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Meditation to help change behaviour?

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Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/2/10 1:59 AM
Hi,

I wonder wether anybody has experiences to change specific behaviours through meditation.
As we know certain meditations - brahmavihara/divine abodes - are there to cultivate loving kindness, sympathetic joy etc.

Can one do something similar with e.g. smoking cigarettes? For example, could meditating on giving up smoking, the unhealthyness etc. help to quit smoking?

Thx
Sven

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/2/10 11:52 AM as a reply to S. Pro.
S. Pro:

Can one do something similar with e.g. smoking cigarettes? For example, could meditating on giving up smoking, the unhealthyness etc. help to quit smoking?

It may help in the sense that providing the mind with a resolution may help one to cut back and to eventually quit smoking. But I wouldn't hang my hat solely on the possibility for such an outcome.

What is better is making a personal, conscious commitment to stopping smoking, keeping in mind that much of the difficulty in achieving this is rooted in the physical and mental addiction to the drugs that commercial cigarettes are laced with. It's as much a physical addiction for the body to overcome as it is a mental addiction for the mind to overcome. You have to wean the body off the physical addiction before the mental reconditioning can begin to help make the change more permanent. Undergoing that physical weaning off period will be the most difficult part of the process. One should understand this going in, and deport oneself accordingly.

One thing that may help you to get a better grasp of this process is to contemplate and penetrate the benefit that you perceive cigarettes provide for you. Like, "the feeling" of taking that first puff of the day, or the first puff off a cigarette you've just lit up. Explore that "feeling" in contemplative meditation and get to know how it arises and how it subsides. Get to know everything you can about it. Once you can identify the "players" (motivating factors) involved in this addiction, then it can become much easier to effectively deal with them. For instance, find something in the practice meditation (e.g. the development of laser-beam-like concentration) that mimics the benefit you perceive that cigarettes provide and work on developing that ability through the natural means of meditation.

I've never smoked as an ongoing practice. But I did try lighting up a cigarette a couple of times to see what the effect was. There's a physical sensation of having achieved a kind of high when you first light up and take that first puff, isn't there. Explore that sensation in contemplation and learn more about it. See if it cannot also be reproduced through a deeper practice in meditation and concentration. You may be surprised by what you learn.

But just remember, working at breaking the physical addiction is just as important, if not more so, as finding a wholesome replacement for the perceived benefit of smoking. It's going to take hard work at both ends of the scale.

Anyway, good luck.

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/3/10 12:56 AM as a reply to S. Pro.
I do know of a few cases of spontaneous addiction reduction and sometimes elimination post various events, such as the A&P. However, nicotine seems to be strangely addictive, and so I wouldn't count on it and would try more standard and predictable methods, such as not smoking, Chantix (albeit with awareness of potential side effects), etc.

D

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/4/10 3:31 PM as a reply to S. Pro.
When i did my first Goenka course, I realized very quickly... "all be damned! This is how I quit smoking!" I didn't even know it, but I was basicallly doing vipassana Goenka style. That is to say, I was observing the sensations in my body as I smoked, and not craving after the pleasant sensations and not avoiding the unpleasant ones... just observing sensations. And, I realized that smoking was totally pointless, so I quit, March 2007 and never smoked since.

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/11/10 11:24 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Hi Ian

thanks for taking the time to write that detailed reply.

I guess it is a good idea to look at the feeling the inhalation of smoke produces.
Anyway, I just had a session with Kenneth via Skype and did some excercises.
Breaking down perceptions. I´ll try to keep applying this when I smoke. The problem is that when I smoke it is a very unconscious thing as I´m generally doing lotsa other stuff.


Cheers
Sven

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/11/10 11:55 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
I do know of a few cases of spontaneous addiction reduction and sometimes elimination post various events, such as the A&P. However, nicotine seems to be strangely addictive, and so I wouldn't count on it and would try more standard and predictable methods, such as not smoking, Chantix (albeit with awareness of potential side effects), etc.

D


Hi Daniel,

thanks for the reply. I also heard of cases of spontaneous reduction of addiction, e.g. Shinzen and KF.

I also wouldn´t count on meditation alone to bring that kind of change. Hell, use all fireing power you have!

However, my question was intended to be more general. I didn´t put it that way though.
Since meditation seems to be an enormously powerful technology, I wonder in what ways it can be applied in the "worldly" sense. To bring change on the level of psychology. For instance to address issues such as the self-image. In my case I´m overly self critical to a degree that is self damaging. Can that be changed through meditation? I guess metta meditation is something that goes into that direction as it cultivates self-compassion.

