Daily meditation is something we know is helpful to addiction recovery. In fact, if you’re familiar with the 12 Steps, Step 11 is:
“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” (emphasis mine)
Many people of varying religious traditions may be quite familiar with prayer, but meditation might be something new for you, especially depending on your culture or spiritual background.
When I began my recovery, meditation was something that was hard for me to get into. I didn’t have a background in it, and whenever I thought of meditation, I pictured someone sitting in the lotus position for an hour trying desperately to clear their mind of all the stray thoughts that kept cropping up. It didn’t seem helpful or even possible, really.
But these days, after having experienced real benefits to daily meditation, I’m a believer. I also know meditation doesn’t have to be difficult.
If you’re like me, I hope you find these resources to be helpful in getting you started. These resources took me from zero meditation to meditating daily for an hour almost effortlessly.
They’re in no particular order, although I saved my favorite for last. I’m going to start with books and move to the audio resources I like.
I’d also point out that, even if you aren’t a recovering addict and are just looking for resources to get you into a solid meditation routine, these resources will be just as good for you.
There are several books and resources on the practice of centering prayer (also called contemplative prayer, although technically they are different), and I’m sure many of them are good. I’ve read several, myself, and all of them have been helpful. So, if you don’t like my recommendation or it just doesn’t resonate with you, there are plenty of resources on this topic that might be a better fit, and I encourage you to keep looking into it.
Depending on your spiritual background, you are probably familiar with the kind of prayer where you talk to your Higher Power. At base, this is basically what prayer is.
You may also be familiar with listening prayer – a phase of prayer where you are not talking but are internally attentive to thoughts or insights that are coming from your communion with your Higher Power.
Centering prayer is the practice of simply being silent and being with your Higher Power, allowing the simple sharing of each others’ presence to do its work. An analogy might be how two people who have a very intimate relationship can simply be present with one another, and that experience can grow their relationship.
The book that made it click for me is Cynthia Bourgeault’s Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, and that’s my recommendation to you. As I said, there are many books on this topic, and every one I’ve read has been helpful, so you really can’t go wrong. This is the one that really helped me get going with this practice.
Like most books on this topic, this is coming from a Christian perspective, which is also where I’m coming from, but it can easily work with other views of God.
If a belief in a Higher Power is not something you share or is part of your recovery, the practice of centering prayer is probably not your cup of tea, but keep reading, because I’ve got some resources for you, too.
Mindfulness and the 12 Steps
Whatever your feelings are about Buddhism, I think we can all agree that they know a thing or two about mindfulness and meditation.
The book Mindfulness and the 12 Steps by Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart is a very accessible book on addiction recovery meditation and increasing mindfulness. Although the book presents the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, it is not an “evangelistic” book about Buddhism and non-Buddhists will be able to use this material on their own with no problem.
This is a very helpful book on meditation and mindfulness and explicitly connects the exercises and practices with 12 Steps, but it does so from a perspective that does not bring a Higher Power into the practices. Of course, if you have a Higher Power, you can easily bring that into these practices as well, but Jacobs-Stewart does not.
Because of this, the book is sort of spiritually general, which may be attractive to some and unattractive to others. It is just as useful to a flat out atheist as it is to a Buddhist, and with some tweaking on your own is also useful to recovering addicts who are theists.
For those who are looking for a more explicitly Buddhist recovery practice, you might enjoy Darren Littlejohn’s The 12-Step Buddhist.
This is getting more toward the “prayer” side of things than the “meditation” side of things, and I recognize that.
But if you are maybe a little leery of meditation or you’d like to work on something a little more transitional than diving right into meditation, the practice of listening prayer is probably for you.
Listening prayer is more or less exactly what it sounds like. In listening prayer, you stop talking to your Higher Power and become quiet and attuned for thoughts, impressions, and insights that come from your time together. If you believe your Higher Power speaks to you in any sense, this is about creating the space and the right frame of mind and spirit for that to happen.
Listening prayer is a good transition into meditation because it teaches you how to be quiet, receptive, and focused in your spiritual practice while still being in the “prayer” category without having to dive into a full-blown meditation exercise.
Most resources in this area are coming from a Christian perspective but, just like with centering prayer, many of them can just as easily apply to different ideas about your Higher Power.
One resource that really does not transfer well to other faiths is also my top recommendation specifically for Christians, and that is Joyful Journey by E. James Wilder and other authors. As a Christian, myself, I found the book a terrific contribution to my faith and practice. If I were not a Christian, I’d probably have found the book to have little use and just been annoyed most of the time, so keep that in mind.
