The nature of addiction is an attempt to escape the pain at the core of our being. Resisting the urge to give in rather than face the appetite or addiction takes patience and determination.
“If you look at the nature of your consciousness, you’re always one step ahead of yourself or perhaps one step behind yourself, but very rarely are you actually in this moment just as it is.” — Doug Duncan Sensei The nature of appetite or addiction is thinking, ‘What’s next?'” In our modern lifestyles, we are addicted to being busy, always going from one thing to next, seeking happiness in the next moment. This is an addictive pattern. Seeking cannot produce peace and contentment. Happiness cannot be found in the next moment. Only in breaking the pattern, the addiction to the immediate reward of the chemical rush, do we find that consciousness can reside pleasantly in this moment, undisturbed for a period of time. The cycle of addiction is rooted in a strong sense of survival in one’s being. Rather than fighting against it, look at it with reason. Decide to meditate, to do nothing but rest peacefully in the moment for one or two hours a day. In meditating, one’s habit is absent, so initially boredom will arise. Boredom is the result of the withdrawal from mental addiction, the addiction to ‘What’s going to happen next?’ Boredom is followed by fear and anxiety, which have some survival value. So how do you marry the survival value of planning and organizing with the idea of being present in the moment? Stay tuned.
The problem we face as human beings is that we’re really good planners. You raise your eyebrows with skepticism, doubt perhaps, but we’re amazing planners. The human species has survived because they’re social. They work together to hunt, gather seeds, and gather nuts. But basically, the human species has no strength.
They’re not as fast as the lion. They do not as good eyesight as the vulture. They’re not as strong as the bear. You go through the list. We have very little going for us as a species except our ability to be social. In other words, our ability to work together. And it’s our ability to work together that’s made us hunters and gatherers and so on and so on.
And so this great strength of the human being and the great strength of the human species is curiously enough, its social function. And you’ll find that when society starts to break down one of the first signs of the breaking down of society is the breaking down of the social function. People can’t work together anymore. In a modern world, modern technology has helped us to be more and more independent as individuals.
So, this ability of human beings to be successful is based on their social organization and their skills to be social, and on the basis of that socialization, it also created some evolutionary changes in the organism that allowed us to be more skillful at being social. For instance, we are the only animals mammals that talk good. You know, monkeys can talk and parrots can talk, but they can’t convey the subtleties of information that a human being can convey. And the reason we’re so good at that is that we learned basically, when our larynx dropped down into our throat, which is why you can talk. The sound box dropped from up here to down here where it is in most of the primates. And on the basis of that, that’s why you can’t both swallow and breathe at the same time.
So if you notice whenever you swallow, you’re not breathing because when you’re breathing, the swallowing blocks the breathing passages, which doesn’t happen in other mammals. But that ability to communicate, that ability to talk is hugely important for us and conveying all that information and knowledge that we need in order to live in a modern society. Navigating banks, post offices, subways, trains, and planes and doing all our jobs, in some way or another, probably for most of us, involves some kind of communication.
So this ability to talk and I have the social aspect of the being, the communicative aspect of the being, the working together aspect of the being, and then all of these things come together. How do we live together? How do we work together? How are we together? And also, of course, how are we alone? Now the interesting thing about being together is it almost always creates an appetite. But this appetite always tends to have a thing attached to it. So the minute you have the pizza, you want the coke. Beer? pizza, and beer? Does anybody want tea? Pizza and tea? Lemonade? Water? Or some fries? And then of course you’re going to have to have ketchup. And then you’re going to have to have salt. And then you’re going to have to have dessert. Chocolate, anyone? Ladies? Coffee? tea?
The other aspect of being in a group is rules. And how many of you like rules? And yet without the rules, there’s no group. So the rules create another form of community, don’t they? But the thing is that everything leads to everything else. The nature of appetite is it always leads to something else. I was riding over with Jerry and Jerry’s a handyman with tools and stuff. He says that whenever he gets a cut or a bruise working on his car, or whatever he’s doing, it’s because he’s on the next step. In other words, he’s undoing this bolt, but he’s thinking, ‘well that wires next, right’? And so it’s in the process of being in the next moment. And if you look at the nature of your consciousness on a pretty regular basis, you’re always one step ahead of yourself, right?
