LNG: You have intimate experience with drug rehabilitation programs, having worked as a drug counselor and as a research assistant for the first national multi-clinical trial of buprenorphine, a drug under study for use with heroin addiction. You also wrote a book, Methadone and You: A Drug Counselor’s Guide, which discusses methadone treatment and recovery issues for methadone clients.
Oregon and other states are turning to acupuncture as one non-drug modality to treat heroin addiction. Other therapies that have been used include biofeedback, meditation, nutrition and both group and individual counseling. With all of these options available, how will the clinics of the future be treating drug addiction?
GAB: Acupuncture is being more frequently used to mitigate symptoms of drug withdrawal, with mixed results. Additionally, some drug programs and individual doctors and therapists are introducing some of these other modalities. Meditation and biofeedback are being used to lower stress without resorting to drugs. Nutritional supplementation is being explored as a means to lessen withdrawal symptoms, and to counteract the deficits from addict’s legendary poor dietary habits. Group and individual counseling are becoming increasingly available at methadone clinics, and other community-based drug treatment programs—research suggests treatment outcomes are better when counseling is coupled with methadone administration, for example.
The problem with heroin addiction is that the cravings for the drug can be turned on again by several means.
Environmental cues, such as seeing a white powder spilled on the table, or seeing a hypodermic needle in a doctor’s office, can trigger craving for heroin.
Somatic symptoms like those of gastroenteritis (stomach flu) or the leg cramps runners get can make ex-heroin users believe they are going through withdrawals, and will drive them to seek a fix.
Emotional pain and stress, which can evoke feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, or depression or angry reactions of revenge or spite, can lead addicts to seek to deaden these unpleasant feelings with a narcotic.
Addicts may resume drug use when they experience existential or spiritual vacuum, marked by feelings of lacking a purpose or meaning in life, being without love, or a pervasive sense of emptiness or ennui.
Social influence often triggers recidivism, as active heroin users love to turn their friends on, even those who are “in recovery.”
Certain intrinsic factors also play a role in relapse. Many recovering addicts tell us they continue to rely solely on their notoriously weak will power to overcome their addiction—even when repeated experience has shown to them that their addiction is stronger than their volition, and that when presented with temptation, they almost invariably capitulate.
The lack of genuine commitment to abstinent recovery is also clearly evident in methadone patients. Given that methadone is relatively inexpensive, legal, it keeps away the withdrawal symptoms reasonably well, and it numbs the physical and emotional pain of living, why would any self-respecting dope addict want to face the uphill battle of struggling to stay clean without their “daily dose”?
With such a multi-factored equation, single treatment approaches alone are not adequate. Advocates of these “only approaches” such as meditation, acupuncture, counseling, or 12-step group attendance find that addicts swiftly, almost predictably, return to active use.
Putting together a multifaceted program today that would address each of these avenues of potential relapse would be prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest addicts.
Given also that the insurance industry’s reluctance to fund risky new ventures, and the relative ease and low cost with which methadone programs can be started and administered, the political and economic winds are blowing fiercely against innovation. The status quo methadone approach is embraced even though a new comprehensive treatment approach could improve the permanent abstinence rate of addicts above the dismal one to ten percent produced by current drug treatment programs.
The question is, are we as a society, and is the drug treatment community, willing to do what it takes to beat heroin and other drug addictions? Something has got to change. We must develop new, more effective approaches for the future. It is clear that as long as people continue to crave drugs, they will find ways to get them—regardless of punitive laws, the threat of imprisonment and confiscation of property, and heroic interdiction efforts by law enforcement agencies.
It is the individual addicts that must change. They must learn new ways of coping, find out how to face life’s problems without anesthetizing their bodies, their emotions, their minds and their hearts with drugs. This is what we must ultimately provide them in treatment, if we are to help them at all. Meditation can be an invaluable tool in giving addicts new coping skills, a renewed sense of inner direction, and would be a key component in any comprehensive treatment program.
LNG: Exactly what purpose does/can meditation serve in recovery?
GAB: Meditation is a most powerful tool to help individuals develop emotional coping skills, to deal with lack of meaning, to reawaken their contact with a Higher Power. It has clear, ongoing, usefulness in recovery from addictions. My book, Meditation for Recovery, teaches 23 meditation methods that are directly applicable to situations encountered by individuals during the recovery process.
Meditation is being successfully used as a component in drug rehabilitation by the 3HO Foundation in Tucson, Arizona, and internationally by such exponents as Yogacharya Droopnath Naga in Mauritius and Australia.
LNG: How do your own clients respond to meditation?
GAB: I have used meditation in my private practice in both individual consultation and group training formats. As a drug counselor, I instructed interested patients in basic stress reduction, emotional calming and centering methods. Clients introduced to meditation nearly unanimously tell me that they find meditation very helpful to them, and consider it very valuable.
LNG: Can you give me a specific example of the successful use of one of your techniques in a situation you’ve encountered in the recovery process?
GAB: In working with one of my former methadone clients, I used meditation tapes with once-weekly meditation sessions to help her combat feelings of anxiety and stress. She reported that after five weeks of listening to the meditation tapes I had prepared for her in the evenings, together with weekly fifteen minute sessions of guided meditation with me, she could sleep better.