The reason I liked this book so much is that it pulls together three things that are so valuable in recovery: listening prayer, journaling, and the cultivation of joy.
One of the big struggles for recovering addicts is that we have low resilience. In other words, negative events tend to hit us really hard. All recovering addicts have to grow their resilience as part of their recovery.
Joyful Journey contributes to this by teaching the Christian how to grow joy as part of their spiritual and prayer practices, which is a huge asset for Christians who are recovering addicts. When your joy is high, your resilience is high, which means the power of your addiction is low. Plus, joy is a fruit of the Spirit, so there’s that.
This short book pulls together so many important facets of Christian growth and practice that I pretty much recommend it to Christians of all stripes, period, whether they’re in recovery or not.
However, if you want to practice listening prayer in a different faith tradition, a book you might find more useful is Leanne Payne’s Listening Prayer. It also comes from a Christian perspective but is much easier to transpose to other views of a Higher Power. Also, like Joyful Journey, it teaches you how to incorporate the practice of journaling into your prayer, which is also a very helpful recovery practice.
Like centering prayer, there are many books and resources on listening prayer, and I’ve yet to find a terrible one, so if neither of these recommendations work for you, dig around and find something that’ll fit you.
One resource I became aware of via the work of Dr. Eben Alexander (a neurosurgeon who had a near-death experience that shut his neocortex down) is the Hemi-Sync library of meditation tracks.
There’s plenty of detailed information and studies on how Hemi-Sync works, but the upshot is that the tones used in a Hemi-Sync track operate at a frequency designed to produce a frequency of brain waves that gets your brain into a state that the track is trying to promote.
The Hemi-Sync library covers a wide variety of applications, and that is how I recommend you use them. Come to their store with a specific purpose in mind and find the track that fits that purpose. There’s even a track about Breaking Free from Addictions, although I have not used this track myself.
In addition, there is a wide variety of tracks designed to help you get into a meditative state, so you can pick which ones you like based on things like the length of time, the “flavor” of the track, and if one doesn’t work for you, there are plenty more to choose from.
I can tell you from personal experience that this technology works. Whether it objectively works, or whether it works because I think it will work, or whether it’s a combination of the two – the bottom line is that it works.
There are two main reasons I recommend the Hemi-Sync library to you.
One is that they’ve applied this technology to such a wide variety of applications. Do you want to lower your stress? There’s a track for that. Do you want to stop smoking? There’s a track for that. Do you want to feel more positive throughout your day? There’s a track for that.
I have not used all these tracks and cannot personally vouch for all of them, but I can tell you the technology works, so if you find an area you’d like to improve on, I think you should be optimistic about the results these tracks will produce if you use them as directed.
The second reason is more specific to meditation. As someone who came to meditation by way of addiction recovery, I can tell you that it can be hard to get into a meditative state. You might be aware that the old school meditation practices could take years of practice before achieving the results of healthy meditation.
The plus side is that you truly trained your brain to very high levels of control, which is key for addiction recovery. The downside is that it took a long time to get there.
As more contemporary meditation practices have emerged, many of them have left behind the goal of truly clearing your mind and have focused more on the practice of letting stray thoughts go while you return to your focus. This still trains your brain but is a lot more achievable for most people.
Hemi-Sync technology basically creates this state without you even trying. The tones produce the brainwaves that a veteran meditation practitioner would produce in a meditative state. The disadvantage is that you miss out on the mental disciplines you might pick up on the journey to becoming a veteran meditator, but the advantage is that you enjoy professional-grade meditation benefits pretty much from Day One.
The hard truth is that many of us cannot or will not devote the time necessary to become proficient, disciplined, and effective meditators if it isn’t already part of our spiritual practices. We all have a limited amount of time, and we all have to prioritize what goes into that time.
Hemi-Sync technology allows you to get full meditation benefits right from the get go, and for people who can’t realistically devote themselves to the disciple of cultivating a deep meditative state on their own, this can be an incredibly useful tool.
I found out about Centerpointe’s HoloSync from strength coach and nutritional supplement designer Mike Mahler. At some point, I’ll talk more about Mike in an article about the physical components of addiction recovery. But for the purposes of this article, he was my introduction to HoloSync with the simple comment, “Meditation CDs that work.”