Or perhaps one step behind yourself. But very rarely are actually in this moment just as it is. And so our appetite is what comes next. Maybe you’re thinking, well, what are you going to do after this class? What do you have to do after this class? What did you do before you came? Where are you going to be tomorrow? What do you gotta do tomorrow? So the nature of appetite, or the nature of addiction, is the same thing. The appetite or the nature of addiction is what’s next. Because we’re such good planners, it’s very rare as human beings that the message is just to be right here; now as it is. Blaise Pascal, the famous French philosopher, said that ‘all suffering stems from the inability to sit in an empty room and do nothing’. And if you look at our modern lifestyles and if you look at our modern activities, you’re pretty much going from one thing to the next all day long, right? Is that fair enough?
Even if you’re in the park, you’re thinking, ‘okay, I got 15 minutes to get walked over to the gazebo there and maybe I’ll get a tea over there, and then I’ll be back to the car, I gotta be back to the house by 6:30’. No? Is this not our lives? And so the nature of appetite is that everything we do almost all day long from beginning to end is in the next moment. We’re only partly in this one. And we’re a good part onto the next one. What comes next? What will happen with my boyfriend in the future? What happens to my kids in the future? What am I going to do on the weekend? What am I going to do after this class? So this appetite thing, which is the nature of appetite, is what comes next? In this moment, if you look very clearly, there’s no appetite.
If you rest just clearly and calmly and comfortably in this moment, there’s nothing really that you need. But largely, you’re in the next moment. And as human beings in a modern world, we’re conditioned and trained to be in the next moment constantly. What time did you have to be at school? What time did you get out of school? What were your duties after school? You know. You get conditioned early on, don’t you? Does anybody have any animals? Do they know what time suppertime is? Do they know when the bowls come out? When the food gets put in the dish? They’re prepared. So the appetite is prepared for the next moment, prepared for the next moment. Now the nature of the appetite, the nature of addiction, is that it only leads to the next moment. So this nature of the satisfaction of the appetite, or the nature of the satisfaction of the moment, is that it isn’t contained in the moment.
The appetite, addiction, desire, seeking, or the yearning is always somewhere other than where we are. That’s always one or two steps ahead of us. And this, by definition, cannot produce peace. It cannot produce contentment. So you can say, ‘all right, I hear this message and so I’m just going to rest peacefully in this moment and do absolutely nothing.’ For how long? Well, never mind your habitual mind and your habitual emotions that are continuously going to kick up stories. You’re going to start thinking about your kids, you’re going to start thinking about your work, you’re going to start thinking about your relationship, you’re going to start thinking about your future. Leaving that aside for the moment, the thing that’s going to come up first and foremost, if nothing else happens, is: boredom.
Because you’re addicted to events. You’re addicted to the next sensation. You’re addicted to the next event, right? So it seems like boredom because there’s nothing going on. Does that seem fair enough? Well, the funny thing about peace and contentment, and therefore the basis of compassion, is it’s in the moment when there’s nothing going on (so-called boredom), when everything is actually in harmony and at peace. You feel compassion, you feel peaceful, you feel wonderful, and you feel great in the moment. The minute the mind starts going to the next appetite, you don’t. The first tendency they call that is boredom, but something else is going to drive you off that cushion.
In other words, winter is coming. So you start thinking, ‘Well winter, gotta get the firewood in. Or if you’re a farmer you gotta think gotta get the crops in.’ So the idea of the human being is in the very thing that makes them go forward as a species: their ability to plan, their ability to organize, their ability to think, their ability to know the caribou are going to come down through this passage in February, so we want to have the tribe over here in February, and then we can do the ice fishing in December, so we’ve got to be over there in December’. It has great survival value, doesn’t it? So then how do you marry these two? How do you marry the survival value of planning, organizing, predicting the future, taking care of business, making sure you have a retirement plan (if it’s going to be worth anything at all 30 years from now is another matter, but never mind) with this idea of just being present in the moment.
