As twelve-step programs suggest, recovery happens “one day at a time.” This slogan is a reminder that no one needs to spend time worrying about not using for the rest of his or her life. The idea of “never using again” tends to be so big that for many people it can be overwhelming. Those new to recovery can easily become discouraged, anxious, fearful, angry, or resentful when they think in terms of not using forever more. It’s natural to think “There’s no way I’m never going to use again . . . the rest of my life . . . it’s just not possible!” Believe it or not, thinking about not using for the rest of one’s life is a waste of time and energy. Even if one is committed to remaining abstinent for the duration of their time here on Earth, the reality is that they only need to focus on not using today. As it relates to using, even thinking about tomorrow makes little sense insofar as it is impossible to use tomorrow until it arrives. And when tomorrow arrives, it’s now today. Though it is not necessarily easy, especially for those new to recovery, not using “just for today” is realistic and entirely possible. The idea of it is much less intimidating and much more attainable. The most effective way to accomplish any huge goal or project is to break it down into smaller, more manageable parts. This is also a clinical technique known as partializing. By not using just for today, one day at a time, many people put together many years of recovery, and many never use again. Yes, recovery, and indeed life, occurs one day at a time. But really, they happen one moment at a time. Life unfolds in this very moment, right here and right now. And the vast majority of people are missing it. They are caught up in thinking about what happened in the past—a minute ago, an hour ago, yesterday, last week, two months ago, last year—or what may happen in the future—in a few minutes, an hour from now, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. This is so common and so normal that often we don’t even realize we’re engaged in it. It happens automatically and unconsciously. Thoughts about what has happened or might happen pop into our heads and we run with them, often to cognitive and emotional places that have nothing whatsoever to do with this moment. We are somewhere other than here and now. This phenomenon occurs with such stunning regularity that for many, if not most people, it’s standard operating procedure. And it disconnects us from life in the present. There are many ways in which staying in the moment promotes health, healing, and recovery. The mind has to stop or at least slow way down before the heart can fully open. Staying in the moment provides freedom from the prisons of the past and fantasies of the future. It bestows respite from being trapped in the emotions associated with past events, such as resentment, guilt, shame, and regret, as well as those feelings linked with the future, primarily anxiety and fear. Everyone has a past, and it’s okay and even healthy to visit it from time to time in order to better understand it, put it in perspective, and learn from it. And obviously, looking at and planning for the future is important and positive. It’s when so much time is spent in the past or the future that our conscious focus is distracted from the here and now that it becomes problematic. Besides, until someone learns how to change the past, it’s as good as it’s ever going to get. It’s impossible to change what happened yesterday or know with any certainty what will happen tomorrow. When we aren’t paying conscious attention to the present moment, we are effectively sleepwalking, even when we are wide awake. When we’re focused on the past or the future, we are cut off from the possibilities inherent in this moment—unable to see it and experience it for what it is; separated from the opportunities it presents. We may be with someone physically, but somewhere else and perhaps with someone else mentally and emotionally. How many times have you been driving and missed your intended turn or exit, or came close to missing it, because you weren’t paying enough attention to the here and now? How many fender benders and other more serious traffic accidents occur because drivers are mentally somewhere else, not focused on the present moment? This is instructive of how not being present-centered can interfere with attention and performance to the point where it becomes a form of impairment. Fortunately, the potential for learning, growing, and healing exists in each and every moment. Even though we may have spent the last few minutes somewhere else—in the past or the future—as soon as we become aware of it, we can make a conscious choice to shift our focus to be present- centered in the here and now. The value of conscious present-centered awareness, also known as mindfulness, is ancient wisdom, deriving from the spiritual traditions of Taoism in China in 600 BCE and Buddhism in India in 500 BCE. You have heard about or read the book, “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass. Before the author of the book became Ram Dass, yogi and spiritual teacher, he was Richard Alpert, PhD, a prominent psychologist at Harvard University. At Harvard, Alpert’s explorations of human consciousness led him to conduct intensive research with LSD and other psychedelic substances in collaboration with fellow Harvard psychologist member Timothy Leary. Because of the highly controversial nature of their research, both were fired from Harvard in 1963. Leary and Alpert had determined that the use of psychedelic drugs was a direct route to spiritual enlightenment, and their goal was to find a way to remain in an ongoing LSD-induced state of expanded consciousness. But no matter how much acid they took, it always wore off, ultimately leaving Albert dissatisfied and despondent, and sparking an alternative quest for spirituality that led him to question many of his assumptions about himself and life. In 1967, he traveled to India where he met his spiritual teacher or guru. So spiritually evolved was this individual that even a monstrous dose of the purest LSD seemed to have no effect on him, because he was “already there.” Albert embarked on a rigorous path of spiritual study and practice that included meditation, yoga, and pranayama (focused intentional breathing practices) that led to his transformation to Baba Ram Dass. His mission became to make Eastern spirituality more accessible to Western culture. “Remember, Be Here Now”, first published in 1971, was a groundbreaking manifestation of that mission. At the heart of this trance-inducing work is the transformative power of a conscious appreciation of the present moment and the importance of remaining centered in it. Among its array of consciousness-raising content, “Remember, Be Here Now” explained the value of intentional silence and the direct connection between silence and present-centered awareness/mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of awareness based on paying conscious attention to one’s internal and external experience. It creates a receptive space in which one observes thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations as they are, without judging or trying to suppress or deny them. It is direct contact, unobstructed by thoughts and judgments, with ourselves and the world around us. Mindfulness practice cultivates the ability to observe and accept the ongoing unfolding of one’s experience without becoming over-identified with or attached to the content of thoughts, emotions, and sensory experiences. It stimulates the recognition that thoughts and feelings come and go of their own accord. This is especially relevant for people struggling with addiction and/or chronic pain—mindfulness practice helps develop the skill of observing urges to avoid or suppress emotional and physical pain and ride these urges out, rather than act on them reflexively and unconsciously, often by using. Such urges to numb or escape by using are like waves on an ocean beach: they rise, crest, crash, and recede. By facilitating conscious awareness with a detached nonjudgmental perspective, mindfulness mitigates the tendency to get caught up in vicious circles of anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, regret, and shame that render those in recovery from addiction and/or chronic pain more vulnerable to using. Mindfulness is the present-centered awareness that awakens the individual from the sleep of habitual responses—responses that are conditioned by beliefs and expectations with origins in the past that become projected onto the future. This blog post is an excerpt from Some Assembly Required – A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain by By Dan Mager, MSW; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).