Q: What is Blue Mind?
A; Blue Mind: A mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peace, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.
As many of you know, I am a student of Blue Mind science, an advocate for Blue Mind methods, and a practitioner of Blue Mind daily living techniques. There is no doubt in my mind and experience that proximity to, and engagement in, water provides physical health, mental health, and spiritual/relational benefits that have been scientifically identified – and are essential in today’s stressful world.
I’ve had the honor and pleasure of meeting the book’s author, Wallace J. Nichols.
And I’ve even written about my Blue Mind experiences in hopes of others relating to my narrative.
Blue Mind can be very useful in recovery for substance use disorders and/or compulsive behaviors. Here’s how:
Blue Mind and Addiction Recovery
It is both scary and promising that in the past few years, we’ve become quite familiar with the phrase “opiate/opioid epidemic.” It is scary for obvious reasons—drug use is on the rise—but new knowledge is promising because it brings attention to one of the most shameful, stigmatizing problems that we face in the western world: addiction. And opiates/opioids are only a part of it—in the U.S., alcohol, the most socially acceptable drug, accounts for 14.5 million problem users. In total there are 19.7 million American adults who are struggling with a Substance Use Disorder according to the 2017 survey conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Furthermore, only about 4 million people received treatment for it, which is 19 percent of that population.
We know from various studies that adoptees and relinquishees have an increased risk for both Substance Use Disorder and mental health disorders. According to the University of Minnesota Medical School study, adoptees are 1.87 times more likely than non-adoptees to become addicted. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions found that this is even the case when adoptees have the advantages of higher educational levels due to being raised by higher-educated, higher-income adopting parents.
A complex issue, addiction is often viewed as a response to trauma. More accurately, it is a chronic brain disease that is believed to develop as a result of trauma, as well as other factors, such as genetics and other environmental influences. We know that trauma is prevalent among adoptees who, because of it, might be more susceptible to stress. And stress is one of the biggest culprits of all modern conditions—it is especially damaging to those who use drugs as self-soothing mechanisms.
The state of chronic stress has been referred to as “Red Mind” by Dr. Catherine Franssen from James Madison University. Red Mind is the opposite of Blue Mind, which is a state of calm and peace. For people suffering from trauma and addiction, Blue Mind can be a crucial tool in reducing stress and fostering recovery.
As a response to trauma, Substance Use Disorder, or addiction, is one of the most complex issues relinquishees and adoptees have to face. Those with unsteady self-esteem, uncertain identity, and attachment difficulties will most likely amplify their struggles by adding addiction to the mix. There are also certain tendencies that make people more predisposed to Substance Use Disorder, such as poor impulse control, denial and, above all, inability to handle stress. People with unstable identities don’t have a solid foundation and defenses against adversities—denial is common, inability to accept or even understand reality is an issue as well. This often creates a situation where a person is extremely vulnerable and will seek out quick fixes and ways of coping that are maladaptive, especially in response to stress. A quick fix becomes learned and a habit, the habit becomes addiction.
Addiction leads to loss of health, loss of employment, housing; it fosters isolation, marginalization, it can lead to criminal activity. It is, of course, also the cause of many unnecessary deaths.
Living in today’s world in the Red Mind mindset of chronic stress is not conductive to recovery. And research has shown over and over that there’s direct link between stress and self-harm and suicide. In persons suffering from Substance Use Disorder, self-harm can take the form of ingesting drugs in order to achieve a false sense of calm or simply to “get a break” from the world and its ongoing demands.