Well, the thing about being present in the moment at the moment, in terms of meditation, is it’s quite easy to do because you just meditate for an hour a day. An hour a day or two hours a day you do your meditation, and you don’t have to do anything. You have another 22 hours. Take off how much you need to sleep these days, so you have 16 hours a day to do all the running around you want. But in those two hours a day when you do absolutely nothing, you can’t do it for very long because you are habitualized, you’re addicted.
You are consumed by the appetite of having to do something next. And in that process, you lose the peace of your being. The sense of well-being is in your being and you get addicted to the next object, which can’t possibly produce contentment. And so we’re a bit like that greyhound dog.
You know the greyhound dogs that chase the mechanical rabbits around the racetrack. Unlike a dog, we seem not to learn. If you let that greyhound dog catch that rabbit, that dog will never chase that mechanical rabbit again. I won’t do it. It might chase a real rabbit, but won’t chase the mechanical one.
Whereas we, as human beings, will continue to chase the same elusive quality forever and ever and ever in front of us because we’ve never quite come to terms with the fact that we’re not going to catch it. And the elusive mechanical rabbit is, what do we call it? Happiness. We’re always chasing it. Whether you call it happiness, contentment, or peace of mind, you can’t possibly catch it if you’re constantly chasing it into the next moment.
And so it’s not for nothing that we have a highly addictive society. It’s not for nothing that we have a society that suffers from stress, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. Or all the other kinds of eating disorders like Bulimia and Anorexia. We’re constantly chasing the perfect body image, constantly chasing the perfect relationship, and constantly chasing the perfect job. We’re never content, it can’t possibly happen!
So all right, let’s give us the two hours a day where you learn to sit in meditation and do absolutely nothing, contentedly. The first thing that happens is you tend to get bored. Now on the nature of boredom: boredom by definition is the removal or the absence of your habit. So the minute you get bored, what you’re really looking at is your habits being interfered with.
In other words, your addiction. So if the heebie-jeebies are the nature of the withdrawal from heroin addiction or the D.T.‘s [Delirium Tremens] is the nature of withdrawal from alcohol addiction, then the nature of the withdrawal from mental addiction is boredom. The first thing is boredom. It’s like the withdrawal from the mind’s habit to try to find happiness in the next moment. And so you go, ‘well I’m bored, I’m going to do something’.
So you get up and do it and then of course, now that you’re back in the cycle, right? You seem okay. Now with a drug like alcohol or heroin, you can substitute that for work, sex, drugs, children, entertainment, or jogging. There are even good habits that are still addictive behaviors in terms of your happiness. The nature of this is that when you get something like heroin, you’re getting the very same chemical release that you’re getting when you’re just walking around on the street, but the difference is it’s more intense. It’s like a bigger hit. So when you are addicted to heroin, you’re getting an endorphin or whatever. For now, we’ll use dopamine. You get the dopamine rush but you get it big! And so what happens with the nature of the big dopamine rush is that it’s overpowering.
In other words, it’s a big hit! Like a big sugar rush. What happens when you have a big sugar rush? You feel charged. You feel awake, you feel bright, and you feel alive. You miss everything. I mean you missed the little ant crawling across the leaf or you missed the dog kind of chasing its tail in the yard, but you still feel good. For how long? 20 minutes, right? 20 minutes on a sugar rush. So after about 20 minutes to half an hour of a sugar rush, you go through the crash cycle.
And then of course, you need the next thing right now. This explains french fries and all sorts of foods that you eat because you get the big carbohydrate sugar rush that gives you a big energy boost – for about 20 minutes. What you don’t get is the delivered nutrients and minerals, so 20 minutes later you’re hungry and so you go back for more. So you get bigger and bigger and fatter and fatter as a society because you’re going for the hit, you’re going for the addiction, and you’re going for the rush, but you’re not going for the well-being nature of the thing.
