HEALING AND SPIRITUALITY
Recognizing the Core of Addictions
Shi Yao Hai, Master Buddhist Psychology Teacher and Healing Practitioner
December 5, 2018
What is addiction?
The core of the Buddha’s teachings recognizes that thoughts, feelings and behaviors are not inherent characteristics, but rather the results of whether or not individuals embody skillfulness. Clinging and craving which in modern terms may be referenced as addictive behaviors, are the principal causes of suffering. Another word for suffering is emotional pain, which can manifest in all of its various forms of stress, uneasiness, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, disheartenment, and despondency.
All behaviors that take away inner peace and joy, and can not be easily stopped or abandoned, are addictive behaviors. Addictive behaviors involve attempting to escape emotional pain by numbing or distracting the mind from this pain. As no addictive action addresses or relieves it’s cause, the emotional pain is further exacerbated. Emotional pain continues to exist and the addiction continues to exert influence, as long as the real underlying need remains unconscious. Addiction and addictive behaviors result from a lack of awareness of how to be or do through engagement and the purposeful use of meaning.
Addictive patterns perpetuate themselves by reinforcing a sense of meaninglessness which is at the root of addictive behaviors. To replace addictive patterns with meaningfulness requires changes in one’s inner reality, in one’s self. Changing anything in external circumstances can support changes to the good, but they are in themselves not enough. Relying upon external change potentiates suffering, and therefore addiction. Although addiction seeks to avoid the experience of not good, it does this without consciously focussing upon and harnessing the skills that govern experiences of what is good. Most people do not realize how these subconscious processes work, and that learning and training is required to do something different. Changing for the good, that is replacing unskillful habits with skillful ones, begins with the development of skillfulness itself.
Meaninglessness, the Cause of Suffering and Addiction
In the state of meaninglessness, we look at life and life appears to be the source of this meaninglessness. This meaninglessness does not actually exist in life, it exists within us. Suffering (emotional pain) is the natural result of meaninglessness, and in order to escape this suffering, we react to our life. Why do we react to life? Because we formulate interpretations about the causes of our suffering, and about what externally “makes” us happy or unhappy. Resorting to drugs, for example, is putting the control of how we feel and experience life onto external things, external reality. As such, external reality becomes the “cause” and the authority over our lives. We project our ideas about those causes onto life circumstances, not realizing that the causes come from within us. With these projected interpretations, we create strategies to protect ourselves from emotional pain, to acquire what we believe will relieve our pain, and make us happy. With that, we tell ourselves stories about life, and we create roles for ourselves to play a part in those stories. We believe that these stories are life, when in fact, they are merely imagined stories that we carry around in our heads. The stories then become our own experiences of life, yet they have nothing to do with life at all. We do this because we believe life gives us our experiences, causes us to act and feel the ways that we do, although this is not the truth. As nothing can transfer an experience into us, all that is left that can be causative are our inner ways of feeling, thinking and behaving. As long as we believe that the external world gives us our experiences, we are turning over control to those sources, thereby making ourselves helpless and powerless. In this way, we create the basis of self-imposed limitations which remain invisible to most. The sum of our fabrications becomes our meaning in life.
The stories that we tell ourselves about people are primarily regarding what they do or they do not do. Yet, somehow in the stories, we link their behavior to who we think they are. We make up in our mind the characters that exist in our experience of life, but they are just characters in a fictional story. This perception is not real. It occurs because we are not focussing on what we are choosing to do or be in life.
Creating Meaningfulness without Limitation
Life is woven into physical existence. It is the living energy that exists in all things and has no relationship to any stories. Meaning does not exist in life. Life energy exists in life. Meaning is a mental construction that exists only within the minds that hold to those meanings. Meanings that are held in the mind, either lead to the experience of meaninglessness, resulting in suffering, or to the experience of fulfillment. Fulfillment comes from within and can only occur within. Knowing that meaningfulness can only come from within, and that it is dependent upon the meanings (mental constructs) that are focussed upon, is fundamental to developing consistency in the experience of meaningfulness. My teacher, Shi Chien Li, used to say that short of enlightenment, everyone is going to be living in delusions (stories and roles). You might as well have delusions that you use to create happiness, rather than those that lead you to misery. Short of being free from stories, choose ways of creating good stories.
Suffering, including addictive behavior, exists to the degree that goodness (as character traits), is not embodied into one’s being as a baseline and standard behavior. Embodied means developing nerve pathways that did not previously exist. Embodied means literally embedded and encoded into the nervous system. It becomes a part of who you are, your character. The internalization of spiritual qualities is one of the three functional bases’ required to consistently experience meaningfulness.
This relates to Buddha’s teaching on “this-that conditionality.” This-that, is at the center of how karma works and how we, in fact, influence it! Yes, we are the influencers, life circumstances are not. We choose how life circumstances and environment will exist, by how we choose to feel, think and behave. Our inner reality, our focus, influences and strongly contributes to how we create with our life circumstances. How we create with our life circumstances is how we change what is in our life. This is the beginning place of a consciously aware sacred path.
