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Part 2

Brain statesIn part one of this series, I discussed how former drug users might benefit physically by taking up a regular meditation program. I also touched on how former drug users are at an advantage when it comes to “finding the Self”, as the mind-altering action of some drugs approximates the deeper states of meditation. In this piece, I will address a few mental and inspirational elements that regular meditators enjoy, which will also help former drug users find what we are all ultimately looking for—a deeper connection to our true Selves—all while keeping them off dangerous drugs.

The Way I Cope

Drugs not only make the body feel good, they make the mind feel invincible. Amphetamines were given to World War II pilots as a way to keep them awake and alert on numerous sorties throughout the war. Even today, speed-like drugs are given to ADD-labeled children and adults to help them concentrate. Drugs do, in fact, enhance our mental capacities in the short-term. Whether talking stimulants for alertness and concentration, or the mind-expanding quality of hallucinogenics: the primary use of many recreational drugs is for altering mind-states.

Stress copingGoing within via meditation also alters consciousness states. As we deepen our meditative practices, we pass through states of consciousness that simulate dream states or even deep sleep (albeit consciously). It is for this reason that former drug users have a hand up on most non-users—they know what it feels like to pass through these varying stages of consciousness. When meditating, the former drug user will recognize and feel a sense of calm, ease and comfort passing through these stages. Call it an acquired skill to feel comfortable as one makes it through these transitions. The average person often must take several passes through a consciousness state to feel comfortable enough to allow it to happen on its own without a mental disruption or dispersion of the state.

From a mind perspective, meditation has also been shown to decrease anxiety—a godsend to anybody who uses, or has used, drugs at one time or another “to cope.” Studies have shown meditation increases stress adaptability as well. Or plainly, regular meditators handle stress better—one reason some people turn to drugs to begin with. Further, meditators have been found to feel less lonely. It is well known that loneliness is associated with increased incidence of illness and death. A regular meditation practice, then, goes a long way to preserve the psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Finally, regular meditators have been found to have increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for executive function, while simultaneously decreasing activity in the amygdala, the area of emotional reaction. Executive function encompasses a number of mental processes, but put simply, this region is responsible for inhibiting emotional outbursts or impulsive behaviors. The amygdala, on the other hand, is the area where memory, decision-making and emotion work together to elicit quick responses. These two regions are regularly at odds with one another, balancing how we wish to act—venomous anger for example—with how we contain ourselves. The amygdala in teens, for instance, develops much more rapidly than the prefrontal cortex, leading to more reactionary decisions and impulsive behavior (one reason teens are at higher risk for accidents). But by meditating regularly, executive function is enhanced while reactionary amygdala function is depressed, and thus the practitioner becomes more poised and disciplined, thinking things through rather than exploding in unrestrained emotion.

The Voice I Hear

Woodstock-1969Some people have had spiritual experiences on drugs, as attendees at Woodstock or today’s raves might attest. This is because chemical substances acting on the brain can open doors to insights, compassion and even a feeling of “oneness,” things we ultimately all crave as human beings. For this reason, many habitual drug users return again and again to drugs to relive a temporary experience which we intuitively feel should be more permanent.

Users who have spiritual experiences are correct in their intuition—feelings of oneness are our birthright, and they should persist beyond the temporary high felt from drugs. The only way to tap into this eternal unity is by going within and awakening to the Self. While the term Self is actually interchangeable with many others—God, the absolute, the final reality, etc—it is incomplete and incapable of fully describing what yogis would call the source of all things. No matter which name you give it, this source is what we all truly want: reconnecting with the Self is the inner drive which underlies all human desire. And it is exactly this which is the basis for people turning to drugs.

When we uncover our true Selves, however, we concurrently uncover the bliss inherent in our source of being. Through this uncovering we come to realize that we exist in this material dimension (our form) for a purpose, and the deeper we go within, the stronger our realization of our life’s purpose becomes. But interestingly for the former drug user is that this realization also brings to light the purpose of the chosen path of substance abuse. Most people enter professions where they wish to make a difference, either in an area which they perceive themselves to have failed in the past, or in an area which they themselves have been helped. It is not surprising then that many former drug users, myself included, look to make a difference in the world of recovery—helping other addicts shake the illusions of the high drugs provide, and in finding the truth inherent in uncovering the Self.

Helping Drug AddictsRegular meditators have also been found to cultivate greater compassion—for themselves and others. Why is this important? Because it is so easy to beat oneself up for perceived mistakes one has made, and every other shame and guilt that comes along with drug addiction. Having compassion for one’s choices comes from a deep understanding that one receives as a result of going within. By understanding the greater purpose of our choices, we can open up to a world of gratitude for the life we have lived, and how it has lead us down our current inspired path. The highest service in life comes through giving from a place of compassion—the I-have-been-there-before state of empathy. Nobody can relate to this more than former drug users who have dedicated their lives to helping others, and this compassion is enhanced by a regular meditation practice.

Meditation has also been found to improve a person’s skill at introspection—the ability to reflect on one’s life and oneself mentally and emotionally. People who have a strong ability for introspection come to know themselves better, make better choices, and experience greater growth spurts emotionally and spiritually. As a consequence, meditation also opens the floodgates to inspiration, so creativity is enhanced as one quiets the mind of its incessant chatter and allows the Self to reflect unimpeded. Most creative geniuses have a way of tapping in—meditation is one surefire way to unleash our inherent potential and express creative genius. Start today to take advantage of this power we all possess.