Any ideas on that?

Yours
Sven

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/12/10 10:39 AM as a reply to S. Pro.
Self criticism can definitely be very much reduced by meditation, by cognitive behavioral therapy, and other techniques, such as "silly vs sensible", and the like.

Metta is a good way to do this, with many reporting that it made them much more able to be kind to themselves and others.

What do you think is at the root of of the self criticism?

Daniel

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/12/10 9:47 PM as a reply to S. Pro.
Each of us learns we are ok (or not ok) early in life, through the reflection of other people, usually our primary caregivers. If the caregivers are themselves lacking in self-esteem or self-acceptance, the child absorbs this attitude (not knowing he has a choice) and holds it as his own undisputed belief. There need not be any mistreatment or neglect. In fact the care may be excellent.

To get self esteem happening later in life requires that you do something to make other people like you and connect with you. I'd recommend embodying any change you'd like to see. How would you behave/talk/walk/sit/stand/play/dance/smile/eat... if you knew everyone already liked you? Behave that way. The second you behave that way, people respond to you differently. It feels good and boosts your esteem. It's rapid response treatment but requires a lot of repetition.

When everyone likes you, only then worry about destroying your ego through meditation! emoticon [Bruno and I have been chatting offline about this very topic, and while still opposed, we seem to be reaching a middle ground!].

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/13/10 3:33 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:

What do you think is at the root of of the self criticism?

Daniel


Hi Daniel,

thanks! Maybe it´s a genetic predisposition. But what I´m sure of is that it, as CCC also mentions below your post, has to do with my parents. I unconsciously absorbed their values I guess. So I unconsciously live according to other peoples´ values and not mine.
This results in an unfogiving criticism, being doomed to succeed on a materialistic level. Success and career are very important. Not so much individualism, whatever that means. So we´re very bourgeois instead freethinkers.

Take care
Sven

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/17/10 1:53 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
Hi CCC

I don´t have the problem that people don´t like me. But yeah, my mom lacks self-esteem and my dad looks down on people how are not very successful materialisticly. Even if they live a happy and fulfilled life.

I want to add that I don´t want to make psychology threat thread in a meditation forum like this.

Thanks
Sven

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
11/16/10 12:22 AM as a reply to S. Pro.
Current thought on the influence of genetics on psychology does not suggest that the likelihood to be self-critical has genetic components. There are genetic components to a person's likelihood of experiencing negative emotions (a personality trait called neuroticism) or developing mood disorders. But something like self-criticism is very likely to be almost entirely a learned behavior.

Like Daniel said, cognitive-behavioral therapy is a great way of dealing with unpleasant things like self-criticism and the problems they create. If it's not a severe problem, you could probably get most of the benefits of CBT from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy or the Feeling Good Handbook. To my knowledge, those two are the only self-help books that have ever been tested as a form of psychotherapy, and if you do the exercises they're about as good as the average therapist. Which means they're better than a sucky therapist, but of course not as good as a brilliant one. So if you want the benefits of an average therapist, plop down about $15 and get one of the Feeling Good books. And do the exercises. If you just read the book without doing the exercises, there's no guarantee that the benefits will last longer than a week or so. If you do the exercises, and go back to them whenever you need them again, the benefits won't go away even in the long term.

Back to meditation, the benefits of metta have already been discussed here. Like the jhanas, the brahma-viharas perform as advertised. If you spend some time concentrating every day on lovingkindness, or compassion, or sympathetic joy, or equanimity, then you'll have more of that in your every day life even off the cushion. Metta and Karuna are especially good for self-criticism and related habits.

Another beneficial type of meditation for dealing with problem behaviors is "gentle awareness" or "open awareness," though it takes noticeably longer to become effective than CBT or brahma-vihara practice. It does help you notice whenever you're doing the habitual behavior, and also notice your responses to the behavior. Over a longer timespan, this will help you notice things that are and are not helpful to you whenever you encounter a trigger for the habitual behavior. Chances are, you'll find that substituting a new habit whenever you start to do the old, undesired habit is a key technique for changing behavior. Off-cushion mindfulness will help you see how well that strategy is working, and avoid getting caught up in unhelpful thoughts about the old habit.

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
12/17/10 6:36 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
Adam,

thanks for the reply. Yes, I assume that brahma vihara practice might be a big help and I´ll try it out.
I also got a pdf-copy of the book you recommended and will check it out.

