Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trade Your Addictive Ritual for a Healing One

After struggling for days to resist the impulse, an addict shuts the door to his office. His heart pounds as he enters a search term into the internet browser on his phone, launching yet again into the ritual of his addiction. 

A ritual is a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order that we follow regularly and invariably. Our addictions owe some of their potency to their ritualistic nature. Instead of simply doing nothing when we're tempted to act out, it can be easier to abstain from our self-defeating ritual if we put in a positive ritual in its place. The following is a guest post by my friend, Jason Webb. Some of my clients have tried the practice he prescribes and found it to be helpful. 

We need to be in the right state of mind to be truly effective and to avoid problems. It is too easy to fall into anger, impatience, compulsions, hurry, apathy, etc. To avoid those, we need to be in a state of mind that is more centered, gratitude-based, in the moment, confident, in-tune with divinity, and open. 

There are lots of techniques to change your state of mind, like meditation, affirmations, etc., but they seem to only get you part of the way there and each take time. It turns out that many of them can be combined into a prayer of about 2 - 5 minutes and you can end your prayer in a wonderful state of mind that makes it much easier to be patient, warm, persuasive, caring, thoughtful, careful, etc. and to make better choices in general.

The prayer starts with getting in a comfortable position where you can take deep breathes and have some privacy.  It is hard to be in a good state of mind when you are in pain or discomfort. I sit cross-legged and it seems to work well. Then close your eyes so it is easier to focus on how you feel.

Take a couple of deep breathes, in through the nose and out through the mouth. When you breathe out through your mouth make a little sound that feels natural. I will usually make a "ooooh" sound naturally.  The "ooooh" sound is usually associated with stress, pain, etc. How you feel impacts your body and vice-versa. I am also usually a little hunched over, too.  This is a position of stress, too.  How I comfortably sit and the breathing sound I make tells me a little about how I am feeling deep inside.

Use your body to help feel a little better. Change the natural sound to a more confident sound.  "Ahhh" is usually a good confident sound, so I use that. Change your posture to a more confident posture. I pull my shoulders back, sit a little straighter and move my head and arms so that I am facing the world. I do that until I start to feel more confident and strong.  It usually takes several breathes.  I also notice that when I am feeling confident and strong, I can pause for longer between breathing in and out with more calm. This also floods your brain with oxygen and we want your brain to be active for what comes next.

Then, connect with your feelings and with the moment by focusing your attention on the physical sensations you are feeling in a specific part of your body. I usually pick my big toe unless some other part is distracting me with pain or some other strong sensation. If I have a hard time focusing my attention, I will touch my toe and maybe rub it slightly until I can focus on it. I do that until I feel like I can focus and not be easily distracted. The more focused you are during the prayer, the more of an impact it will have for you.

When I feel ready, then I start my prayer and I speak out loud for the whole prayer (normal voice). Any words that you say or think will impact you, but spoken words are more of an impact. I invoke Deity and ask that my word will be heard. You can invoke the divine however you want, even if you are an atheist. 

Current research shows that there are parts of our brain (I call them the "god-seeking" parts) that regulate how we handle contradiction, disappointment, lies, paradoxes, unsolved problems, the unknown, etc. and that seems to be a major driving force in our drive to religion (e.g. why do bad things happen to good people, what happens after we die, how do I know that I should marry that person, should I take a risk and start this business, how do I deal with this diagnosis from my doctor). It also is how we can adapt to almost anything that life throws at us without going to a "blue-screen of death" like computers will do when stuff doesn't make sense. This part of our brain influences what we believe about ourselves and our situation in life. Also, these parts of our brain have many more connections and brain cells devoted to them than the rational parts of our brain and they are more directly connected to our feelings and the unconscious regulation of our body. Whether you believe in God or not, this is a powerful and important part of your brain that finds divinity/mysticism to be useful, so even if there is no God, it is helpful to access that part of your brain by seeking the help of something beyond you. Doing this will wake up that part of your brain and let it pay attention to the rest of the prayer. If there is a god, then all the better.

I then check how I feel.  If I have medium or stronger feelings, good or bad, I talk about them one at a time (if not, I skip this part). I will first explained what happened to cause the feeling (be specific).  Then I will explain how that made me feel.  Then I will talk about the need that was not met (or was met) by what happened to cause that feeling.  Doing this will reduce the effect of your negative feelings and increase the effect of your positive ones. Here is an example of me having two feelings and going through them one at a time:  I came home late last night after working hard all day and was excited to have some fun but when I got home then things were a disaster. That made me really frustrated and I still feel that way now. I need fun with my family and when I didn't get the fun, that made me frustrated. Also, this morning I woke up and didn't have a headache. That made me happy. I usually wake up with a headache and I need to feel comfortable, so waking up in a comfortable bed free of pain made me happy. 

Next comes gratitude.  Say, I am grateful for .... Pause between each one and get a sense of what you are really grateful for.  Don't just go through a list of things that you usually say.  Have it be based on your feelings right now. Do it until you feel like you are done.  Don't feel like you have to be grateful for your kids, spouse or job just because you should be. Only express gratitude for things that you feel grateful for at that moment.  If you can't think of anything, then sit there quietly until you can.  If that gives you feelings, then talk about your feelings. People who are grateful are happier, have more hope, are solution oriented, willing to take more risks, more fun to be around, etc.

Next comes your future self. Pray that you will be the things you want to be.  Phrase it in a way that allows you to say the phrase "I will ..."  Try to feel that way or feel what it would be like to be that way as you say each thing.  As an example, I say, "Please bless me that I will be fun today, that I will be careful of other people's feelings, that I will find joy in the moment today, that I will help others, that I will prosper, that I will be clever, that I will make good choices today, and that I will be a good parent."  I pause a little between each one and try to feel that as being true. This helps you remember who you want to be and helps your attitude be pointed in that direction.

Next comes everybody else. All the research I've seen says that people who are truly happy are those who lose themselves in something else or someone else, usually in the service of others. So now we want to turn our focus outward. I will pray for people that I know.  I will say things like: "Please bless soandso that they will be safe on their trip; please bless my children that they will learn good things, please bless that I will be able to find clever solutions for the needs of my customers; and please bless my customers that they will find the things that they need to be successful." This will turn your attention away from yourself. Also, since the things you are now praying about are usually things over which you have little to no control, without the divine it is not logical that your words will have any meaning. This is illogical and inconsistent with a godless reality. That strongly activates the "god-seeking" parts of your brain to help cement the good that your words have been doing for you. There is a lot of research that shows that the human brain will do almost anything to make the world make sense to it, so by saying these things that don't actually make sense in the context of a prayer if there is no divinity, you call on that ability. Doing so turns your attention to others, away from yourself, and bring the power of your subconscious to bear on everything that you have said and done in the prayer.

Then I close the prayer and get up.  I'm done and I usually feel very centered, calm, and positive for a several hours.

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