This-that conditionality means: who we are (this), becomes how we experience in life and how life actually comes to exist for us (that). How we experience life (that), becomes who we are in our character (this). Choosing how we experience what happens in life, is also choosing how our life circumstances will exist and how our environment will be shaped and manifested around us.
The challenge is that if people tell stories about their life and circumstances that are negative, that are not caring or loving, how do you separate yourself from these stories and live from what is positive? How can you choose a fulfilling, pain-free life when so many people in the world live quite contrary to that? These questions seem reasonable, but they are in fact misleading. They mislead by distracting one’s focus into things and circumstances in the world as being causative of one’s experiences. If you are asking these kinds of questions, you are focusing in an unskillful direction. Recognize it is not separation from the stories that is the real goal in Buddhist Mind-Heart Yoga, it is the establishing of meaning-fullness in one’s reality. Being so full of meaning that nothing else can interfere or intrude is the focus. The skillful question then is: Regardless of stories, how do I live from the perpetual experience of meaningfulness and what prevents this?
What prevents meaningfulness is the projection of causality onto the world, and the resulting karma. Addictiveness is not merely constrained to habits of behavior. Addictiveness also manifests in habits of thinking and habits of experiencing. This is the teaching regarding the formative vehicles of karma (ways of feeling, thinking, behaving). Karma literally means action, and implies energy and change. The formative vehicles are how karma becomes automatic in it’s effects and side effects. These formatives are the ways energy move, the way life in it’s changes, shapes what is around us. The formatives are the fields in which automation takes place (patterns, habits). Within us these formatives are the automated ways of experiencing (feeling), thinking and behaving. From these formatives, the effects of karma come into being and are made to cyclically continue to exist. Meaningfulness is created from the purposeful use of feelings, thoughts and behaviors, free from ideas that external reality is the cause of internal experiences.
Habits of Experience – Escaping Pain
Emotional pain is a habit of personal self. The habits of emotional pain exist in the absence of the habits of goodness. The absence of goodness, leaves one open to the possibility of emotional pain, which in turn becomes so overwhelming, that it demands the numbing of negative experiences. The habits of goodness can only originate from an open-hearted trusting in the enlightened nature of a Buddha as a means to overcome suffering. Goodness as an experience does not exist on its own or happen of its own accord, nor is it automatic. Perceiving negativity is not automatic either, but occurs because of personalizing the negative, or getting caught in negative circumstances and blaming, rather than functionally preparing for action. Uncontrolled anger is the effect of blaming anything outside oneself. This often leads to isolation, resentment, misery, and bitterness. Blaming oneself for the negativity in life leads to emotional pain (suffering, in Buddhism), and is at the core of addiction.
It is simple, emotional pain exists and grows in the absence of good that is not purposely embodied, that is lived from and acted upon. This is furthered by the practice and the repetition of non-loving thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Non-loving thoughts, feelings, and behaviors create a susceptibility to unpleasant experiences and eventually an inner sense of meaninglessness. This occurs all through creating new nerve pathways in the body. Contrasting what a person wants or does not want, with what is not matching up to these expectations, adds greater fuel for dissatisfaction and deepens this pain further. Emotional pain may not manifest as an extreme negative state. It can be as minimal and as heart-numbing as boredom, frustration, impatience, or attachment to being right or having rights. What numbs or hardens the heart, kills joy. This leads to all forms of disheartenment, to all senses of disconnectedness, and to fearfulness.
Addiction can not be overcome, suppressed, or repressed. It can only be replaced. Addiction is what is familiar mentally – it is recognized as what is possible, versus what has not been experienced yet, or not recognized as possible. Addiction is habit wired into the nervous system. Replacing addiction requires a conscious use of change and it’s energies (karma).This is why understanding how addiction works in the mind helps to create new habits.
Cultivating Loving Consciousness
New habits and states of consciousness are inseparably woven together. States of consciousness thereby become the “ground” for the growth of new habits. The best choice for one’s state of consciousness is loving consciousness. We learn to do this in all circumstances because this way of experiencing is superior to anything else. Loving consciousness does not mean you allow people to take advantage of you. Being loving does not mean that you have to accept everyone and everything that presents in negative, or unpleasant ways. As strange as this may sound, love is not the same as acceptance of circumstances or behavior. If you have to accept something, that means that you have already deemed it at least to some degree not acceptable. Loving consciousness does not perceive anything as acceptable or not acceptable. Rather it chooses what it will or will not participate with. Love is an “abiding in,” that does not exist as a “some-thing” originating from the world. Abiding is an inner state that is not swayed by circumstances in the world because it is not dependent upon the world for its authority to exist.
The stories that we tell ourselves about people are primarily regarding what they do or they do not do. Yet, somehow in the stories, we link their behavior to who we think they are. We make up in our mind the characters that exist in our experience of life, but they are just characters in a fictional story. This perception is not real. It occurs because we are not focussing on what we are choosing to do or be in life. If the environment and other people are not the causes of our experiences, then what is left is the possibility of developing true choice that is not dependent upon anything external. True choice is not reactive, it is proactive. Stripping away the stories is the beginning step for learning how to live as a siddha. This is a path of freedom from suffering.
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