by Katherine Martens

Katherine Martens is trained in Mindfulness Meditation from CreativeLive and Buddhist Insight Meditation from Spirit Rock Meditation Centre. She holds a Yoga Instructor Certification which she completed in India in 2013. Last month, she started the YYC Meditation Group at Mount Royal University which covers meditation practices from eastern traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, yoga, etc). Katherine graduated the AARC program back in September 2010 and has been living in recovery for the past 6 years. During this time, she worked at AARC as a counsellor for 4 years before becoming an Accounting Assistant for the organization.  

Meditation can, at first, appear so daunting and intimidating; attempting to begin can really stress some of us out. I hope to help clear up some of the preconceived notions and provide a little bit of a starting point. I don’t believe there is one right way to do things, especially with meditation and spiritual practices. Therefore, I will speak only to my own experiences.

Today, meditation means something different to me than it did when I first got sober. For the first couple of years, I thought that meditation was supposed to make me feel zen all the time and bring me to a state of bliss, peace, and joy. Why else would people do it, right? But I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, when I’ve used meditation with those intentions in mind, it simply became another form of escape from the displeasing parts of life and the desired result of consistent bliss was never achieved. This is one of the biggest reasons why many people write off meditation; especially those who have the mind of an addict. We are built with an expectation of instant gratification and struggle to accept anything less.

The biggest thing I failed to realize in early recovery was that meditation is meant, at least in the program, to help us attain greater levels of Higher Power-consciousness, as well as emotional balance. How would we achieve either of these things if we were engaging in our same old thinking of seeking out good feelings to escape bad ones?

In recovery, we are taught to discover how to “face life successfully.” To do that, we MUST learn to withstand all that life throws our way, and if we are meditating to escape reality, then we are not learning how to stay calm in the midst of chaos. The main way we can attain emotional balance and a better connection with our spirituality, is through facing reality. And reality, consists of good AND bad things. Gaining awareness of both, good and bad, is why this form of meditation has become known as “mindful”.

So, how exactly do we get started? It can be a bit of a struggle sometimes to actually get settled enough to sit and meditate. I have learned these simple instructions for starting meditation from many different practices and they work well for me. Try to keep it simple and remember there is no right or wrong in meditation. These are simply guidelines to help you get started and to help relieve some of the daunting feelings you may have towards beginning meditation. 

  • First, you should try to sit if possible. Lying down can cause you to fall asleep, which is fine if you are trying to fall asleep, but for mindful meditation it is best to be awake. There are a number of ways to sit, just make sure your hips are above your knees, as this will make it easier on your back. Try not to move too much once you have taken your seat; the goal is to try and stay still. Obviously, if you need to move or your foot is falling asleep or you’re in pain, then go ahead and move.
  • Then, I just try to bring my focus inwards a little bit, and focus lightly on my breath. There is no need to be extreme here, the goal isn’t to be perfect or to clear your mind, those aren’t the realities of the human experience. 
  • Then, you simply try to be aware of how it feels as you breathe in and out. Relax your shoulders, your stomach muscles, and your face muscles. You can scan your body in your mind to see how it feels and if you feel tension anywhere then just release it, and bring your focus back to your breath afterwards. As thoughts or feelings come up, don’t try to stop them. Simply notice that you are thinking, and then bring your attention back to your breath.
  • You can meditate by focusing lightly on your breath for however long you wish. I do find that longer than 5 minutes is more beneficial, as it often takes me about 5 minutes to even get settled in the first place. But if 5 minutes is literally all you have, it is better than nothing and I would just do it anyway!
  • If you would like to take it a bit further, I find it really helpful to notice what kinds of thoughts and feelings arise. For example, if you notice yourself worrying about the future, label the thoughts “worry,” and then bring your awareness back to your breath. Labeling our thoughts in this way helps us to notice what is going on in our head, as well as allows us to detach from the actual thought itself. Labeling our thoughts things like “worry,” or “irritability,” or even just “thinking,” invites us to become observers of our own minds, and helps us to see the thoughts for what they really are.

I find it so fascinating when I meditate like this because I start to see how my mind really works. I often don’t like what I see by the way. I see a mind that jumps all over the place; from one worry to another. I see anxiety, fear, anger, and many other thoughts and feelings that are unpleasant and don’t exactly feel calming or peaceful to think about.

We get so afraid of seeing things that we don’t want to see, or feeling things we don’t want to feel. But we need to switch that mindset. In recovery, I’ve been told that prayer is our way of talking to our Higher Power, and meditation is our way of listening. If your mind insists on wandering all over the place and you feel anxious and obsessed about past or future events, that is a good thing to realize. Stop and listen to what your mind may be trying to tell you. Meditation is our window through which we see what is blocking us from being truly happy. Your Higher Power is showing you what you need to work on and what might be holding you back; all you need to do is listen.