Psychologist Viktor Frankl endured unspeakable horrors in a Nazi concentration camp, and believed that him and his fellow survivors were sustained by their ability to find meaning in each moment, even a moment of extreme suffering. Reflecting on his experience in Man's Search for Meaning, he wrote "Everything can be taken from a man but...the last of the human freedoms: to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one's own way." In other words, even in the worst of circumstances, we can still make the chose to focus on what is life sustaining for us.
In seeking to bring healing to people in Vietnam, traumatized by decades of a brutal civil war, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh reaching into the wisdom of his spiritual tradition to teach practices of mindfulness, which he called a "miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life."
Although they developed their teachings in very different contexts, both of these men offered spiritual and physiological support to people in the midst of great suffering, and they discovered the power of mindfulness towards that goal.
Viktor Frankl and Thich Nhat Hanh are just two of the many people from a wide variety of cultural traditions and historical periods who have discovered the virtue of living life with total awareness of the present moment. We cannot change either our past or our future, nor how other people will respond to us or treat us.
The only thing we have control over is our attitude and response to what is going on in front of us and within us. One extremely useful tool in knowing how to do this is mindfulness, or a state of active awareness of the present moment.
Many people have strong emotions or feelings, and are quick to get caught up in them, labeling them as "good" or "bad." Mindfulness teaches us to take a step back, viewing our thoughts and feelings from a distance, and not judging them as good or bad, but instead using them to be awake to the experiences of life.
Benefits of mindfulness in recovery
While practices of mindfulness can be useful for everyone, people in recovery from addiction may find it to be especially useful. Addiction is centered in craving. Everyone who has experienced true addiction knows about the all-consuming desire for a substance of choice, without which you believe happiness or even normal functioning is impossible.
You hurt yourself and others around you because you are striving for the next "high" or moment of intoxication. Doing this over and over again has created firmly set patterns, of mindlessly driven by your cravings. Mindfulness is useful first of all in helping you to break your sense of dependency, and helping you see the pleasure and good things in the world around you.
Simply taking time to breathe and pause and recognize what is good, true and beautiful in the world around you can go a long way to helping you discover new pleasures to replace the rush of using. In addition, careful and mindful awareness of your own inner thoughts can be tremendously healing, helping you to break the cycle of habit and craving, gaining a deeper understanding of your true needs.
How to increase mindfulness
You can practice mindfulness with any activity. Simply bring you full attention to what you are doing, literally let you mind be "full" of whatever task is set before you. When you are walking, think of nothing but putting one foot in front of the other. When you are washing dishes, or doing other household chores, simply focus on nothing but doing that task. Do it slowly and thoughtfully, totally aware of what you are doing, and what is going on within you and around you.