Aimless Wandering: a Mindfulness Practice for Early Addiction Recovery
We hear a lot about mindfulness in early addiction treatment. Simply put, mindfulness is the art of “making friends” with your experience, whatever it may be. It is the active practice of noticing what is happening in the present moment without judgement. Mindfulness practices have become integrated into many addiction treatments because they are highly effective in helping with a wide array of issues commonly encountered when recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to decrease substance use cravings, depression, anxiety, stress, and panic. It has also been shown to improve sleep, digestion, and immune response . In addition, mindfulness can lower blood pressure, help manage chronic pain, and increase positive experiences such as self-esteem, gratitude, and connectedness with self and others, all hugely useful in early addiction recovery!
One of the many experiential mindfulness exercises we practice at Flatirons Recovery is called aimless wandering. Aimless wandering grounds us in the present moment and helps us appreciate the world around us. It slows our thoughts down and it gives us a break from much of the stress of early addiction recovery. By engaging our curiosity, we find ourselves naturally inspired. We may see a spike in our creativity, playfulness, and gratitude. And at the end of it all, we are guaranteed a different perspective and a new appreciation of how beautiful the world can be through a sober lens.
To help understand aimless wandering, it is helpful to think about travel. When we are in a new city, or mountain valley, or country, we find it easy to reside in the present moment. Every detail around us is new and exciting. Foreign street corners speak in dreamy song; morning dew along our backcountry trail radiates a celestial presence so new, we mistake ourselves for being under a different sky. We are mesmerized—engulfed in each moment. We find the subtle beauty in those around us. Whether street vendors or pigeons or crashing waves, we eavesdrop as though opening our ears to prayer. When we travel, we do this naturally. Because we have set the intention to discover newness, whatever it may be. We put our expectations aside, and instead approach our wanderings with curiosity. We are outside of ourselves, interested in what every turn has to offer.
For many, substance use can provide a shortcut to this sort of curious wonder, temporarily making us feel more playful, carefree, and connected to the world around us. But this comes at a high cost, and we more often than not find our positive experience to be inauthentic, for it remains dependent on continuing use of the substance. In fact, it is not uncommon to find that after prolonged drug or alcohol abuse, it is more difficult than ever to connect to the everyday joys of the world, for our appreciation of them has been dampened and compromised by our addiction.
The mindfulness practice of aimless wandering is a way to bring these dreamy, traveling inspirations into our sober life. It is a way to restore natural, authentic, and lasting wonder in the world. In many forms of meditation and mindfulness practice, we place our attention on our inward experience, such as our breath or the sensations arising in our body. This is important, for it helps us to build tolerance of difficult experiences, such as substance cravings, anxiety, anger, and depression, among other things. In contrast, when we aimlessly wander, we the outside world be the focus of our thoughts. We take the world in, just as it is. we aimlessly wander, we usually move through space (although the practice can also be done sitting), and let our senses guide us. Simply put, we wander, taking the world in, just as it is.
In this way, we connect with our inner child: naturally curious, inspired, unassuming, amused, and attuned to the present moment. Aimless wandering is a particularly sweet mindfulness practice for early recovery because it reawakens the simple, everyday joys of sobriety, ones that can be found all around us.
So how do you do it? There is practically no wrong way to aimlessly wander. Simply focus your attention on your senses and explore! Take a walk. Pause to examine the things that catch your eye, your ears, or your sense of smell. Maybe you are pulled toward the swirly pattern of bark on the neighbor’s tree. Feels its texture! Let it remind you of something. Then let your thoughts go again, and keep wandering. Sit and watch the world when a bench or patch of grass calls your name. Smell the smells. Pretend you just landed in this neighborhood from another planet, and you are seeing earth for the first time. What baffles you? What makes sense to you? What draws you in, and what repulses you? Be curious, and then let the thought go, and continue moving, without needing to draw any definitive conclusions.
Wander for ten minutes on your lunch break. Wander after work, knowing you’ll end up home eventually. Wander with the dog, an equally inquisitive companion. Wander alongside your partner and family, detaching and reattaching like seaweed in the rocking tide of your curiosities. At the end, share with each other. Or journal and paint what you felt. Or just continue your practice, perhaps sitting on your porch, watching the leaves quiver in the wind.
At Flatirons Recovery, we harness all the beauty of the Boulder, Colorado area to help in the healing process. Hikes, nature walks, and simply being outside are integrated into our holistic recovery model to foster a sense of calm, curiosity, and connection with the wonders of world through a sober lens.