I hopped over to the website and tried their free demo. The very next day, I woke up completely refreshed and wide awake and ready to engage the day. Maybe you normally wake up that way, but I sure don’t, and it startled and amazed me enough to try their first MP3.
I will say I’ve yet to recreate that experience, although that may have something to do with the fact that I use the tracks first thing in the morning instead of in the middle of the day like I did with the demo. The point is that it disrupted my pattern enough to make me explore further.
HoloSync technology is basically a replication of the Hemi-Sync technology. There may be differences that escape me, and I’m sure Centerpointe would be happy to point out how their product is technologically different, but the basic idea is certainly the same – the tracks contain tones keyed to certain frequencies to generate brain activity at certain frequencies, thus taking you into a meditative state just from listening to the tracks.
Hemi-Sync takes a broad, topical approach to their product line, and HoloSync also offers some tracks for specific topics and purposes, but their flagship product is the one I use, which is a multi-step meditation program that I have used for over a year, now.
You begin with the Awakening – Prologue track that is a very gentle introduction into a meditative state. You stick with that track for a few months, getting used to it. Once you’re “used to it,” then you’re ready to move on to the next track that introduces lower tones and a slightly deeper state. You use that track for a few months until you get used to it, and then you’re ready for the next. And so on.
As you go through the program, you get bi-weekly emails from Centerpointe that explain what the track is doing and contain helpful information about meditation, issues related to meditation and mindfulness, advice, etc. You also have free access to specialists at Centerpointe who can answer your questions and even serve as a sounding board for your experiences.
I told you that Mike described HoloSync as “meditation CDs that work,” and I can completely sign on to that description. This program made an enormous, very perceptible difference in my resilience, attitude, and my ability to keep a nice, level emotional state in the middle of difficult circumstances. This difference is obvious to people around me as well.
I also noticed that my mindfulness increased as I began to meditate with these tracks. I discovered that, when bad things happened to me, there would be a pause where I could sense that I was about to react badly, and that pause allowed me to stop, breathe, think about what happened and how I wanted to respond, and do it.
That break in the cycle is so important to addiction recovery, because for an addict, the path from “negative emotion” to “using” is like a bobsled track. You start moving and can’t stop until you end up at the bottom. But that little pause lets me go, “Why do I feel what I’m feeling right now? Why do I want to act out? Is this a big deal? How do I want to deal with it? What’s something else I could do?”
It makes all the difference in the world.
HoloSync is also very non-intrusive. I just wake up and listen to the track for what is now an hour (you don’t start that way) while I’m lying in bed. That’s it. Sometimes I pray during that time. Sometimes I focus on specific things. Sometimes I even drift off and wake back up. It all works because it’s based on the brain activity the tones generate, not my ability to meditate.
This product made a huge difference for me, and I stand behind it. There’s a free demo you can try and see how it goes, or if you’d like to jump right in, here’s a discount page for Awakening Prologue.
The one potential downside is that the tracks are not cheap, especially compared to Hemi-Sync. But the program is structured and there are literally months between starting a track and being ready for the next one, so you can save up for it. There’s also a subscription model that discounts the price further. I buy the MP3 tracks only (not the CDs), which also takes the price down.
What About Apps?
There are many meditation apps out there: some are free, some are paid, some are more guided, some are less guided.
I have tried a few meditation apps and did not find any that kept me going.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t good meditation apps out there, nor does it mean that the ones I tried were bad. It just means I didn’t find any that kept me meditating and growing. HoloSync did that for me, and I’ve kind of camped out there.
I don’t feel comfortable recommending products that didn’t work for me or that I’m totally unfamiliar with, so that’s why there are no app recommendations, here. Do not let that discourage you, however. I have friends in recovery who really like certain meditation apps, and if there’s one you like, feel free to tell me about it in the Comments below this article.
Maybe it’ll make the next roundup!
There Are Lots of Good Resources
I want to close with a note that there are many good resources to help you get going in meditation. There are some that will work for you.
Just because I didn’t list a particular resource does not mean that it isn’t good; I’m just recommending to you the best things that have worked for me and helped me in my recovery.
Don’t let “finding the right resource” be a roadblock for you. Meditation is something that can enhance anyone’s life and is especially important to healing the thought processes of the recovering addict. Pick a starting point, grab a resource, try it out for a while, and if it doesn’t do it for you, try something else.
What has your experience been with these resources? Are there others you’d like to tell us about? Leave your thoughts in the Comments, below.