The Human Condition
It’s very likely that we are addicted to something–but unaware of it. The human condition is ruled by addiction, actually, as most of our actions are guided by the momentum of our habits and attachments. We gravitate towards what we like; we avoid what we dislike. We seek comfort in the sensations and activities that can help us escape our troubles. Without knowing it, we are controlled by our habits and deeply rooted views.
When we are stressed, tense, or just bored, we look for stimulation–a way to excite ourselves and/or a means to release. We may watch TV, listen to music, surf the internet, read the news, socialize over some tea or food, go to a game, play a sport, or engage in art, watch a play or act out our own mini-theatre with friends.
Some of these activities are wholesome and necessary for a healthy life. After all, most people need some kind of stimulation, otherwise they’d become depressed. Some of these activities can be meditative, and help us develop wholesome qualities of mind such as concentration, clarity, and the ability to be creative and express one’s self–such as with painting, for example. However, some activities are toxic, and lead to mental and physical torpor, or agitation. For example, aimlessly surfing the internet and watching all kinds of violent, sexually explicit, or prejudiced material that fills our mind with pollutants–fueling the momentum of craving.
Regardless of the kind of activity we engage in, if we are habitually pulled towards it, seeking solitude in it, and find ourselves angry or frustrated if we cannot engage in it, then that is to some degree addiction.
Addiction amidst Dedication
However, even what we call “dedication” to a wholesome altruistic cause, profession, or craft can be a form of addiction. For instance, we work for charity and serve society, yet we’ve gotten caught up in it, and forget about taking care of ourselves or our family. We have raised thousands of dollars in funds, but our own house is a mess and our health has deteriorated. In another instance, we are a very skilled artisan or musician, and have mastered our craft, yet our emotional relationships suffer because we have ignored the people closest to us. Our family members wonder if we still love them.
Despite the virtue of concentration and dedication to our work, there is also an aspect of addiction that goes along with it. We can’t stop that activity. Our force of habit, liking, or absorption in something has taken over, and that prevents us from taking care of our other responsibilities. Our dedication to one thing has made us blind to the other people, things, and conditions that need our care and attention.
It is especially difficult to become aware of our addictions if they correspond to a wholesome activity. The activity itself–doing good–and the positive feedback we receive from others–praise and recognition–masks the fact that we are becoming attached and drowning in that activity.
Good, Bad–It’s all Attachment
So even though we don’t call our activities “addictions,” in most cases, craving is a major force behind our behavior. And what follows along with craving is aversion, naturally. When we are not permitted to engage in our activity, the object of our enjoyment or dedication, we become frustrated. This is our human condition–attachment.
In our own lives, can we see how this plays out? Are there activities–wholesome or unwholesome–that have become our addictions? Are these habits interfering with our health and well-being? Are we attached?
Stability and Clarity
First we recognize that we have some form of addiction, whether it be a strong attachment to unwholesome stimuli or even a wholesome activity that we’ve become absorbed into. We can take steps to discipline ourselves and limit such activity–or stop engaging in the activity altogether. Another technique is to replace the detrimental stimuli with a more wholesome behavior, like chewing gum instead of smoking or listening to calming music instead of binge eating. These can be helpful, but are merely supplemental methods. Our discipline or alternative habit may not be strong enough to overcome the force of craving.
What’s essential is to first develop mental stability and clarity in general. In our habitual state of mind–one that’s pushed and pulled by craving and aversion–we’re often not very clear about the process of craving. We just go along with it and are absorbed into the addiction. At best we may have some awareness of the sense of craving, but then we get bulldozed by its momentum. We’re not so aware of the condition of our body or process of our thoughts and the patterns that lay underneath the flow of addictive thoughts.
With stability and clarity, we begin to see the causes of craving and addiction.
Tension and Relaxation
One thing we discover when we are more stable and clear is how tense the body is. Why is the body so tense? It may be partly due to poor habit of posture or overuse of a certain muscle group, yet most tension is due to mental agitation. Because the mind is scattered and anxious, the body is tense. What we’d normally do to relieve the tension is look for stimuli to release it. With awareness of tension, we can then relax physically and mentally. Relaxation alone minimizes the momentum of seeking release through external stimuli, since relaxation itself is the most direct way to release! This is the start of getting at the cause of addictive behavior–with awareness, we deal with these causes directly.