There is, however, another way to achieve calmness and get that break. It literally involves taking a break and using that opportunity to focus on developing Blue Mind, which, according to one definition is, “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peace, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.” It involves spending some time near a body of water, whether it’s the seaside, a swimming pool, or even a fishbowl, photograph, or a painting of a waterfall. The term was popularized by the author and marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols who, in his book, Blue Mind, reveals the incredible benefits of being in, on, under, or simply near water. J. Nichols uses cutting-edge neuroscience and personal stories from athletes, scientists, military veterans, and gifted artists to illustrate how Blue Mind can improve performance in a wide range of fields, increase calm and diminish anxiety often times much more effectively than medication, amplify creativity, increase generosity and compassion, increase professional success, improve overall health and well-being and, finally, reinforce our connection to the natural world. All of those are beneficial to everyone, but especially to those who struggle with addiction, which tends to rob people of their very survival skills, such as self-preservation and other positive traits such as resilience, self-esteem, sense of identity, and dignity.
There’s some evidence that some people who are recovering from addiction enjoy swimming and surfing, as it can feel like escape and relief. Outside of the context of sports, using water as one of the tools of recovery can be an important part of revitalization for people affected by addiction—this means the person with addiction and her loved ones as well, as they too suffer from the chaos that addiction tends to bring on.
Many people with addiction feel restlessness, even when sober and clean. Encouraging spending quiet time by bodies of water, as well as being active through swimming, sailing, and surfing, can calm some of that restlessness. Furthermore, developing meditative exercises of achieving Blue Mind—for example, by bringing back positive memories of the beach, by listening to recorded sounds of waves—is a simple yet very useful practice that can be taken and applied at any time, anywhere. Using calm and connection to power found in being near or a part of a water environment can lead to increase in clarity and awareness, thus building commitment and determination to take action. Taking action is the first step to recovery.
Re-framing J. Nichols’ positive benefits of water, such as how its presence can improve performance in a wide range of fields, we can apply Blue Mind principles to many aspects of recovery. If water increases calm and diminishes anxiety, then clear mind can eventually help someone with addiction develop a more mindful way of perceiving the world. Recovery allows people to get back in touch with reality.
Another outcome of Blue Mind set, discovering generosity and compassion, can help the person with addiction focus on someone else other than herself, which in turn can relieve her from the on-going self-scrutiny and feelings of guilt. This in turn can help to develop the kind of life that has meaning and purpose, a life that is values-centered.
And through improving a person’s overall health and well-being, Blue Mind is the quintessential definition of what it means to recover— according to Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration, recovery is defined as, “A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to fulfill their potential.”
Universally, Blue Mind reinforces our connection to the natural world and to one another. People with addiction suffer from isolation, and as the British journalist Johan Hari said in his wildly popular TED Talk, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.” Blue Mind might mean reconnecting with friends and loved ones; it could lead to bringing families back together; it can help communities heal. Blue Mind creates an instinctive understanding that we are all a part of something bigger—this understanding, for many, creates the feelings of belonging; for some it might even have spiritual effect that can further aid healing.
Trauma of relinquishment, and especially relinquishment combined with addiction, can wreak havoc on a person’s life. The overwhelming statistics represent real human pain, but we become numb to numbers. Yet addiction and its consequences are all around us as we rush about in this world suffering from chronic stress, or if you will, Red Mind.
The good news is that most of us have the ability to heal and recover—with the help of our families, health professionals, spiritual-relational aides, personal guides, education, and information. Additionally, most of us posses a lot of inner strength, resilience, and self-reliance that can be cultivated if we practice personal healing techniques such as Blue Mind. Blue Mind is available to all of us. Whether you get to stroll on the beach, swim in a pool, or focus on a picture of a lake, we can take those moments and use them as ways to heal, and to connect. We can meditate on them and achieve a state of calm and peace that will allow for healing.
J Nichols explains in one of his concepts of 7 Ages of Water, “Water is medicine. As the body and mind begin to slow, gravity becomes our enemy. We can crash at any time, but water is still our old friend no matter what ails us throughout every age of life.”
David B. Bohl of Beacon Confidential LLC is an independent addiction consultant. He was relinquished at birth, then adopted through a private adoption. He is the author of the award-winning adoption and recovery memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth. David relentlessly pursues Blue Mind, spending as much time as he can on or near the water, ice-covered or otherwise.
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