Practically speaking, an addiction is something we can’t do without, something we are enslaved by. An addiction is an habitual practice, the cessation of which causes severe trauma. Addictive behavior means to serve at all times and at all costs that to which we are addicted. We are not able to live without our addiction. Addiction is to be terminally dependent. One day, something within us awakens to the condition of our enslavement, and wants freedom. Wanting freedom, we seek out and enter an appropriate ÒrecoveryÓ process.
In this recovery process, we begin to discover the particular causal roots of addiction: how we want to medicate or escape tedium, self-loathing, existential isolation and loneliness. The object of our addictive behavior is like a rapturous distraction and avoidance of our present experience. Something in our present experience is compelling us to find solace, repeatedly and with great vehemence, elsewhere. We find something to get us elsewhere, and that becomes the object of our addiction.
What is it we can’t face? The intensity of emotions? The depth of fear? The tremendous ache of loneliness or despair? The realization of impermanence? The intuition that we are not what we have been told we are, that we are not just a physical body and mind, but that we are the Self that shoots out like a geyser of light to unimaginable realms?
Are there many kinds of addiction, and are there many causes? We have heard about chemical dependency, and that our bodies develop a craving for certain substances, like nicotine or heroin. We have heard that, psychologically, we crave certain relationships and can’t imagine ourselves independent of them. We will suffer all kinds of abuse, as long as we can remain in the familiar structure of that relationship. It is the familiarity that provides the support. In this familiarity is the known. and we are shielded from seeing exactly the condition we are trying to escape. In a sense, the consummation with the object of our addiction helps us avoid a confrontation with the insufficiency of our experience. It is not really the object of our addiction that is the problem; it is the quality of our experience about ourselves and our inability to face this that is the problem.
The object of our addiction becomes the solution to a problem of self. What is the problem of self that requires solution Ð whether the solution be medicated suppression or escapist transcendence? Don’t answer immediately, don’t rely on what you have read or heard to fashion a quick and ready answer. Take a few minutes to look directly at your own condition, and what you want to medicate or escape.
Addiction is not just wanting, it is craving. Why do we crave something, and what happens when we fulfill this craving? Having fulfilled our craving, is our craving over?
The question of addiction takes us right into the heart of freedom. Can we ever be free if we must have something? How does this condition come about in the first place? Why do we crave, why must we have something? Do we crave something to stabilize us, to comfort us, to provide security and relief because we feel we are spinning wildly out of control, without direction or purpose?
In the moment we awake from sleep, before anything has stirred, what do we crave? There is no craving. There is silence, peace. Before thought, there is peace. There is simple awareness, a breeze of pure awareness. This awareness attaches itself to thought. Thought itself is anxious and fragmented. Pulling away from the pure breeze of awareness, we become enslaved by the anxious undertone of all thought. This anxiety creates a sense of existential emptiness, and then we try to fill that impossible cavern.
We think of dependency in terms of substances or relationships. But let’s look deeper. What happens when we can’t watch our favorite television program? When the morning paper isn’t delivered? How agitated do we become during a power failure, when the lights and computers and phones stop working? Think of everything that would cause you severe trauma to be without. Hot running water? We might think this is all harmless, but what would our condition be without the conveniences and conventions of our life? Would we be free from trauma? Is anyone free from addiction? Is anyone complete and whole, without fear and craving?
We love routine, habit, predictability. We don’t view our normal expectations as addictions. If the test of addiction is the trauma of deprivation, can we face the enormity of our addictions? What about our very life? When we contemplate our death, do we do so serenely, with understanding and openness? If one is sincerely trying to live freely, creatively, we must wonder about all of this, and try to find out if we can live without the trauma of deprivation stalking us from the shadow of our craving. Is our dependency on entertainment any less harrowing than the dispirited figure lurking in the crack house?
Our whole life is an addiction. We are propped up in a hundred ways that we don’t notice. We might think that these things are a natural part of living, that we are entitled to them, that they sustain life in a reasonable way. Is this true?
We are also addicted to our view of reality. We are addicted to our religious beliefs, without which we would be lost. Our identities and roles and beliefs are all addictions, aren’t they? Can we give everything up and be free? Are we not addicted to having our own way, to imposing our will on events. Are we not addicted to our past? Please find out exactly what you can give up without trauma. Is there anything?
If we look at addiction in this larger view, not just our dependency on drugs and alcohol, who is not an addict? Is a politician not addicted to power? Is an evangelist not addicted to rhetoric? Is a scientist not addicted to proof? Is a business person not addicted to profit?
When are we not leaning on something?
It is a shock to see our own addictions. If everything we depend on were to be taken away, who would we be. Are we not addicted to our own self-centeredness? Are we not dependent on the events of our lives to give us a sense of coherence and meaning. Don’t we look to our accomplishments for a sense of pride. Can we live without this? Let’s be honest, and look precisely at the whole issue of addiction, the whole process by which we depend on something to keep us intact.
What does this realization of our addictive nature tell us about ourselves and the patterns of our behavior.
An addict will do anything to preserve access to that which he is addicted to. Will we? How much hostility, violence, greed do we rationalize in the name of our unexamined addictions. What happens when someone threatens to deprive us of our addiction? The addict will do anything. Isn’t so much of our compulsive, chaotic existence manufactured by our addictions.
Sitting silently, without movement in the mind, can we see the first impulse of craving? Does this urge come first, or does something else come first? Find out. It takes courage and honesty to see our whole predicament; otherwise, we will be enslaved without knowing it. We fight so hard for freedom from external oppression, should we not want to be equally free from internal oppression, from the slavery of compulsion and craving?
If we can see when craving is absent, we will understand addiction and what to do about it. Has one ever sat in a forest at night, unafraid, bathed in moonlight? Listening to the rustling leaves, the earth’s breathing. Something opens within us, and this opening is empty and solid at the same time. Profound stillness of mind. A quivering in the heart of what is wordlessly present. In this depth of being, without movement, utterly still, is a total absence of craving. Returning to silence, to our source, reveals our wholeness, and we see that all addiction comes from a forgetfulness of this. Awakening to our Self is freedom. In this freedom, we are not terrified of the unknown, we embrace it. We are not partial; we are whole. We remain before thought, open and free.
If one wants to become free from an addiction, one must understand all addiction. To see what addiction is, we must see how much of our sense of self is determined by what we crave.
Have ever experienced a moment of true freedom? Have we ever experienced complete independence, from substance, from compulsive relating, from becoming? Are we not addicted to thinking, to projecting our fears and anxieties into the future? What would happen if we gave this up? What is left if everything we use to define ourselves is taken away?
This can’t be easily answered, because the answer becomes another support. Without holding, without pushing away, without anything, who are we? Is it possible to live in purity, without conditions and qualifications?
In a moment of awakening, of experiencing our innate wholeness, craving disappears. There is no other thing to depend on, no other place to go, no other time to covet. No condition to medicate or escape, no whole to fill. In this awakening to wholeness is simplicity, the joy of everyday life, the acceptance of everyday thoughts and feelings. No need to run, no need to hide, no need to fear, no need to crave. Simplicity is openness and wonder, simplicity is peace. Peace is who we are. When we know who we are, we are free, and this freedom dissolves the condition that is the root of all cravings, attachments, and dependent identifications.