The well-being nature of the thing, of course, is to wait. To allow the apple that you’re eating to give you, yes, the sugar rush, but also to deliver the minerals and vitamins that are contained in the apple that isn’t coming in the other food that will sustain you. So in half an hour from now, you’re still feeling good. Not as good as the initial dopamine hit, but you’re still feeling good and you don’t get the crash. So you’re not hungry after 20 minutes and don’t go back to the fridge to get the next ice cream cone, or the next bag of french fries, or the next bag of potato chips, and so on and so on.
The ability to come to terms with the addiction or the ability to come to terms with the appetite is the inability to come to terms with the mindfulness that’s present in just this moment. The mindfulness in just this moment never needs anything. We’re back to Blaise Pascal and the inability to sit in an empty room and do nothing. In so far as you overcome the addictive pattern to go to the next moment, either for food or whatever, consciousness can reside pleasantly in this moment undisturbed for a period of time.
And of course, in order to do that, you have to break the addiction. The addiction is to the chemical rush. The addiction or the hit is to the dopamine rush activity. You’re addicted to being busy. You’re addicted to doing stuff. You’re addicted to running around. You’re addicted to this or that or the other.
Insofar as you sit still and do nothing, the first thing that’s going to come up is boredom. The next thing that’s going to come up is: it’s dangerous. Can you see the connection? ‘Well if I sit here and do nothing long enough I’m going to starve to death. Or maybe the house is burning down. Maybe the stove is on. Did I check my answering machines? Maybe the doctor called me back’.
The next thing after boredom is fear. Then after the fear, the next thing up is going to be the anxiety. And so now all you’ve done is sit still for 20 minutes. In the first five minutes, you get bored. In the next five minutes, you’ve got kind of fearful, and in the next five minutes you get anxious. Now this cycle only changes its conditions depending on the length of time you sit.
So if you happen to be a meditator and you meditate for an hour, then at what, at what point does the boredom kick in? One hour and 3 minutes. The fear is going to kick in at one hour and 10 minutes and the anxiety is going to kick in at one hour and 20 minutes. So if you study the nature of the cycle, you’ll see that the cycle is going to be repeated regardless of whether you meditate for 10 minutes a day, 20 minutes a day, an hour a day or five hours a day. At the end of the five hours of your day, the same cycle is going to kick in and this is where you have to come to terms with it, I think. At this point, you have to recognize that that cycle of addiction is rooted in a very strong sense of survival in your being.
So rather than fighting against that, you should look at it reasonably from the point of, ‘am I going to starve to death in the next five minutes’? Unlikely. Is the house going to burn down in the next five minutes? Unlikely. Is the world going to come to a screeching halt if I don’t do anything for the next hour? Unlikely.
But the idea that you should never feel this way is anti-survival. So you should feel anxious, you should feel bored, you should feel nervous, you should have appetites, and you should feel restless, but on your terms. Not on the terms of the knee-jerk reaction to conditioning that isn’t operating in the moment. It’s going to take you more than a day to starve to death. You could go all day without starving to death, right? You could go all day without having to run around, but you can’t go all month without running around.
Well in this society you might because you have welfare and shelters and so on and so on. I mean it’s pretty hard to starve to death here, right? So the nature of the dialogue you’re going to have in terms of your appetite is: is this appetite conducive to the state I’m after? If the state I’m after is a calm, clear presence of mindful awareness, i.e. mindfulness, then that’s the choice you make. And if this mindfulness says, ‘okay, we’ve got to fix the heater on the car or we’re going to freeze to death’, then your mindfulness practice hasn’t changed. All that you’ve done is you’ve switched your mindfulness practice from the cushion to fixing the car.
But as Jerry pointed out to me in the car on the way over, the tendency where you lose to the addiction or you lose to the appetite is when you get one step ahead of where you are. And as I said earlier, the nature of the human species survival mechanism is to be one step ahead of where you are. So now how do we put these two together?
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