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Mental Health Matters: Stillness and the light of awareness
Oct 25, 2012 | 1873 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print


Ph.D.Davis Behavorial Health

On a camping trip to Yellowstone years ago, my young son needed a visit to the restroom before going to bed. It was already dark, so I brought a flashlight. On the way back he asked to hold the flashlight.

Suddenly every sound, shadow, and movement needed illumination and he pointed the light in a rapid succession of briefly brightened branches, puddles, stones, nothingness, and trail. It was probably good for him to be in charge, but I learned that it’s hard to stay on the path when a six-year-old is holding the flashlight in the woods at night.

We sometimes live our lives like children with a flashlight.

In 2006 I attended a conference, “Neuroscience Meets Recovery,” held in Las Vegas, arguably the best place to explore the anatomy of addiction. 

Although the organizing theme of the conference was neurobiology, I was most impressed with the unplanned consensus, something that every presenter mentioned: One of the most potent antidotes to addiction is deliberate stillness. Two presenters suggested prayer or worship. One mentioned music. Others cited mindfulness, formal relaxation, guided imagery, yoga, tai chi, or meditation. I was struck at the convergence of opinion among these independent researchers: deliberate stillness can facilitate recovery from addiction. Also notable: the presenters did not favor one practice over another.

What’s the best way to shine our attention on one path? That’s the thing: it almost doesn’t matter. Just pick something and give it your attention. When your mind wandersСand it willСgently point the flashlight of attention back to the chosen path. Hear the sounds of a stream. Listen to hush in holy moments of worship. Notice your body auto-pilot while walking. Be aware of breathing. Pray slowly from your heart and then listen. Or watch your child sleeping and observe your own reverence.

If you find your life in a buzz of business and frantic demandsСthe behavioral equivalent of addictionСtake the time to notice something. Notice anything. And then make it a daily practice. Create your own sanctuary of focused attention in the forest of endless demands on your mind. Just pick a path, shine your attention there, and follow.

If you are interested in having a speaker address a mental health or substance abuse topic to your community group, please contact Davis Behavioral Health by sending an email to

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