According to Jung, the craving for alcohol is a low-level spiritual thirst for wholeness. I’ll concur with that and add that ALL addictions mask a spiritual hunger to fill the hole in us that can ultimately only be satisfied by a sustainable experience of Cosmic Consciousness or Oneness with Source. That’s because the hole in each of us is infinite and nothing less than Infinite Being can fill it.
What’s my definition of an addiction? It’s anything that we’re attached to for our comfort and which─if we don’t have it─causes us dissatisfaction. Wow! You may be thinking that’s a definition which potentially covers just about everything . . . and you would be right. That’s why addictions are an integral part of the human experience.
From the Buddhist perspective, attachment to what we desire is considered the root cause of all dissatisfaction and suffering. If we combine this view with Jung’s, then the vast majority of us are experiencing, at least some of the time and to some degree, a soul sickness which comes from buying into the illusion of being separate from God, the Divine, Source or the Tao.
I say “illusion” because the absolute truth is that we’re always One with Source and in Heaven all the time to the degree that we’re in a state of absolute consciousness. BUT, as spiritual beings in a human incarnation, we’re also simultaneously on the relative plane of Earth where duality, linear space and time and the karmic laws of cause and effect apply as the hallmarks of relative truth.
This dichotomy is called Leela, or Divine Play, in the Vedic tradition of ancient India. In this game of Cosmic Hide and Seek, after we incarnate, we forget our absolute identity of Pure Being. Then, in our attempts to seek our true nature, which is home in the game, we succumb to different levels of addiction and get stuck at different levels of Leela.
Once we’re actively engaged in an addiction, especially in the early stages, it gives us a false sense of at least momentary filling the void in us and at times even glimpses of Unity Consciousness or the feeling of merging with Source. But then we get hooked in as we attempt to repeat this illusionary “high” with increasingly diminishing returns and more and more negative consequences over time.
The range of addiction runs from life-threatening substances and behaviors all the way through to spiritual teachers and practices the whole gamut from medication to meditation.
Our job, if we want to play the game of life at its highest, is to consciously choose to continuously refine our addictions as we evolve. This will lead us ultimately to an ongoing experience of Oneness with Source and to the degree that we can maintain this spiritual condition, to this degree are we healed from our addictions as they become superfluous. The expression, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” speaks to this level of attainment.
One example of this is Ram Dass’ story of witnessing his guru in India gobble up an inordinate amount of LSD with absolutely no discernable change in his state of consciousness. This anecdote illuminates the idea that when one is already in a high state of consciousness naturally, no mood-altering substances are needed to achieve this state it’s just gilding the lily.
For some of us, consciousness-expanding drugs may be useful initially in cracking open our psychic perceptions and having a preliminary experience of higher states. But, for most of us, these substances usually only offer a fleeting glimpse unless we are karmically predisposed to follow-up our cracking open with ongoing maintenance through spiritual practices.
One of the biggest challenges occurs after we get stuck at levels of addiction that have become life-threatening or life-stagnating the very same ones that gave us that illusionary taste in the beginning that “all is well.” We keep going back sometimes for decades for that initial experience, but the “cheese” is no longer there just the memory of it. This is one definition of insanity repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. Bait and switch, indeed.
Here is a partial list of lower-level addictions:
- Alcohol and drugs including pharmaceuticals, nicotine and consciousness-expanding substances
- Food, sex and sick excitement
- Gambling, high-risk sports and adventures
- Work, money, power, shopping and hoarding
- TV, computer and other mental stimulants that only feed the monkey-mind
- love and romance . . . and the list could go on and on.
Bottoming out on these addictions is tricky because all bottoms have infinite trapdoors that can go on from lifetime to lifetime. Because withdrawal can be so laborious on all levels─physical, emotional, mental, karmic─it’s important to remember that all bottoms feel the same from the inside: excruciatingly painful.
Therefore, it’s up to each of us to consciously choose to draw a line and say “My bottom stops here.” When we surrender to the reality that our addiction has turned on us and is bringing us nothing but more pain and more damage.
We all have a life force and a death urge, and in choosing to stop a life-threatening addiction we’re turning around the downward spiral of our soul evolution. We always have free will and our choices determine our future karma and destiny.
For addictions involving life-threatening behaviors or addictive substances, such as alcohol, nicotine and other drugs, total abstinence is the optimal course once a certain line of chemical dependency has been crossed. It’s nearly impossible to reverse and go back to occasional usage, especially when we’re dealing with our primary drug of choice.
Beyond this lowest level of addiction, we can refine our other addictions to ones that are no longer life-stagnating, by enjoying them in moderation rather than investing in them excessively. The key is in upgrading these habitual patterns from attachments which bring suffering if we don’t feed them to preferences, which we can enjoy when available, but can take or leave when not accessible or in balance with all levels of our being.
For example, we may still enjoy our TV or our computers, but as we evolve more, we can enjoy equally, if not more, being out in nature, meditating, mind/body practices, heart-centered human companionship, or just being present in the world and having a conscious relationship with Life itself.
We may prefer to be in a relationship with a significant other, but we can also equally enjoy our alone stages of the journey, without feeling depressed or lonely at all, but rather using this freedom to accelerate our inner evolution.