Yours
Sven

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
12/17/10 12:19 PM as a reply to Daniel Johnson.
Just my own personal experience with this:
I had a very strong addiction to Marijuana and nicotine as well (I used to smoke weed with tobacoo). After my first Goenka retreat I was able to stop smoking cigs & weed (after many unsuccessful attempts) for about 6 months (longest time ever), then had a relapse, but everytime I would go on a retreat I would get much strength in fighting my addictions. Nowadays I don't smoke at all, and I attribute much of that to my meditative practice.

I think the most important factor with addictions is wanting to stop, really, really bad. Trying to do so again and again and again, no matter how many times one has relapsed back into the habit.

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
12/18/10 7:04 PM as a reply to S. Pro.
Meditation gave me the mental strength to stick to giving up smoking while the body went through bad withdrawals having suddenly stopped smoking after 30 years.

1 Year later and still smoke free.

What also helped was the knowledge that the mind can only hold one thought at a time (that thought being anything other then thinking about smoking)

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
12/22/10 3:14 PM as a reply to S. Pro.
S. Pro:


I don´t have the problem that people don´t like me. But yeah, my mom lacks self-esteem and my dad looks down on people how are not very successful materialisticly. Even if they live a happy and fulfilled life.



May I suggest reading, or familiarizing yourself with, Alice Miller's "The Drama of the Gifted Child"?

Our society is steeped in Narcisism; which isn't so much being in love with yourself as per the pop-culture reading of the Greek Myth, but more an inability to stand on your own two feet, create a stable self, establish boundaries for your concept of self, etc. which leads to acting out in the way your mom/dad do...and it's passed down from generation to generation.

It also is easily explained through the 3 Characteristics...but reading about it in more of a cultural context might be helpful for you to understand the mind-f*cking you've been receiving from a very early age. It's not your fault, or your responsibility...your parents probably learned it from theirs. But you have the ability to break the cycle and respond differently. From your picture, it looks like you're in your early 30's. It's totally natural to be going through the process of separating from your parents at this stage in your life. It's unsettling, but you're in a unique position to work through it from an insight practice AND a psychological-understanding type practice at the same time. It can be very helpful to get the advice of someone who is looking at your situation through more objective eyes...especially if you can find a therapist who also understands the dharma to some extent.

This is exactly what I've been going through for the past 6 months. I got to a point in my meditation practice where going deeper into the 3Cs meant uncovering all this repressed childhood stuff that was still deeply affecting the stability of my mind and my ability to "be happy/content/functional" in my daily life. I don't know where that put me on the maps, but I decided to double down on the psychotherapy, spend some time exploring and digging things up, etc. Was it the best way to go? Dunno. But I am finding that now as I go back into more concentrated formal sitting practice, I'm able to make more peace with some of what arises...and in my daily life, I'm better able to accept the 3Cs as they apply to having a relationship with family, friends, and co-workers.

I may have moved through it all more quickly by just sticking straight to the insight program, noting, etc.; but at the time things seemed to be falling apart in a way I wasn't really able to deal with...may have been heavy dark night stuff...either way, I feel more whole/complete (the "I" I inhabit in the world anyway ;) ) now, so maybe it's worth a shot to work a bit on understanding things from a non-buddhist point of view (while still relating them back to the 3Cs to check that you aren't fooling yourself too much or getting off into distractions).

Don't know if all that made much sense, but feel free to ask clarifying questions...

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
12/22/10 6:06 PM as a reply to S. Pro.
S. Pro:

I guess it is a good idea to look at the feeling the inhalation of smoke produces.
Anyway, I just had a session with Kenneth via Skype and did some excercises.
Breaking down perceptions. I´ll try to keep applying this when I smoke. The problem is that when I smoke it is a very unconscious thing as I´m generally doing lotsa other stuff.


Cheers
Sven
In my experience with transforming any of these kinds of addictive or habitual patterns it has been important to first of all make every effort to shift from acting, as you have said, unconsciously. I would suggest first of all maintaining the resolve to practice smoking consciously. That effectively means changing, by retraining the way and the when that you smoke. When smoking is engaged in liberally and together with other activities it is difficult to observe the specific thoughts and sensations related to the smoking pattern clearly and objectively so the pattern continues to be woven deeply together with the other aspects of day to day life.