Getting to the Root Cause
Another insight we can have about the source of our cravings is the problem of our self-image. Even if we have a confident sense of self, and believe we are good, hard-working people, we’ll surely encounter attacks to that image. When we think we’ve failed or done something wrong–and especially when we are criticized by others–this self-image comes under attack. The image in our mind may be conflicting with the new idea that something is wrong with our behavior. This contradiction of self-image is a fundamental source of mental dis-ease and feeling of lack.
Another example is when, due to a rough childhood and broken home, we may have grown up feeling unloved, and un-worthy of being loved. The desire to be loved and cared for, and the feeling that we are still lacking that, combined with the conflicting view of an unworthy self may cause us to seek comfort in sensations. If we feel unloved, uncomforted, sometimes absorbing ourselves in stimulation can temporarily fill the sense of lack.
In any case, the reason we gravitate towards our cravings is that there is a sense of discontentment–a dis-ease due to the conflict of self-image and our attachment to it. This is a root cause of addiction. This attachment and resulting sense of lack may be lurking in our mind unnoticed. It’s not a comfortable state of mind to be in, and so to avoid the bombardment of self-depreciating thoughts, we medicate ourselves with addictive habits.
Yet, through meditation and developing our self-awareness, if we can recognize this process of attachment and see through the problem of clinging to a self-image, we can begin the process of releasing the mind from that cyclic and destructive pattern. In addition, if we can see the flaw in trying to fill that sense of lack, and that essentially it’s not possible to fill with sensations or any activity–and that to rely on love from others is not completely fail safe either– we have a chance to escape the cycle of addiction.
What’s key is to have the right approach to meditation which allows us to have these penetrating insights.
In Stillness there is Power
Meditation, preferably seated meditation, is the most efficient tool for developing mental stability and clarity. Sitting still, the movements of our body and mind become more obvious. Amidst activity it is initially harder to be clearly aware of our feelings, thoughts, and intentions–like finding it difficult to hear someone speak on a busy street corner. Sitting still, not moving our body, speech, or thinking, the subtle movements of distracted thought and afflictive emotion become as obvious as a trumpet playing in a library. Sitting still and applying a method of meditation designed for calming the body and mind, we become more stable, relaxed, and settled. In this calmness, our condition becomes clearer.
Meditation develops two kinds of power. One “power” is the calm and peace we find in meditation that provide us with a sense of contentment and joy. This joy surpasses the joy of stimulation, since the mind in meditation is gradually calmed as opposed to excited. The joy of calmness is longer-lasting and greater than the short-lived agitated joy of entertainment. Sometimes this may be enough to help us turn away from addiction and turn towards discipline and balanced living.
The second kind of “power” is the clarity that meditation brings. This clarity is not just a sharpness or alertness of mind, rather it’s the ability to see our condition clearly. We are very clear how our behavior affects our body-mind, other people, and the environment. We become clear of our underlying psychological issues, and how they revolve around the problem of our attachment to self-image. With this clarity we can learn to let go of attachment to it and find genuine release and contentment.
Clarity also helps us to have more accurate judgments, where we choose our actions more wisely. We can clearly see that our addictions cause disruption in our minds, disruption in our daily life, and we choose to avoid addictive behavior. We are clear that when we regulate our activities in a balanced way, that our minds are clear–and everything in life falls into place. Or better yet, we can say that whatever happens in our life, we have the clarity to adapt in a skillful way. If we lose our job, we see the opportunity to go in a new direction, learn new things–instead of resorting to sedation in addictive behavior.
Overall, our behavior is less affected by the conflicting self-image and more considerate of others and the entire situation at hand. We become less reactive and protective of our self-image and the things we like, and we become more giving and able to sacrifice things.
The way to escape addiction is not easy, as our habits are deep. Yet, as long as we have the right perspective and methods, we can dissolve these habits–we just have to persist. Therefore, release from craving requires determination. Determination means that we continue to practice no matter what. We make mistakes, recognize them, then return to our method. With continuous practice, the force of addiction weakens and our skillful behavior increases.
This takes practice and guidance.
c) 2016 David Listen – Life Mentor