Insight Meditation in Recovery

Facing Reality in Addiction Recovery
Those individuals who fall into addiction often do so because they find reality difficult to cope with. What they fail to realize is that the problem is not reality itself, but the way they are relating to it. This can be better understood by remembering that two people can experience the exact same situation in very different ways. The problem then is not so much with the experience itself, but with how the experience has been interpreted.

When people escape addiction, they are encouraged to find new ways of dealing with life. The fact that their old coping strategies led them into addiction indicates these strategies must not have been very effective. If people in recovery try to carry on in the same manner as they did before then they are likely to end back in trouble again. There are many different techniques that allow people to have a better relationship with reality. One of the most effective of these is insight meditation.

Insight Meditation Explained
Insight meditation is a practice where the ultimate goal is to clearly see the nature of the mind. It is a technique developed by Buddhists to help them make progress along the path to enlightenment. It is also known as [Vipassana]; an ancient Indian word that means clear seeing. Although insight meditation is a spiritual tool, it can also be of value to people who have no particular religious leanings. In recent years, there has been increasing interest in the more practical benefits of this technique.

When people practice insight meditation, the goal is to observe reality without reacting to it or attempting to interpret it. The meditator simply notes whatever it is that they are experiencing. They do this while trying to avoid any attachment or aversion for what is being noted. So if the meditator experiences an itch on their body they will just acknowledge ‘itch’ without developing any opinion about the experience. It is this unfiltered way of observing reality that can eventually make it possible to develop real insight.

It is usual for those who are practicing Vipassana to have one object that acts as their anchor. This could be something like the breath or sensations in the body. If the meditator is distracted by other phenomena they don’t try to fight it or become annoyed with themselves. They just acknowledge the thing that has caught their attention and slowly come back to their anchor. The goal is not to become absorbed in the meditation anchor, but to just use it as a base from which to experience reality. A famous Thai monk called [Ajahn Chah](http://www.ajahnchah.org] described the process as being similar to staring at a pool of water in the middle of a forest. Occasionally, wild animals will come to drink from the small lake. The meditator acknowledges these visitors before returning their attention back to the pool.

The Benefits of Insight Meditation
The practice of Vipassana meditation produces physical, mental, and spiritual benefits including:

* It increases compassion for other beings.
* It allows people to develop a much deeper understanding of what it means to be a human.
* It helps to reduce self-absorption and selfishness.
* It leads to more contentment in life.
* It greatly improves concentration levels.
* It improves memory.
* It gives people a greater ability to deal with stress. This can improve general health because many ailments have stress as a contributing factor.
* Those who practice Vipassana find the challenges in life easier to cope with.
* This technique can be helpful for dealing with the symptoms of depression.
* Regular practice reduces the amount of anxiety that people experience.
* Insight meditation can help people deal with pain more easily.
* Those people who devote themselves to this practice can develop life changing insights.

Chanmyay Sayadaw is a highly regarded Burmese Buddhist monk, and he points out seven main benefits to this type of meditation:

* Helps improve ability to deal with stress
* Can be used as a tool to purify the mind
* Helps meditators escape from all types of suffering
* Reduces worry
* Offers complete knowledge of the situation of humans
* Puts an end to grief
* Increases ability to handle suffering

The Benefits of Insight Meditation for People in Recovery
Vipassana can be of great value to anyone recovering from an addiction. The driving force behind alcohol and drug abuse is the desire to escape reality. This decision to run away from life can only ever lead to suffering and unhappiness. The purpose of Vipassana is to fully experience reality without any resistance. Those who manage to do this enjoy a life-changing experience. The more people face reality the less reason there is to run from it. The desire to numb the brain with chemicals disappears, so insight meditation is a path away from addiction.

There is no need for people in recovery to have lofty spiritual goals in order to benefit from Vipassana. Like other forms of meditation, it is great for managing stress and emotional turmoil. The practice of insight meditation increases people’s ability to deal with the challenges of early recovery and beyond. One of the common negative personality traits of addicts is self-absorption. This is something that they can carry with them into recovery. This negative tendency can prevent people from discovering true happiness in life. Insight practice reduces this tendency.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
The instructions for how insight meditation can be found in a Buddhist discourse known as the Four Foundations of Mindfulness or the _satipatthana sutta_. The meditator is given four experiences where they can put their focus in meditation including:

* Mindfulness of the body. The meditator can observe their breathing and sensations in the body. They also pay attention to the different postures of the body. There are also more advanced mindfulness of the body practices that involve focusing on the decomposition of a corpse.
* Contemplation of feelings. The meditator observes feelings as they arise in the mind.
* Contemplation on states of consciousness. Here the practitioner observes the various states of consciousness (e.g. pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings) as they arise and disappear.
* Contemplation on mind objects. This includes hindrances to meditation such as worry, doubt, anger, restlessness and sloth.

There are different interpretations as to how best to meditate on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. This is why there are different systems available. It is advised that practitioner chooses one system and stick with it.

How to Begin Practicing Vipassana Meditation
The increased interest in Vipassana around the world means that there are now many resources to turn to. Here are just a few ideas for how people can develop this practice:

* In order to make real progress with insight meditation, it is recommended that people find an experienced teacher. The techniques are not that difficult to learn, but there are many wrong paths that can lead to solo practitioner in the wrong direction. A good teacher will be able to act as a guide to their student.
* Striving for results in Vipassana can be counterproductive. The aim of the practice is to experience reality without expectations.
* Buddhists believe that practicing insight meditation will lead them to enlightenment. It is not necessary to believe in this in order to practice Vipassana. There are many meditators who have the more modest aspiration of just getting to know who they are a bit better.
* There are many great resources for people who want to learn more about insight meditation. This material can be a great help but they should not be a way of avoiding the actual practice. People will not gain insight by reading Vipassana books – only be doing the practice.
* In order to benefit from this type of meditation it is vital to have a regular practice, preferably every day.
* There will be periods when sitting down to mediate feels incredibly difficult. This is when the practice can be the most beneficial. The restless mind can be a real danger to people in recovery. By sitting down and facing this restlessness, they will understand that they do not have to be controlled by such inner drives.
* It is highly unlikely that people will achieve quick results from insight meditation. It is a lifetime practice and not a quick fix. The benefits of meditation tend to be noticeable in the beginning, but later the practitioner will take these for granted. It is only when they stop meditating that they realize how much the practice is benefiting them.

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