OnenessPeople typically return to drugs to recreate an experience that brought them close to feeling the bliss of oneness with all things. That is because drugs open doors to states of consciousness which simulate stages we pass through along the path to union—the known deeper states of meditation. Drug-induced altered states of consciousness, however, are short-lived and they come with many unwanted side effects, most treacherously death. But what drug users are searching for is what all people ultimately search for: the bliss that comes from awakening to our true Selves. While many paths to the Self exist, meditation is time-tested and proven; its effects are long-term, and its many changes are permanent. Drugs will never bring the seeker what he or she is looking for, because like all external experiences, they are transitory and illusory by nature. Only by going within and uncovering the true Self will an individual find what he instinctively seeks: union with the entire universe. Meditation is a tool available to all of us—rich, poor, young, old, male or female—to bring us in-touch with our true essence, while enhancing our lives in body, mind and spirit. But even more astoundingly, former drug users may be at an advantage as they have experience in passing through various altered states in which the average, non-drug user is not so immediately comfortable. These reasons seem overwhelmingly encouraging for those in recovery to take on a meditation practice. Turn on and tune in, if you will, and you will find exactly what you have always been looking for.

Part 1

Cocaine BlissDrug addiction is a form of seeking. The high we get from drugs is the closest thing to the altered states of consciousness that are the hallmark of deeper states of meditation, including samadhi, and thus drug users—most unconsciously—are seeking what we all are: the internal source of bliss. Bliss can only be achieved from within, whether it be inspiration, fulfillment, joy or any other state of being; it is an inside job. Drug addiction, then, is like any other attachment to the external world—it is our seeking fulfillment from things outside of us.

The quest for bliss, or a something other than what we experience in the purely physical world, is a real and ubiquitous drive—a universal human yearning. We bounce from experience to experience, desire to desire, and even relationship to relationship—what the yogis would call gaining knowledge—seeking this bliss. And all these quests for the outer are necessary to lead us to the reality of the inner. Drugs and chemical highs are no exception. In fact, former drug users may even be at an advantage on this quest, as the altered states so familiar to substance abusers most closely approximates the different states the meditator passes through on his or her way to Self-realization.

Learning the Self is the most rewarding experience we can have, as it lasts a lifetime. While every former drug user has learned invaluable lessons about herself, only through conscious awareness and awakening can true Knowledge—and all it affords—be had. In seeking the Self the greatest of all fulfillments is ours—the bliss we are never able to find in outer experiences. By taking on this quest, the former drug user has the greatest probability of remaining clean, because what is a temporary high when compared to bliss?

russell brand meditatingThe quest to “find” the Self can be carried out by a number of paths. One such path is meditation. Meditation, the art of silencing the mind and going within, is a profound practice, one which has a number of short and long term benefits for the former drug user. The benefits range from the physical, like a decreased risk of debilitating cardiac events, to the mental (increased emotional control), to the spiritual, like greater creative inspiration. In the following paragraphs, I will touch upon these benefits of body, mind and spirit to encourage former users to take up the habit of going within. I am certain that when I am finished you will see that the enormous advantages the practice of meditation affords are far greater than any momentary highs we get from drugs.

The Way I Feel

Dopamine system

Click to enlarge

Drugs feel good—we can thank the dopamine system for that. But the physiological sensations resulting from drug actions are temporary and come with the risks of tolerance, withdrawal and potential overdose. Going within, on the other hand, particularly via the path of meditation, provides physiological changes which are longer lasting, and many even permanent. These physical changes can feel good too, but they are subtle and come on gradually, so there is really no high with true meditation.

Meditation has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiac events—like heart attack and stroke—by one half. At risk African American men and women were given either a meditation program, muscle relaxation exercises or conventional health education courses. Those participants who meditated had nearly half the risk of suffering a cardiac event. These findings are particularly valuable for recovering methamphetamine and cocaine users, as stimulants can stress the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels). Further, the practice of pranayama (breath control) works to slow the metabolism, bringing down heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. These physiological changes are imperative for any person who has been artificially speeding up their cardiovascular system with drugs.

Meditation also has been shown to reduce pain, fatigue and depression. Many people who suffer from chronic illness turn to drugs to alleviate pain. A 2010 study showed that an eight-week course of mindfulness training reduced all three symptoms above, and improved health-related quality of life for people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). As any long-term drug user will tell you: part of the package that comes with substance abuse is pain, fatigue and ultimately depression. Here we now have evidence of the power of going within for alleviating these overloading sensations which often plague chronic drug users.

healingFinally meditation may lead to improved healing—something every drug user needs, as repeated use of chemicals can and does lead to breakdown of the body. Both inflammation and immunity are altered by meditation. Inflammatory processes have been observed to diminish, while immune function has been found to increase in regular meditators. As self-healing, self-regulating organisms, we need our innate powers to function unimpeded. While drug use hinders our healing abilities, quieting the mind and going within enhances them instead. Choose meditation and watch your miraculous regenerative powers operate in full force as your body and mind return to their most optimal functioning states.

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