Resisting the Urge to Escape the Pain through Addiction

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 this concluding section, Sensei answers such questions as: How do you live in the moment and still plan for the future? Aren’t there authentic pleasures that are not based on addiction? How can you not identify with the objective world in a healthy way that still allows you to function?

Podcast Transcription:

From this point of view, the decisions are irrelevant. What’s important is the state of the being that’s doing them. And then whatever decisions you make from that point of view will follow according to your karma: your Proclivities, your natural interests, and your conditioned responses. So if you’ve been conditioned to be kind of a farm girl from Manitoba, then that’s as good a decision as being a doctor from Chicago. 


From the point of view of being free from addiction and being free from appetite, it doesn’t matter what you do. You can be a ditch digger, a doctor, a lawyer, or a plumber. But in the process, the one thing you probably won’t do is a job that causes pain; to either yourself or others. The difficult part when it comes to relationships is that we tend to create relationships of pain in order to liberate the original pain. But all we do is act it out, because you can’t use a relationship to liberate the pain.


The nature of the relationship mirrors in some ways, the pain of the child. And so it’s an attempt to get in touch with it, but it doesn’t solve it. It’s a solitary and lonely journey. It’s really good to have Dharma brothers and sisters to go along with you on (because at least they understand what you’re going through), when everybody else says, ‘oh! just get over it’. Which of course, you can’t, really. 


  1. Q) So how do you live in the moment and still plan for the future?
  2. A) Well, you know, winter’s coming. That’s your animal/social/planner guy, right? So you know you have  to chop firewood. If it’s August, and tonight you want to have a beer with the boys down at the bar, you have to make the decision: ‘do I go home and chop firewood or do I go to the bar’? If you always make the decision to go home and chop firewood, then you’ll be kind of a grump. And if you always make the decision to go to the bar and have a drink, you’re going to be dysfunctional. And so the nature of the decision isn’t important, what’s important is which decision is the most appropriate one at the moment. And you’ll know which decision is the most appropriate one at the moment by how much firewood you have. If you’ve got three cords of wood you can afford to go to the bar. If you haven’t even started cutting down trees…. These decisions are fairly straightforward. 


If, for example, you have a job in Winnipeg (where your friends and family are) and you get offered a job in Toronto as a head psychiatric hooba hooba of hubba hubba – it’s a good job and a promotion. Now you have to make a decision, ‘what does my family want to do’? because that’s a contract you have. ‘What do I want to do’? That’s another contract you have. ‘What are the various factors’? Again, on that decision, I think the factors are fairly obvious. So your decision comes to ‘which one I have to do in the end’. And that’s the one you follow. ‘Well, my family is more important to me than the job, so I’ll stay’. Or, ‘my family is happy to go to Toronto, but I don’t want to be in a big city, so I’ll stay’. Or ‘I’ve been in Winnipeg for 30, 40 years and it would be good to have a different perspective, so I’ll go’. 


But we think that that decision is going to determine our happiness. What I’m saying is the opposite –  that decision won’t affect it. You won’t be any happier here or there unless you’re happy now. You can only be happy now if that decision isn’t the important decision. The important decision is, ‘am I okay at this moment’?


And if the answer to that is yes, then whether you choose to go to Toronto or stay in Winnipeg will have relative consequences based on the dynamic of those situations, but it won’t affect your happiness. Because your happiness isn’t built on those decisions. And when we’re addicted or when we’re caught in appetite, those decisions seem to be the root of our happiness. That’s what I’m trying to turn around. The reason we have such difficulty with this is that we think these decisions are the root of our well being. What is actually the root of our well-being is the decision to be okay at the moment, and then go close the door or whatever you’re gonna do. And if we turn that around, all of a sudden the decisions in our world become much much easier. Some of them are no wins. 


Now, the reason we have pain is that we’re hoping that the other person will tell us that it’s okay for us to be us. But the nature of the experience is that it’s not okay for you to be you. The price of being you is that you’re alone. 


  1. Q) So are you saying we could be happy in any story you create?
  2. A) You should be happy in any story you create because you’re creating them. If you have a mixed story and you can’t be happy in any of them, laugh and say, ‘you know what, this is a no-win situation! I love it! I’m gonna be happy in a no-win situation’. By the way, when I say happy, I don’t mean happy happy. I just mean that you understand that your well-being in this moment, is in this moment. All the complicated life decisions aren’t gonna change that.

If you’re not happy at this moment, you won’t be in the next one. And if you are happy in this one, you’re gonna have to be happy in whichever one, because you might get cancer <knock on wood> or you might be in the plane that goes into the Twin Towers tomorrow. You’ve got to be happy on that plane. In that moment, you’ve got to be okay with that moment because sooner or later, we’re all on a plane into the Twin Towers.


  1. Q) When we were first talking about addiction, the impression I was getting was television, McDonalds, all those things which seem bad, but I’m also wondering whether there are people in the world who are addicted to authentically positive things?
  2. A) Yes. Yes, of course. Of course, there are, but they’re all based on when you’re being authentic in your being. If you look at the nature of authentic experiences out there, they’re authentic because you’re being authentic. When your misery seems overpowering, it’s still an authentic experience and you should be happy with your misery – misery is also authentic. The idea that we will have no pain is inauthentic.


