Urge Surfing: The Mindful Way to Unwind Addiction – Melli O’Brien

This ‘samurai and the fly’ video can teach a valuable lesson about how to deal with addiction. It illustrates a potent mindfulness technique to help overcome destructive urges.

Take a Closer Look At Addiction

If we pay close enough attention, it doesn’t take long to realise that addictive behaviour is a response to what we refer to as an urge.

What is an urge? It is nothing more than a moment when a subtle (or not so subtle) pain or discomfort arises within. We might not think of it as pain. We might just say we’re stressed, bored or agitated but regardless of how we name it or think of it, these urges can be surprisingly gravitational in our awareness.

Once the urge starts, it often seems to multiply or get louder in our awareness – like those persistent little flies in the video. Can you relate?

For many, the response to this discomfort is to try to find a way to make it stop. Just like the Samurai attacking the flies, we often go to war with the urge. We struggle against it, push it away or fight it.

We don’t want to feel what we’re are feeling –so we reach for the chocolate, the alcohol, the cigarette or go shopping to get some relief – and for a time it works. The urge goes away.

The problem is that when you push away pain like that it’s like pushing a bubble underwater – it always resurfaces. Then you need another ‘fix’ every time a new urge surfaces.

Why Fighting Cravings is Futile

There are two ways we go to war with our urges. The first way is to give in to them (usually by indulging in a behaviour or substance) and the second is to argue with ourselves about it. Both ways are futile.

When we argue with ourselves about an urge, it’s easy to get into a mental spin about the substance, “I will have it, no I won’t have it, I can’t resist! no, no I’m not going to do it, its wrong” and on and on the mind goes.

This struggle takes up so much mental space and creates inner conflict and negativity.

When we fight and resist our cravings, it only magnifies the problem. As we struggle with them, in the way the warrior struggles with the flies, we lend them more of our energy and they continue to mount against us.

Fighting and resisting only exacerbates the problem. Resistance is futile.

The Mindful Way Through Addiction

We don’t have to act upon our urges, we don’t have to fight against them either. Instead of putting up a struggle or trying to drown out the pain we can address the urge itself directly.

Through mindfulness you can bring awareness into urges and simply ‘ride them out’ in the same way the warrior learnt to do! The samurai discovered that when he stopped resisting the flies he could find inner balance and peace in the midst of them.

In the same way, through this mindfulness technique called urge surfing, you can transform your relationship to an urge. Instead of indulging or resisting, you learn to simply observe the urge and accept it as part of the reality of the moment.

No struggle, no reaction – just observation. Not only does this ‘urge surfing’ technique bring peace into your pain in that moment, but eventually it also dissolves it.

5 Steps to Finding Balance: The Mindfulness Technique of ‘Urge Surfing’

1) Learn to recognize unhealthy urges as they emerge. Once you do feel one coming, remind yourself that, like the tide, it will eventually recede.

2) Observe the urge as a witness, neither resist it nor get involved in the thought processes about it. Simply watch the urge and any associated thoughts. Your task is to stay steadfast in your stance as an impartial observer.

Be like a strong oak tree in a storm. Although there is disturbance see if you can stay rooted and grounded within. If the urge is particularly strong you may find it helpful to sit quietly and practice mindful breathing for a few moments.

To do this simply focus all of your attention on the breath as it enters and leaves the body. Aim not to let a breath go b7 un-noticed.

3) Take notice of your thoughts and feelings as they arise. Don’t judge them and don’t fight them; simply acknowledge them. Once acknowledged, return your attention to your breathing.

Don’t be forceful with the mind to focus on your breathing; just let the breathing be your anchor. It holds you in place as your urgent desires, and all the emotions they stir, drift on by.

4) Bring awareness to your body, to any areas you can feel sensations related to the urge or craving. Is there a sensation in the stomach, chest or any other areas? What does it feel like? Is there tension, heaviness or any other physical sensations?

Take notice, without judgement, on each in turn. Look at the experience objectively and with a sense of curiosity. Notice how your breathing affects the area.

5) Allow your attention to the area become passive as you shift focus back to your breathing.

Continue to practice mindful breathing and observation of thoughts and feelings for as long as it takes the urge to pass, knowing fully well that it will, soon. Don’t try to push it away, just let the urge drift through like a cloud in the sky of your awareness.

You’ll notice that, with the new way you’re observing it, the urge will begin to change— lessening, dissipating, losing its power. As you learn to practice ‘urge surfing’ more, you’ll find yourself able to do it with more grace and less effort.

I’ll admit it takes willingness and courage to engage with the feelings we want to run from. But here’s the beautiful paradox of engagement. When you fully allow the pain to be there and hold it in your awareness; When you face pain instead of running away – in time it dissolves like a snowflake in the palm of your hand.

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