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Compassion Attentiveness Therapy

Part I: Understanding the Nature of Transformation

Author: Saleem Noorali/Monday, May 4, 2015/Categories: Alternative Treatments, Spirituality

To practice compassion attentiveness is to be compassionate.

That transformation in one moment in time, from being self-absorbed due to painful addiction to becoming outwardly compassionate, is a first and powerful step to recovery.  The many moments that follow are many opportunities for small changes that can have a profound impact on experience, thought, and even personality.  Each moment and each experience are networked with thousands of thoughts and feelings. When compassion begins to rise in the ravines of the soul, the power to create beautiful, compassionate experiences is boundless.  The exponential effect of acting compassionately then overflows... filling up the lives of family, friends and others in our lives. 

This is the power of transformation. Now, in order to understand the nature of transformation, we must take a look at the nature of addiction.

The nature of addiction and of identifying as an “addict” is to resist change and instead, to continue falling into a familiar, cold,  black hole.  To phrase this another way, the addiction itself is a black hole which the addict continues to reinforce by calling himself an addict, acting like an addict, fighting and sometimes winning the battles of an addict, and restarting the cycle all over again after relapse.  A lot of time, energy and focus is consumed by being an addict and thinking about addiction, such that anything transformational that might happen, is crowded out by all of this other addiction-related activity.  That activity also includes desperately trying not to be an addict.

As much as we revere the idea of not being an addict and sit with these kinds of thoughts for long periods, these thoughts can actually be damaging to us.  That is because both our journey and end goal completely revolve around our problem.
Now, you might ask, how does this specifically affect inner transformation?

By having an end goal that divorces the present self (addicted self) from the future self (not addicted self), the individual in recovery has not really transformed… he has only tried to become someone else.  And, often times, he has forgotten many other aspects of his true self in obsessing over either the addiction or the end goal of no longer being addicted.

                In my practice, my ultimate goal is not the change itself (although helping to free people from the chains of addiction is something I love and enjoy).  The ultimate goal is trying to get clients to understand the process and constancy of change.  Trying to help them understanding their journey.  To let go of that which is fleeting, so that they can engage freely in transformation, and be transformed. When a person is in seemingly successful recovery and when his life does not involve the object of the addiction, continuing to set in stone his identity as an “addict” can truly hinder a his experience of wholeness.  While there is a sound medical and even psychological basis for this type of identification as an addict,  such an identification forces a person’s horrifying past experiences to be paramount to current good experiences.  It may force the person in recovery to try and separate the “addict” self ( or the “past” self) from the rest of his identity, which can lead to a fragmented inner experience. It can be so bad as to where one part of the person may feel hatred for another part. This is an enormous hindrance to transformation and is a true gap in current addiction terminology and practice.  I hope to try and bridge that gap with my new therapeutic Style, Compassion Attentiveness Therapy.

                We are currently living in a highly transformative age. In very recent times, Industrialism quickly turned into the technology age, and somewhere within all of that materialism, was a rebirth of ancient spiritual ideas like mindfulness and daily meditation practices.  Change is the essence of life and we are seeing that in both our inner and outer worlds.  And, there lies another reason to practice Compassion Attentiveness. 

Where the inner and outer worlds are sometimes at odds (e.g. where we might feel that personal survival is actually at odds with another’s well being, or where someone feels that their external circumstances are requiring them to do something that will hurt them internally like taking drugs) we feel conflict and stress.  Compassion Attentiveness addresses this directly and almost instantly, demonstrating to the person in recovery that when he practices compassion, his mood is lifted, he feels better, and he feels kinder.  He is better as a result of focusing on the betterment of someone else.  This momentary feeling of betterment is something that can and often does compound, yielding something very interesting: wholeness and a feeling of connectedness between the inner and outer worlds.   It requires surrendering the notion that the inner is separate from the outer. This increased and strengthened feeling of connectedness itself makes change feel more natural and easier to cope with. It also makes makes change a “permanent” fact of life.  These are the moments of self-discovery which unfold gracefully as compassion is practiced.

                Another practice that helps with this inner/outer conflict is learning the art of caring for the body.  Each body is unique and has unique needs.  This foundational practice is an easy way to be self-compassionate and also learn to pay attention to intimate details -- the kinds of details that are constantly changing in subtle ways. Practicing self-care will also make the person aware of the constitution of the body. The many parts, cells, and tissues that make the whole and that are going through their own small changes.  This, in turn causes the person to realize that while they are a unified whole, they are also part of a greater ecosystem.  Compassion is a useful and wonderful way to be able to connect the different parts within the self and also to connect with others in the ecosystem.

                Now that I have described both 1. the problems of obsessing over the identification as an addict, and also 2.  the usefulness of compassion in the transformative experience, we must ask a very important question: what to do about the reality of cravings and the desire to abuse drugs ?

I have found that many in recovery understand taking care of the body. Where many fall short is how to control their mind. Many will work out and pay special attention to their diet, but they do not have control over their mind. Thus, they will repeatedly fall prey to their cravings because addiction is a disease of the brain. It is manageable but the the person must be cognizant enough to manage how to control their desires and cravings. This is where Compassion Attentiveness Therapy can be coupled with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

Stay tuned for part two of this series where I show you how the two therapeutic styles are highly complementary to one another.  You will see that CAT combined with CBT can lead to a powerful transformation  experience.

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