I’m not saying everything that happens all the time is painful. What I’m saying is that when there is pain that’s authentic, you have to be okay with that. It’s not like it’s the end of the world. It’s just modern life. If you’re an Eskimo and you’re old, you just get off the [COMETICK?] in the middle of a snowstorm. Everybody pretends they don’t see you as you just walk off and die, because you can no longer be of use to the community. This isn’t cruel. This isn’t mean – this is life! 


The illusion that we have – the fantasy that we hold – is that nothing bad is supposed to ever happen in life, but the major cause of death is living. [Laughter]. Yeah, I am talking a lot about the pain side, but only because I’m talking about the falseness of the other side – which is the idea that habits and addictions and appetites are gonna produce pleasure. That leads us back to this: ‘What or where is the authentic pleasure?’ Well, the authentic pleasure is to be mindfully in the moment, and that is infinitely pleasurable.


But when that moment isn’t good enough, because of the addiction or because of the habits, then we’re back into the pain dialogue. And this moment as it is is only pleasurable because it isn’t tied to that which is unreliable; what’s unreliable are objects. Physical objects, mental objects, and emotional objects are all unreliable because they’re impermanent. They’re subject to loss and they can’t be maintained over time, because all objects that come into being disappear. 


So the ultimate pleasure or the absolute pleasure (I guess if I can say it that way) is the mind that rests in its own experience of perception and awareness without attachment or aversion to the objects. 


  1. Q) Does that seem to then collapse this duality that you can reconcile both?
  2. A) Yes. Yes. You reconcile the duality by recognizing that the dialogue between the two sides is happening in your mind. When you don’t have that dialogue, that duality collapses. But of course, the nature of our experiences that were habitualized to the dialogue.
  3. Q) But are they the same because they’re both sensations, they’re both sensing? 
  4. A) Yeah, in the end. Pleasure-pain, you know. ‘Is she crying out of joy at the wedding or is she crying out of pain at the wedding’? It’s all about whether you’re happy that she’s getting married or that you’re sad she’s marrying such a jerk. It’s all in the interpretation. Right? 
  5. Q) I was just wondering, how can you not identify with the objective world in a healthy way that still allows you to function?
  6. A) You just answered your own question, my dear. You just have to be aware that you’re identifying. You’ve identified with the story, and in the process of identifying with the story, this story ends in pain. Or this story ends in pleasure. And so you can be pleasurable as long as the story is held together. But all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And in the cycle of stories, you always return to the same still point, spacious emptiness, vibrant voidness, or shunyata mind state of its in-betweenness. 

Like a movie, I’m sorry, we’re back to non-digital metaphors here. But you know, in a strip of the film, you have 32 frames a second, right? And in between each frame is a gap. Just because those frames are moving at speed and make it look like it’s continuous; it’s not. And so is your mind, your mind has these little gaps. We’re just so addicted to the story, we don’t even notice the gaps.

Meditation is really just to become aware of the gaps. The stories don’t change, but you have a place of refuge that you didn’t have before. The place of refuge is that gap, where the pain and pleasure dialogue is just two frames of the movie. Pleasure, pain, pleasure, pleasure, pleasure, pleasure, pleasure (and then your stocks were all in Enron) pain, pain, pain, pain, right? But in between, you always have the gap, but you can’t find the gap from the point of view of your habitual mind, your addictive mind, or your appetite mind because they’re so all-consuming that you miss the gap. 

When you first see the gap you get bored because there’s nothing happening there. Then you get fearful because there’s nothing happening there. And then you get anxious because you think you’re losing your mind, when in fact what you’re losing is the continuity of your story. Now in the spiritual life, what you train yourself to do is simply to be happy in the gap. No story of pleasure, no story of pain, neither loss nor gain can do anything to the gap, because the gap by definition is: a gap.


Recognize that in the magic circle, or in the threshold of adventure (using a Western metaphor rather than an Eastern metaphor) that when you enter into the spiritual world, you enter into the side that is what I’ve been describing. And when you go back out into the world, that world follows its rules. And when you go back to the world of Doug in Toronto, that follows its rules. And the two sides are irreconcilable in the sense that any decision you make in the world won’t necessarily please anyone else. And that’s just the law of it. 


And so you use the other side, the spiritual side, to recognize that whatever decision or whatever choices I make in my life are going to be mixed. You can have positive effects and negative effects and spending your entire life simply looking for just the positive effects of that kind of involvement is doomed to suffering because no matter how good you are, you can still have a bad thing happen.


The only mistake you make (I guess is what I’m trying to say) is that if you spend 90% of your time trying to find happiness in that so-called ‘Object World’, you’re not gonna do it. And if you spend 90% of your time finding happiness in the non-objective world, you will. But that won’t necessarily make your objective world happy all the time. But it does give you the tool to handle those times when it isn’t.


But in order to do that, you have gotta let go of your history or herstory. It’s not easy, but you have no choice. Nobody, nobody wants to awaken. No. You say you want to awaken, but you make all the decisions to keep yourself from awakening. You do it because you have no place else to run to.

For more information, please visit 

Thank you.