Chönyi Taylor presents a meditation to familiarize yourself with the triggers that set off addictive behaviors.
The triggers for our addictions are those things or thoughts that set off an automatic reaction in such a way that we find ourselves in our addictive pattern without knowing how we got there.
The triggers might be external, or internal, or both. An external event such as a song can set off an internal trigger such as loneliness. We may not be aware of hearing the song, just that the feeling of loneliness has welled up again and we want to escape from it. We may not be aware of the loneliness, just the thought of wanting to fix some dissatisfaction. We may not be aware of the dissatisfaction, just of taking or doing whatever will ease it. We may not even be aware of what we’re doing, but then suddenly realize we are back in the grip of addiction.
If we can identify the trigger, we can disarm its effect and no longer be caught in that particular compulsion. To find what triggers our addiction, we need to sit and contemplate. As we identify the immediate triggers, we often find other, more subtle ones. Sometimes when people discover another trigger, they feel that what they did before was wrong or a waste of time. Don’t get caught in that trap. Any addiction usually has more than one trigger.
Meditation for Finding Triggers
This meditation focuses on what happened just before you indulged in your addiction so that you can identify the immediate trigger.
Begin by thinking about how your addiction has harmed you or others, and how you would like to stop creating harm in this way. Generate the motivation to first clear obstacles from your mind that stop you from thinking clearly and then to fill your mind with love and wisdom. Tune in to the energy of pure compassionate wisdom, feeling that you are being nurtured by this energy.
Slow your mind down by being aware of your breathing for a few minutes. Now bring to mind a recent time when you indulged in your addiction and focus on the moment when you started. Go back a fraction of time to when you were just about to engage in your addiction. Meditate on that moment.
Try to build up a vivid awareness of your surroundings at that time. Imagine this past event as a present experience. Where are you? Are there people around or are you alone? What can you see? What smells are there? What taste is in your mouth and what sounds can you hear? Is your body aching, or numb? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable? Any of these things might be an external trigger. View the trigger with equanimity. Stay with your awareness of this for as long as you can.
Continue by building up a vivid awareness of what was happening in your mind at that time. Did you have any pain? Were you stressed? Were you winding down? Were you winding up? Had you just had a fight? Were you lonely? Had someone disappointed you or had you disappointed yourself? Was there someone or some people you were trying to impress? Did you feel cheated by life? Were you unable to cope? What else?
Any of these might be internal triggers. View them with equanimity. Stay with your awareness of that moment as long and as vividly as you can. Know clearly those aspects of the moment that were triggers setting you off into the addiction. Acknowledge to yourself that this is your reality, and addiction is, or has been, the way in which you cope with your reality.
Closing the Meditation
Allow yourself to abide in the energy of pure compassionate wisdom. Imagine this energy being absorbed into your body and healing all hurt and pain and sickness. Allow your body to feel relaxed, at ease. Imagine this energy of pure compassionate wisdom being absorbed into every part of your mind, healing all negative emotions and leaving your mind peaceful and calm. Rest in that state as long as you can.
Take pleasure in what you have achieved in this meditation, even if parts of what you remembered were painful. Make a conscious choice to use the energy that comes from this pleasure to continue making positive changes to your life.
Further Work on Finding Triggers
This meditation needs to be repeated often if you want to get a better feeling for the addiction triggers. As you become more aware of the moments before you fall into your addictive pattern, you can more easily change the pattern. As you repeat the meditation, take it back to just before the moment that preceded the addictive behavior, then a fraction earlier than that, then a fraction earlier still, and so on. As you do this, you gain more power to protect yourself from the compulsiveness of an addictive pattern. You can keep uncovering levels of dissatisfaction and pain. Having done that, you can start to find other ways of dealing with dissatisfaction and pain.
This teaching is adapted from Chönyi Taylor’s book Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Finding Release from Addictive Patterns, published by Snow Lion, reprinted with permission.