She stated she felt more relaxed in situations where she formerly would become anxious and upset and related feeling much less stressed out. I have found for some clients, the use of a meditation tape is a valuable adjunct to in-office meditation training, which helps them more readily integrate the practice of meditation into their lives.
LNG: Your workshop, “Meditation for Therapists,” is geared toward psychologists in private practice who wish to incorporate meditation techniques with their psychotherapy. How can offering meditation guidance improve a therapist’s practice?
GAB: Psychotherapy has been influenced by meditation since early in its history. Therapists like Roberto Assagioli, Hanscarl Leuner, and Carl Jung introduced guided imagery and other meditative approaches to the therapy session early in their careers. Abraham Maslow underlined the centrality of higher order experience in achieving actualization and transcendence, for which meditation is a natural partner.
Meditation introduces a non-verbal, experiential and insightive component to traditional talk therapy. It is a cousin of hypnosis that has already gained wide acceptance in the therapeutic milieu.
Meditation’s special strength is its ability to powerfully focus the attention. This has the potential to accelerate the therapeutic process by more quickly getting right to the nub of the problem, instead of becoming sidetracked by the client’s defenses against change. I introduce and train therapists in six evocative and insightive methods (with their variations) that have special relevance for psychotherapy in my workshop, Meditation for Therapists. [George published a book on this topic in 2012,
Meditation for Therapists: Theory and Application.]
LNG: Is your approach to meditation different from the way other groups such as Transcendental Meditation™; describe and teach it?
GAB: The Mudrashram® System of Integral Meditation that I teach is a comprehensive approach to meditation training and accelerating the process of spiritual evolution.
It combines theoretical or cognitive models that can be grasped by the intellect and intuition, with training in multiple meditation techniques, and Light Immersion, which accelerates the student’s spiritual progress, and deepens his or her meditation experience.
The Mudrashram® Master Course in Meditation introduces the student to ten major varieties of meditation, teaches 28 meditation techniques, and provides seven Light Immersion sittings for each aspect of the spiritual work.
The Light Immersion sitting has been used since ancient times as a way of transmitting the Grace and transformational Power of the Divine to the student. It is what creates a living spiritual tradition. Whether you call it Spirit, Shaktipat, the gift of the Holy Spirit, Baraka, the Grace of the Master, the Light—this component of spiritual work, in my opinion, is fundamental and essential.
Scriptures the world over testify to the quintessential value of a living Master teacher who can transmit the energies of the Spirit to us.
Meditation is not a unitive system; it does not consist of only one technique. Rather, there are meditation methods to access and develop each facet of our personality and our spiritual being. To create balanced development, we must address each of these needs, develop each of these potentials of our nature.
This is the great strength of an Integral meditation system. It gives us lasting tools to fully actualize our potential in a balanced, complete way. It takes all the melodies of meditation, and pulls them together into a harmonious symphony. It provides a synthesis of the essential forms of inner work, available all in one place, quickly, efficiently, without a lot of extraneous philosophical discussions and testimonials of devotees.
LNG: The source of a great deal of the information about meditation seems to come from gurus or spiritual lineages. Why is this? Do these sources make meditation less palatable to Westerners?
GAB: When there is a living spiritual tradition, the Light is passed on from one teacher to another, from one generation to another. This is true whether it is a western spiritual tradition or an eastern one.
Meditation has in some form or another been used in mystic, occult, religious and spiritual training for as long as anyone can remember. These ancient techniques have been preserved and handed down for centuries.
There is a reason for this. The use of meditation is a fundamental tool for insight and spiritual communion.
Water, food, and air are essential for physical life.
Meditation and prayer are essential aspects of spiritual life.
Whether meditation comes from the east, the west, the north, or the south, from inner space or outer space, where meditation comes from is far less important than its innate value for us. Who we receive meditation training from is less important than that meditation deepens our communion with the Divine and our connection with our own spirituality.
You have asked in effect, do a person’s learned biases and prejudices limit their receptivity to a new and different teaching? The answer to this is yes, very much so. In the United States, where Christians are the majority religious group, there is much resistance to teachings of other cultures or religious traditions.
I use meditation methods derived from both eastern and western traditions, and I consider both traditions valid. I have studied both eastern and western religions, practiced meditation from both sources, and I consider both to be valuable.
I am very pragmatic in my approach. I ask, “which techniques would be valuable for helping this person in this situation?”
It doesn’t matter to me whether the meditation technique comes from the Catholic monastic tradition, Zen Buddhism, Taoist martial arts, or Hindu Astanga Yoga. My criterion for meditation is, does it achieve the purpose for which we’re using the method, and does it get results?
Because, that’s what we’re ultimately looking for from meditation… results. In my life, I’ve gotten incredible, outstanding results from using meditation. That’s why I use it, teach it and advocate it.
LNG: How has meditation affected your life?
GAB: Meditation has enhanced every facet of my life. It has given me a tool to lower my body’s stress, which I believe, has improved my health and immune function as a result.
It has enabled me to better control and understand my emotions.
It has shown me how to more effectively utilize the full potential of my mind—Conscious, Subconscious, unconscious, Metaconscious, and Superconscious.
It has deepened by spirituality, and unfolded the spiritual evolutionary potentials of my Soul.
It has gifted me with metavisional (psychic) insight and an abiding connection with the Source of Life.
I cannot recommend it highly enough. It has given me value beyond measure.