Filmed during Mind & Life Institute’s “Mind & Life XXVII: Craving, Desire and Addiction” on November 1, 2013.

Day Five: Into the World

Ideas have impact to the extent that they lead to action. A final thread of this narrative arc is formed by the engaged work of clinical science. Psychologist Sarah Bowen addresses new approaches to the treatment of addiction that incorporate elements of contemplative practice. Finally, in the last session we strive to weave together the threads from all the presenters, with the aim of creating a more holistic and accurate view of the complex issues around craving and desire. How can these insights be used to address the continued temptations surrounding us all, as well as those who struggle with the most destructive forms of attachment? Synthesizing this dialogue, we hope that scientists, clinicians, theorists, and individuals can find new ways forward to alleviate the suffering that stems from the experience of craving.

Application of Contemplative Practices in Treatment of Addiction
SPEAKER: Sarah Bowen

As an approach to treatment for addiction, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) integrates cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness practices to reduce risk and severity of relapse to harmful, addictive cycles of behavior. Clients learn to observe seemingly “automatic” cognitive and behavioral patterns, strengthen the ability to experience triggering events without reactivity, and practice skillful and compassionate responses that ultimately serve their highest good. Training begins with observation practice and establishing awareness of body sensations as a foundation, and progresses to awareness of thought and emotion. Through “formal” and “informal” practice, clients then learn to recognize triggers and subsequent physical, cognitive, or emotional reactions, and increase their ability to stay present with previously aversive or triggering experiences. Particular focus is given to the nature of craving and its physical, cognitive, and affective constituents. Clients explore the often wholesome needs underlying craving, such as desire for relief or fulfillment. They learn, through observation, that this “false refuge” may bring temporary relief, but it ultimately causes further suffering. Final sessions focus on kindness and forgiveness practices, and bring attention to the broader perspective of clients’ lives by observing factors that support or hinder their practice and recovery. The balance between acceptance and action is explored. MBRP research has primarily involved adults, many of whom were court-mandated to treatment and also have financial, housing, legal, and medical challenges. Outcomes suggest MBRP, relative to standard treatments, may be helpful in shifting reactions to challenging emotional experiences (e.g., craving) and may decrease the likelihood and severity of relapse one year following treatment. Future directions of study include adaptation to adolescent and incarcerated populations, dissemination and implementation, and further exploration of the multiple processes underlying behavioral change.

Concluding Remarks

INTERPRETER: Thupten Jinpa

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Kent Berridge
Richard J. Davidson
Wendy Farley
Vibeke Asmussen Frank
Roshi Joan Halifax
Marc Lewis
Matthieu Ricard
Nora Volkow
Diana Chapman Walsh
Arthur Zajonc


Sarah Bowen, PhD

Pacific University


Thupten Jinpa, PhD

Compassion Institute

Board Chair

Mind & Life Connections


2013 Mind & Life Dialogue XXVII

Craving, Desire, and Addiction

Topics: Contemplative Wisdom | Mental Health