Simply by making the transition from smoking in concert with other activities to only smoking when you do smoke it becomes possible to focus entirely on the nature of the act of smoking itself. In this way the overall pattern shifts from an unconscious one to a conscious one. It is then possible to treat the activity in the same way as a meditation. When you do this it becomes much more viable to observe how little conscious attention you have typically been bringing to the pattern of activity and you will be able to increase and deepen that conscious attention. As with breath meditation and/or vipassana you will then be able to observe both pleasant and unpleasant sensations arising from the action and further note various effects that the drug has on the mind and body both during smoking and throughout the day.

Also, by shifting to smoking very attentively you can begin to trace out the moments preceding the act of smoking such as the initial arising of the inclination to smoke and the build up of the desire and moment of the resolution to actually perform the act of smoking. Also you will then be able to prolong the interval before each act of smoking thereby reducing the amount you smoke and gaining increased conscious control over the activity. A pattern or process like this can even be traced further back to reveal the triggers or various causes for the initial arising of the desire and the eventual determination to smoke. There is a lot of room for developing beneficial insights and concentration skills in taking on patterns like this which have both intense physical and intense mental components. I encourage you to work on it, regardless of the outcome I think you will find it can provide you with some very useful skills and forms of understanding.

I still smoke, I simply really like it, much more than most people, and always have since the first time I smoked. I have stopped for long periods but I have returned to it because I like it. I find most of the sensations pleasant and I have engaged in it in the same way as with any other form of meditation for a long time. It has always been a great excuse for going off somewhere to sit quietly alone for ten or fifteen minutes. I don't smoke heavily so when I do smoke I give it my full attention, from the initial arising of the physical and mental causes for the inclination to smoke through to the extinguishing of the burning coals. I have derived many insights from the patterns inherent in the process of smoking. It is basically a relationship with various chemicals and elements much like any other.

I realize that, as a form of meditation, it is probably quite unconventional but then I've never been at all interested in conformity for conformity's sake. Overall I've found many parallels to most of the other patterns of relations and of thought and action knowable through existing. From the arising of the initial inclination 'to be smoking' to the extinguishing of the coals of the fire of desire realized, smoking consciously has been as instructive as has been engaging consciously and meditatively in any other active pattern or process. Smoking consciously and meditatively I have typically found it very easy to reduce smoking to a very minimal level. At that point, stopping entirely, if that is one's objective, is relatively straightforward and readily achievable.

upekkha

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
12/23/10 11:20 AM as a reply to triple think.
triple think:

I still smoke, I simply really like it, much more than most people, and always have since the first time I smoked. I have stopped for long periods but I have returned to it because I like it. I find most of the sensations pleasant and I have engaged in it in the same way as with any other form of meditation for a long time. It has always been a great excuse for going off somewhere to sit quietly alone for ten or fifteen minutes. I don't smoke heavily so when I do smoke I give it my full attention, from the initial arising of the physical and mental causes for the inclination to smoke through to the extinguishing of the burning coals. I have derived many insights from the patterns inherent in the process of smoking. It is basically a relationship with various chemicals and elements much like any other.


Hey Nathan,
Interesting post.
Do you not mind the bad smell and horrible health effects which may come as a result of smoking?

(By no means do I mean to be condescending or sarcastic - I am just really interested in your view on this.)

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
12/23/10 2:09 PM as a reply to Yadid dee.
Hey Nathan,
Interesting post.
Do you not mind the bad smell and horrible health effects which may come as a result of smoking?

(By no means do I mean to be condescending or sarcastic - I am just really interested in your view on this.)

I like the smell and it repels many other people which is even better, I think I would miss that effect the most. In the current socio-political climate smoking totally shatters all potential for the arising of any 'holier than thou' bs, which is invaluable. I still attribute all of the inevitable horrible health effects to birth, call me old fashioned. I found it interesting, in Bangkok for instance, trying to smoke in an environment almost completely devoid of oxygen. After that, I knew humanity was already fully prepared to move to mars and start over. I'm pretty sure that more carbon monoxide and toxic material is exhausted from starting a car than in a year of heavy smoking. That said, perhaps I will one day switch to jogging down the side of the freeway simply because it is a faster and cheaper way to get thoroughly poisoned. I'd do it now if there were tobacco burning hybrids.

: )

RE: Meditation to help change behaviour?
Answer
12/30/10 2:36 AM as a reply to triple think.
triple think:

I realize that, as a form of meditation, it is probably quite unconventional

It's more shamanic than noting practice, sure, in other traditions and communities it's very frequent. Most of the Indian yogis I got to know are sincere smokers, not as a hobby (for fun), but as their lifestyle. Regarding their health, they have to do 30-60 minutes of cleansing techniques daily and can be extremely fit till the age of 70, 80 or above.