In letting go of people, places, things, habits, and substances that have turned on us, we can cultivate a preference for healthier foods and nutritional supplements, heart-centered friendships, and life-affirming activities. This is the middle stage in evolving through our addictions.
The third stage in refining our addictions, after we are maintaining abstinence from life-threatening ones and upgraded life-stagnating ones to preferences, is best expressed in the Buddha’s teaching: “The Great Way is easy for one who has no preferences.”
In other words, if we want to be in heaven ALL the time, we need to accept life and others just as they are with no personal agenda to wish to change anything.
Ouch! This is the level of refining our addictions where the vast majority of us balk. Our egos draw the line at giving up our preferences for our personal “comforts,” and our little selves kick and scream and go into denial big time with exclamations like, “What’s the big deal with taking my comfort, it’s not life-threatening!”
As an example of this, I was on a 10-day spiritual retreat a few years ago where the theme was on working on letting go of attachment to our regular comfort levels. I’ve never seen so many egos in overdrive to defend the few comforts they had left myself included.
At this level, the best way to work with being in heaven all the time is to look at it as a continuum of consciously choosing to release preferences for comforts that have become a form of anesthesia or buffer to experiencing reality just the way it is. We may not need to take it to the extremes of meditation at charnel grounds, but we can at least choose to be at peace with rainy days equally as much as sunny ones.
The highest levels of addiction occur when our preferences for what gives the most satisfaction is primarily on the higher chakra levels. Our attachments to spiritual teachers, practices or consciousness-expanding substances for spiritual experiences are the most subtle and perhaps insidious levels of addiction as they can all give us true but ephemeral glimpses of higher planes of consciousness.
Ultimately this level of attachment needs to be released as well. Here are some criteria to consider:
1. With consciousness-expanding drugs─when the glimpses these substances once gave us are primarily in the past and we have not done the work to integrate these tastes into our normal operating mode of consciousness through spiritual practices─in which case, the need for these substances would fall away naturally. Instead, we’ve become stuck in a rut of stagnating growth on all levels─especially on the personal emotional range.
2. With spiritual teachers─when the transmissions we’ve received from them at their highest is complete and we’ve become One with them at that level─especially if we’ve become attached to a limiting belief that we can’t sustain these high states of consciousness on our own.
3. With our daily structure of spiritual and mind/body practices when the levels of consciousness reached through these has become an automatic natural part of our being, so that we no longer need to repeat these particular practices to sustain our normal state.
At these higher levels of attachment, especially the last two, letting go of specific teachers or practices because we’ve gotten what can be gotten from them does not mean we will not move on to new teachers and practices. However, ultimately, the boat that takes us to the other shore is no longer a necessary vehicle but just more baggage.
My personal journey in this life and in many past lives has been one of enjoying and bottoming out on the full range of addictions from the lowest to the highest levels. All of them felt fantastically good in the beginning as they worked their magic in giving me those fleeting glimpses that “all is well.”
But, alas, over time those glimpses became more and more ephemeral and harder to sustain and, when the addictions turned, as they always do sooner or later, I had to choose, usually kicking and screaming, to go for the upgrade.
The criterion for creating an ongoing experience of contentment with things just as they are is through consciously choosing actions that:
- Support the life force rather than the death urge.
- Are consciousness-expanding rather than anesthetizing.
- Empower us to depend less on external factors─people, places, things, conditions and substances─for our bliss.
In closing, I wish all of us more than just a taste of what we’ve been seeking through our addictions all along: Being in Heaven All the Time.
For more on Leela: COSMIC PLAY
On addiction from a karmic perspective: “Why is This Happening to Me?”
For more on the highest level of addiction: On Spiritual Teachers: Buyer Be Aware
My story: Cosmic Sugar: “The Amorous Adventures of a Modern Mystic
Some Quotes on Addiction:
On love addiction: “Addiction is composed of three elements: obsession or preoccupation, a feeling of being out of control, and continuation despite negative physical and psychological consequences. As with other addictions, the signs of addictive relating often become increasingly evident─but often not to the people involved.”
“Those who eat too much or eat too little, who sleep too much or sleep too little, will not succeed in meditation. But those who are temperate in eating and sleeping, work and recreation, will come to the end of sorrow through meditation”
“It is not heroin or cocaine that makes one an addict, it is the need to escape from a harsh reality. There are more television addicts, more baseball and football addicts, more movie addicts, and certainly more alcohol addicts in this country than there are narcotics addicts.”
“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.”
“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
“I drank because I wanted to drown my sorrows, but now the damned things have learned to swim.”
“I made a commitment to completely cut out drinking and anything that might hamper me from getting my mind and body together. And the floodgates of goodness have opened upon me spiritually and financially.”
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Those who seek for and follow (the Tao) are strong of body, clear of mind, and sharp of sight and hearing. They do not load their mind with anxieties and are flexible in their adjustment to external conditions.”
“Contrary to popular misconception, karma has nothing to do with punishment and reward. It exists as part of our holographic universe’s binary or dualistic operating system only to teach us responsibility for our creations and all things we experience are our creations. When these creations are out of tune with Source, they often manifest in the disharmony known as disease. This can occur not only in individuals but in entire civilizations. In both cases, disease, which is typically considered a crisis, simultaneously serves as a powerful stimulus for transformation and transcendence.”
“Man cannot live without joy; therefore, when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures.” Thomas Aquinas