Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mindfulness and Addiction

There’s a fairly recent story from my life that I’ve come to call the “Angela’s butt story.” It’s a controversial tale, and its main character still doesn’t understand the remarkable significance of the experience as it applies to my life and attitudes.

As a typically shallow person of my gender, I happened to take notice of a certain physical attribute of this female friend. It started innocently and unintentionally as I glimpsed her bending over my colleague’s desk while they spoke. At the time, she was wearing a pair of burgundy velvet pants that fit like a glove. Inadvertently, I found myself obsessing about her anatomical perfection in that particular region. From there my mind began to wander into areas better left unexplored, and this friend became an object of my lustful fantasies.

As a student of consciousness, it’s my commitment to witness all thoughts and feelings that command my attention and to become aware when my mind is trapped by a particular thought loop. This obsession with Angela’s derrière required some exploration on my part.

I decided to dedicate the better half of a road trip alone not to replaying the desired imagery but to noticing the thoughts and feelings of lust the imagery had evoked.
As I sat quietly, calming my mind and directing my attention inward, I found that my body hurt. There was tightness in my chest, heaviness in my throat, and an ache in my belly. My thoughts revolved around the degree to which I wanted something I couldn’t have. Then my thoughts spun off, reminding me of all my feelings of inadequacy as result of “not getting the girl.”

Further reflection brought to light the recognition that this was the set of thoughts and feelings that I’d experienced all my life from focusing on the physical desirability of women. Yet, I continued to seek out this experience. Why?

Could it be that I was suffering under the effect of an addiction? Could it be that part of the quality of addiction is its power to create a sense of incompleteness, and then propose a solution, the completion of which might make us feel satisfied?

I’ve shared this realization with many people, and I’ve invited them to notice what their longings really feel like. Inevitably, everyone tells me that they discover the same thing. Whether they’re longing for love, sex, a relationship, or a new pair of Banana Republic jeans, they all find that the focus on that thing has an addictive, obsessive, painful quality…yet they can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

I invite you to try this experiment yourself. The next time your consciousness is arrested by a strong desire, particularly one you’re unlikely to fulfill, take a moment to turn your attention inward. Notice the exact nature of the feeling. Notice how your thought process wants to draw you back into the same set of questions and judgments it has always repeated every time you’ve been in the same situation. Notice, as you try to quiet your mind, how strongly it’s pulled back to the object of your desire and to thoughts like “Why can’t I have that? What’s wrong with me? It’s not fair. Boy, I really want that…”

Keep your attention upon the inner sensations. Forget, as best you can, the trigger, the object of your desire and obsession, and become aware of what’s going on inside of you. Here is what you’ll notice.

As you quiet your mind and study your sensations, you’ll feel pain. Somewhere within you will be an ache, a sharpness, something. As you continue to allow your attention to focus on the sensation, it will begin to change. It will shift, perhaps, to another part of your body. Or it will spread out. Or maybe it will start to throb or tingle. Your mind will likely perceive this as a sign of danger and will try to draw you out of your body and back into the inquiry. But fight that urge. Stay with the feelings. They won’t harm you, and, if you wait long enough, they will disappear.

This process of studying our sensation is how we overcome addictions. We weather the storm, but it’s not just that. We also bring awareness and equanimity to the process. That feeling which used to own us and direct our thoughts is now just a harmless, passing set of sensations. We experience freedom from our addictions, and we find that feeling of freedom is far superior to any imagined happiness that we might experience as a result of getting the object of our desire.

My sense of incompleteness, and the square yard of flesh that caused it were part of a complex program, a belief structure, which I unwittingly imbibed as a child or adolescent, kept in place by my subservience to my own feelings. In essence, it was hypnotized into me, either by others or by myself. As long as I allowed the script to keep playing, I would remain forever hypnotized. Every time I would feel the feelings, I’d think the thoughts which would perpetuate the feelings which would enhance the thoughts, etcetera, etcetera…By choosing observation of my inner senses and allowing any waves to pass without reaction, I unhypnotized myself, and I gained a measure of freedom.

Once we’ve begun to use these tools, and to attain this perspective, we see the world and ourselves very differently. Addictions to substances, relationships, or thought patterns vanish, as we reidentify ourselves correctly, not as our mind, with all its erratic and inconsistent thoughts, but as our essence, our self, our soul, our pure consciousness.


Post a Comment

<< Home