and depression. He also recommends Aerobic Exercise and Being Social.

The Present Moment | Jon Kabat-Zinn, another physician, has written many books about the benefits of meditation for people struggling with chronic pain and other illnesses. His book and CD collection, Wherever You Go, There You Are, trains people in mindfulness and how to “wake up” and be fully aware in the present moment—a concept that is the centerpiece of meditation.

The Power of Now + Ego Deflation | Eckhart Tolle writes about all the same stuff in his Oprah-endorsed book. Tolle also adds a great deal of emphasis on the need to “smash the ego” (sound familiar?) except Tolle would never use such violent language. He might recommend, instead, becoming aware of the deep stillness within, the power that resides within each of us, and that as soon as we find that source, this disempowers the ego.  To accomplish this, however, we need to be practitioners of some sort of meditation, to foster awareness.

I could go on and on. There are a hundred books that have each sold a million copies out there that all say the same stuff:

  • Meditate/pray
  • Release resentment and fear—old stuff, and current stuff
  • Wake up to the present moment
  • Take care of the body

Big news: this is what the Big Book says, too! I mean the way of life the 12 steps advocate is the same kind of way of life these other teachers are advocating. It’s all the same stuff, it’s not Weird or a Cult, and it’s not rocket science.

It’s not hard to overcome these problems. The solutions are plain.

So: “God” (i.e., the good inside me, the little Dear Abby inside that gives me good advice) tells me I need to eat good food.

Got six sessions left on my yoga card. Gonna use them before the end of the year.

My best friend had her birthday yesterday. We took the afternoon off and watched It Might Get Loud (great flick, love Edge) at her place, after a game of tennis. We exchanged presents. Hers to me: one of those stretch-straps you attach to a door; when you stretch it, it’s supposed to build your lats and your abs and stuff. Great for winter-workouts. Also: a 5-lb. barbell so I can do curls while I watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

“Let the reps begin,” she said.

Yes ma’am.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Guinevere, meditation and mindfulness has been such an important part of my recovery. I tried to use it during my drinking days by going on retreats and sometimes I could battle off cravings using mindfulness. I got sober in a Thai temple and meditation was part of the treatment; it is now hugely important in my recovery and has brought more benefits to my life than I could have ever imagined.

  2. A few relevant thoughts from the book, “Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything”, by Geneen Roth

    Although I haven’t read this book, a good friend of mine, who has a daughter with an eating disorder, called me to recommend it. She said that although the focus of the book was food addiction, the author has a lot of valuable insight regarding addiction, in general.

    Here are a few highlights from the book that seemed especially pertinent: With any addiction, there is a loss of connection and source to our self; addiction fills a nameless yearning; we often fill ‘God space’ with ‘To Do’ lists. One recovering addict said: “There was no real hole in my soul. I always had what I needed within me.” Addiction is an opportunity to open a door to examine the self, to think of our self in a new way; an invitation to look at our self differently. One addict said (as well as my daughter): “My addiction was a gift – it opened a door for me.”

    There is definitely a spiritual dimension to recovery. Roth says she isn’t talking about God in the religious sense. Instead, she’s talking about what she calls the source. “We each have this longing—we’ve had moments of awe and wonder in our lives. A lot of us don’t call that God, but we know that something is possible for every one of us besides our daily lives, the daily grind. The way we get caught with errands and emails and taking care of other people. We feel that this possibility exists,” Roth says. “I’m talking about wonder and mystery and possibility … or the feeling you have in nature. The feeling that everything is possible.”

    “Obsession gives you something to do besides have your heart shattered by heart-shattering events,” Roth writes.

    This book has now been added to the stack beside my bed. Will I ever be able to read them all?

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