My passion for meditation and Eastern spirituality sprang from a more than emphatic suggestion from my first AA sponsor. In retrospect, it must have been painfully obvious to my sponsor that I was in need of practical skills to assist me in managing my overactive mind, coping with a barrage of chaotic emotions, shifting my reactive way of experiencing life, and softening my rigid sense of self. As is so often is the case in the twelve-step community, my sponsor was able to provide me concrete skills and impeccably pertinent wisdom because he had already traversed the path I was on.
The suggestion I needed came one evening while working on the second step in a shabby wooden booth at the timeless York St. clubhouse. I was expressing my reproach with the concept of a higher power and intellectualizing why spirituality was not an option for someone with my unique background and enlightened worldview….terminally unique, as they say. I distinctly remember feeling puzzled when my sponsor did not try to convince me of the importance of God or engage my attempts to contest the necessity of spirituality as being part of recovery. He was wise enough to know that it was not worth attempting to challenge my cerebral investigation of the pitfalls of organized religion or combat my self-righteous, overly analytical perspective. Instead he told me that I should work toward understanding the nature of my own mind more thoroughly before deciding on the nature of the universe. I just couldn’t argue with his logic. How could I have the universe all figured out if I didn’t even know how my own mind worked or what led me to being so utterly humiliated by my relationship to a substance.
My sponsor instructed me to start by counting breaths. And he actually made me practice with him right there in that booth at York St., which felt ridiculous at the time. I now have clients work with this same practice multiple times per week and it doesn’t feel silly anymore. He told me simply, “breath in, now breathe out…that’s one”, “breathe in, breathe out…. and two”. He told me to continue this until I notice that I’ve lost count and at that point to start over again at one. That night I went home to my studio apartment on Colfax, put the pillow from my bed onto the floor, and sat down to meditate. Needless to say, I could barely get to the count of five without needing to start over. I was, however, immediately hooked by the space I was afforded to observe my thoughts without being so mercilessly absorbed in them. I knew that there was something to this meditation practice and that it would be the focus of my recovery.
This simple introduction to meditation has spurred the last eight years of investigating various practices, books on Eastern spirituality, meditation trainings, spiritual retreats, and involvement with 12-step and 12-step alternative groups focused on meditation and spirituality. This exploration brought me to the Shambhala Center of Denver where I was able to find a home in the Heart of Recovery Group. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity I have had to connect with a recovery community that focuses on non-conventional ways of exploring the 12-step notion of a higher power. The ability to reconcile my aversion to spirituality and connect with others traversing a path of self-exploration has been life altering and life saving. These experiences have been the catalyst for my decision to dedicate my life to service of others struggling with addiction. And the benefits I have gained continue to fuel my clinical approach as I attempt to share them with clients at AspenRidge.
Article by: Shane Hartman LPCC, LAC