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.

In the end, the nature of addiction is an attempt to escape the pain that is at the core of all of our beings. Getting on with the spiritual work means learning to be okay in the present moment, just as it is, without need for stories or elaborations, knowing that we’re going to die, that no absolute security is to be found, that everything is impermanent. Part 4 of 5, public talk, Winnepeg, Canada, Sept. 2009

Podcast Transcription:

Fundamentally you’re never in a relationship with anybody, ever. Because, in fact, nobody is there to be in a relationship with except the stories you’ve written. All you have in the end is your story. And that story is you. It’s not the story that’s the problem. The nature of the problem is the addiction. In other words, the need of the being to create a fantasy or a story to get out of the present moment because the present moment is threatening. 


So where the difference lies is when you replay the tape. The way out of that is you say to yourself, “ok I’m replaying this tape, what’s the pattern”? What is the structure of the story? What are the dynamics of the story? What kind of unstated assumptions am I writing into the story that I’m not seeing?” All of a sudden you’re much more fascinated by the hallucinations you’re having. I painted this kind of like the guy from Saskatchewan like he’s Romeo, and all he is is a guy from Saskatchewan.


And you go, “ok, why did I do that”? You could become the next JK Rowling. Just turn that experience into a story. Now in order to do that, you have to give up a very basic addiction. The very basic addiction that’s at the core of all our being is a one root addiction that drives everything else. It starts with a ‘P’. The second letter is an ‘A’ – four-letter word – third letter is an ‘I’… Dukkah = PAIN. That’s driving the story: feeling of separation, feeling of aloneness, feeling of rejection, or however you paint it. Whatever dialogue you have. It’s like, ‘I’m not understood’, ‘nobody recognizes how much I try’, ‘I do my best and they don’t see’… you know what I mean? One way or the other; pain, pain, pain. 


I’m not blaming mothers, please be very clear about that, but the number one lesson of the child is they’re not good enough the way they are. They’re not. Kids are not good enough the way they are. Otherwise, we’d still be peeing on the floor and pooping our pants and eating with our hands and throwing potatoes against the wall. So it’s a true message in the sense that you weren’t good enough the way you are. 


But the difference is acting that story out and trying to find substitutes with money or relationships or property or love or fame or whatever. Fame, shame, praise, blame, trying to get away from that. And in the end, the nature of addiction is an attempt to escape the pain. It’s an attempt to escape the fact that you weren’t good enough and never could be. But that which was being fixed, wasn’t you.


And now the child’s job is to be upset with that. Sure, fine, no problem. Rebel against that? Sure, fine, no problem. But in the end, they’re functioning. They’re functioning adults and only a functioning adult can have the necessary discipline required to do the spiritual work, which is: to forgive their father or forgive their mother (if God is female). Forgive the mother for they did what they had to do. It’s not that they didn’t know what they were doing, they did. What they had to do was train you to be a functioning adult. And at that point, your control is to forgive them for doing what they had to do. 


Then, get on with what you’re supposed to be doing as an awakening being, which is being okay in the present moment. Just as it is without any need for stories or elaborations or whatever. Just the way it is, knowing that you’re gonna die, knowing that there’s no absolute security to be found, no refuge to be found anywhere – other than the fact that it’s impermanent – always changing, it’s all gonna fall out from under you, and you have to come to terms with that. 


Otherwise, if you don’t do that, there’s only one other option left: addiction. Or in a milder form: appetite. You’ll keep looking for a Mr. Goodbar or whatever. You’ll keep looking for someplace or thing or person or situation out there that’s gonna work for you and you’ll never ever ever find it because the thing that’s looking for it is that which refuses to admit the core pain of having to be something else. So that’s where the story starts. I’m gonna see how this story is written. How did I get here? Whether it’s in a relationship, at work, in terms of your community, your family, or your job – how am I getting myself into this fix where other things, other events other than my own mindfulness, is creating a hell state or a difficult state for me that I don’t have to be in? 


That can’t happen to you if you don’t have the appetite for a refuge that is false. You can’t be put in that position. Nobody can do it to you. Nobody has the power. You can be tortured wherever, and nobody can do it to you anymore. And the reason they can’t do it to you anymore is because you’re no longer buying into the habit. You’re no longer buying into the appetite. You’re no longer buying into the addiction. 


You see, the nature of the addiction is your impulse to try to find an escape from the fact that the original motion of you was painful and that if you let go of that, it’s peaceful. It’s as simple as that; hard to do. It’s hard to do because the nature of the addiction and habit is so overpowering. And so you need to do meditation, you need to do counseling, you need to do practice, you need spiritual teaching, you need a spiritual group, and you need a spiritual teacher in order to keep your eyes on what you’re doing. Otherwise, the stories just come in and take you off. Five years later, you’re chasing a new relationship which may be, you know, a perfectly decent relationship, until they hit that button of blindness.


Yes, you had a further point? 

  1. Q) So being present and avoiding pain, right? Being present for that pain…. 
  2. A) It’s just a decision. Do you want to let it go? Okay, stick around kid. Because it’s gonna take time. It’s old and it’s stuck. 


But the idea that I want to let go of the pain isn’t quite the same thing as putting myself in the position where I’m gonna meet the pain and let go of it. To do that, we’re gonna have to get you on the cushion. We’re gonna have to put you in a situation where your social world, your political world, and your economic world are temporarily left behind. A week, a month, maybe a couple of months, or a few years – not all at once, but over a few years – where you have nowhere else to go but have that pain right there. That’s the job of the spiritual teaching: to bring you straight back home face to face with it until you can meet the demon of your resistance. 


The demon of your resistance could be called:

  • ‘It’s not fair’
  • ‘Can I do it another way’? 
  • ‘Isn’t there some other way to do this’?
  • ‘Can’t I just somehow get rid of this somewhere’?
  • ‘Is there somewhere else I can go where I don’t have to do this’? 
  • ‘Is there some out’?
  • ‘Is there some escape’? 
  • ‘Is there some alternative route’? 


And as I sometimes say, awakening is the room at the end of the hall. You keep going to any room you can find until none of them work. And then you’re left with the spiritual life – whatever we call the spiritual life – nothing else works but this.


So I gotta sit there. I got to meet it. That’s not an easy thing to do. You need the meditative mind to sit and say, ‘arising, pain arising, pain and swelling…’ and you go through some rough ground, right? But the thing is that once you’ve accepted the fact that there’s no escape, you’re surrendering to the fact that there’s no escape. 


The human condition is by definition fraught with pain insofar as it’s addictive, based on addiction,  habituation, or appetite. We think ‘I’m going to find an answer out there’ and sorry, we just can’t deal with this! We just don’t want to deal with this! There’s gotta be another answer! 


Sainthood in spiritual life starts when you realize there isn’t. Your sainthood starts when you realize everybody is suffering as much as me about everything. No matter how happy they look, because they know it’s hanging by a thread of imagination, fantasy, clinging, and wanting life to be something other than it is. Either not getting what you want or getting what you don’t want. 


For more information, please visit 


Thank you.