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Zen Meditation Benefits In Recovery

Zen meditation benefits people worldwide, but it can be especially helpful for individuals in recovery. Drug and alcohol addictions don’t just damage your body, but they wreak havoc on your mind and spirit. Individuals who fall victim to addiction often begin using recreationally. The sense of euphoria is attractive to some, while others are drawn in by the opportunity of escapism.

However, as your body develops tolerances to the chemicals, your mind develops emotional dependencies. To achieve the same effects over and over, you need large doses and harder drugs.

By the time you realize what is happening, it’s usually too late to stop. In addiction, your body goes through an intense chemical need for the drug while your mind longs for the connection that it provides.

Addiction is a disease. It robs you of your physical health and creates an unnatural dependence on a foreign chemical, but it doesn’t stop there. Addiction stunts your ability for spiritual growth and erodes a healthy psychology. That means people with addictions struggle to forge meaningful relationships, form healthy connections, and find peace and fulfillment, all on top of the physical toll addiction takes.

Because of all this, people who enter recovery have a lot of healing to do, and some programs don’t rise to the challenge. For a long time, rehab was something strict, harsh, and even isolating. Fortunately, many of today’s addiction recovery programs offer comprehensive treatments that address many of the symptoms of chemical dependency and the cognitive effects of cutting off that sense of euphoria.

Based on the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a large part of addiction recovery requires recovering individuals to identify destructive thoughts and behaviors that harm the recovery process. Therapists then work on helping them learn and implement healthier alternatives.

However, there are mindset shifts recovering individuals can pursue on their own that are not expressly offered in their recovery programs. One of those mindset shifts is based on the ideas and benefits of Zen meditation in recovery.


Singer-songwriter Dustin Kensrue wrote a song that ends with the poignant line, “Though all would bow to me till I could drink my fill of fear and love, it’s not enough.” It’s an intense verse, but the singer is trying to convey that seeking pleasure ultimately leads to disappointment. Even if he had everything he could possibly acquire, it’s human nature to want more.

This is called the pleasure paradox. The idea that trying to find fulfillment in pleasure ultimately leads to pain. When pleasure can’t be achieved, you are disappointed, and when it is achieved, and it’s not enough, you are disappointed still.

This point is crystallized in drug abuse and addiction. Many people are drawn into addiction, seeking pleasure, escape, and fulfillment only to become enslaved to a chemical.

To combat the negative effects addiction has on the mind as you go through recovery, many programs will have an emphasis on spirituality. Alcoholics Anonymous started as a faith-based program with the second point in the 12 traditions being to submit to the authority of God.

Individuals may also employ the tenets of Zen in their recovery in order to live in the moment instead of dwelling on past regrets and future stressors.


Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism coming from the Tang Dynasty of China, and the word “Zen” means meditation. The central ideas Zen meditation has to offer has impacted the world, even helping athletes and martial artists like Chuck Norris approach their sports with focus and discipline.

Most people have heard of Zen meditation as a general concept of peace and clarity. You may even have a mini Zen garden in your home, with the idea that the soothing peacefulness of trickling waterfalls and soft sand will help you center yourself.

Those little slices of Zen are fun. However, while mastering a Zen lifestyle is much more difficult than raking through a small patch of sand, the basic idea remains simple: live in the present.  In fact, Zen Buddhism often views the present as the only time that matters, the past being obscured by vague recollection and false memories, and the future being unknown.

The principles of Zen teach that each moment in life is a peak experience that’s full of depth. If you are dwelling on the past or worried about the future, then you are deluding your understanding and experience of the present. Zen is also about training your mind to process sensory experiences more quickly. The faster your brain can process what is in front of you, the better you are able to experience the present.

The idea of living in the moment sounds pretty simple, but it can be difficult for anyone, let alone someone going through recovery. Our past failures shake our confidence. It’s easy to think, “I’ve failed so much in the past; I can’t hope to be successful in recovery.” Or maybe your focus is on the future. “What if I complete a recovery program only to relapse later.” Those thoughts are automatic, and it takes an effort to refocus on the challenge at hand.


It sounds counterintuitive, but when someone first becomes sober, the person may feel as though life lacks meaning. It’s fairly common with people who take on difficult tasks and go down long and challenging roads. While being in active addiction is not recommended at all, having something to fixate upon and strive toward gives the false sense of having a purpose. Then recovery becomes your life’s primary endeavor. In that case, you’ve focused on a singular goal for so long that you never thought about what you would do with success.

Of course, recovery is never really over. Individuals in recovery may complete a program, but recovery continues, and the urge to relapse may come and go throughout their lives. That’s all the more reason to find fulfillment apart from whatever goal you are chasing.

Zen meditation in recovery can offer a way for individuals to extract meaning from life by living in the now. Focus on completing your program. Focus on helping others through their programs.

Discipline your mind to give full attention to the present so that you can do your current task to the best of your ability.


Since Zen meditation has no supreme deity and doesn’t place an emphasis on following strict moral codes as other faiths, Zen is considered a philosophy rather than a religion, which means it can be applied to different belief systems.

As a whole, Zen principles are used to help individuals become aware, present, mindful, and virtuous. To achieve this, individuals often participate in mindfulness exercises, which include seated meditation, guided breathing, clearing the mind, and being conscious of the sounds, smells, sights, and sensations all around. These practices can fit into anyone’s daily routine and aren’t necessarily exclusive to any one culture, worldview, belief, or geographical location.

In terms of addiction recovery, Zen helps people in active addiction understand the extreme attachment that they have developed to substances to which they’ve been addicted, and that clearing the mind and practicing mental discipline can help ease any feelings of stress and self-consciousness.


If you or someone you love has a chemical dependency and would like to learn more about recovery and addiction treatment options, Pathway to Hope is here to help. Our recovery specialists have guided countless individuals in finding their way to sobriety through addiction treatment. Don’t wait—call us or contact us online, so we can discuss recovery programs and treatment options with you today.


Staff Writer

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