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"Pelican Flight" ©2018 Eric Platt

On Beyond Addictions

This article was a response to a question I received from a reader.


I've watched a lecture of Krishnamurti on addiction. He said that incorporating mindfulness in your life can help to some degree. Watching the urge can make it go away, and when it comes back, you can observe it again so it fades again! The problem with this approach though, is that it is a short-term solution. At some point this 'watching' becomes mechanical. "If you constantly need to remind yourself of paying attention..then you are NOT ATTENDING!" How should one go about dealing with addictive behaviors then? What's Zen's take on this? Also, does Krishnamurti discredit the value of mindfulness and observing thoughts/feelings by saying that it can too become a mechanical behavior? (possibly a new addiction?)

I'd greatly appreciate your feedback on this.

Best wishes,

Hello Kyriakos –

Thank you for the question. Here are some notes.

I can't answer for Jiddu Krishnamurti, because I'm not an expert on his philosophy, and in any case I don't know if he actually helped anyone with addictions.

While I love Zen — at least its core message — I can't answer for Zen or from a Zen point of view (which would be... what? No self?) because I'm not a Zen Buddhist. In other words I am not a Zen scholar nor do I identify with Zen Buddhism (though I studied Zen and meditated in Zen fashion, and at a Zen school, and it was important for my seeing at one point, years ago).

I agree that mindfulness is a limited approach. As long as there is mind, there is effort, a fight. And how can you win a battle against yourself? Self-observation, awareness, have to go beyond the mind, since the mind is simply repetitive, a mechanism, a set of tendencies, patterns of memory, and is not intelligent or conscious.

Mind is movement. Consciousness is stillness.

So far, all I've said is what won't work. All I can say with respect to what does work is what has worked for me, since anything else would be theoretical. I have had a couple of addictions in my life – to alcohol and to Kratom for example – and while neither were severe or life-threatening, I learned enough to see how it "works". I got past them in novel ways that I haven't heard about.

First, the practical. When you use a substance, or do a practice or action that changes the balance or equilibrium of the body, then you remove that thing you were 'addicted' to, the balance swings the other way, thus the apparent need to keep using the substance or action. So you must mediate this reaction somehow, to bring the body-mind closer to a more natural equilibrium. Tapering off is very helpful in this regard. One simply reduces, in a systematic way, the amount of substance one uses over time. Write down a schedule, and stick to it. The mind will try and suggest ways around it, or take a break, or make excuses. The mind is very good at excuses and laziness. You have to watch it like a hawk. You have to be truly honest with yourself, make decisions you are at peace with, even if it's physically uncomfortable, or the emotions will come in and try and convince you otherwise (and remember it's all temporary: "this too shall pass", whatever you are feeling). This applies to substance or things that cause what we call withdrawal symptoms. You may have to attempt this process several times (I did).

So you deal with cause and effect at the level where there is cause and effect seeming to operate: at the body level, the relative level. "Render unto Caesar... "

A the level of mind and spirit:

There has to be a willingness, a decision once you've seen clearly, with INTELLIGENCE, what you want to do – the right thing to do. Not morally, but with clarity. "I see, I would be happier and healthier if I did X. It's obvious and I cannot deny it. Do I want to be happy?" It's direct, honest, and real.

This is also spurred by wanting to feel better. There is some level of suffering. So at the same time as tapering down (or quitting 'cold turkey' if you are hard core and gung-ho and brave or impatient!) you must "work on yourself" meaning, see how to be happy and at peace, all the time. This is a goal or journey, and you do as best you can, again without judgement, fear, criticism – with self love and kindness, understanding, compassion for the human animal, no fear, real humility.

In other words, since you have worked on yourself and have a baseline of happiness, there is in proportion to that, less need or want for the substance or practice that you were using to feel better. In fact, when you use the addictive object, you can see clearly that it isn't really making you happier, it's just throwing the mind into a different order (or disorder) for a short time. This new state is not real happiness, but is tinged with uncertainty, with a sense of temporariness, a background of sorrow that has only temporarily been pushed back. And what you want is what's real, permanent, cannot be thrown off or destabilized. You want to find what is unchangeable. What could be more important than that? You think you have more important things to do? Well then that's part of the problem. You have shallow intentions, goals, ideas, prospects, attitudes...

As far as what's called mindfulness — if we call 'mindfulness' awareness of mind — the usefulness I experienced was when I spotted a thought coming in, such as imagining, at some point in the afternoon for example, what it would feel like when I drank wine in the evening. That remembering (of past pleasure, fun) ignited the desire and the decision to drink later. But it requires one to go along with it. That's very important to see, to realize: there is a choice. A decision, willingness. You go along with a thought or a feeling. Only, now you make the decision *conscious*. I'm not saying what to do — be free to drink or whatever if you want — but make it conscious, make it as the master Being you are, the Seeing. This is real responsibility, not the responsibility that society yaks about. This is real freedom, the freedom of what you are, not what you seem to be, what you think you are.

Thoughts have no power – no power on their own. They are dead machines. A thought cannot think.

Notice how part of this whole scenario — remembering a past pleasure, and deciding to do it in the future (and going along with it unconsciously and pretending to not make a decision or pretending to be unhappy) — is about not now? That's the mind in action. It's about the past and future. But when does it all happen? Now. That's where you want to plant yourself. You are already here anyway, in the present, but you may not realize it. Not fully anyway. Otherwise you wouldn't do the foolish things you do!

Also important is to see that none of this is personal: it is all phenomenon playing out, and there is no judgement, blame, criticism, fear, guilt... none of that psychological reaction machine that triggers the physiological machine, the sensations we call 'emotion'. Emotions are lies that spur more lies, thoughts of self, the me-machine.

If you do all this, see all, this, over time you will naturally lose interest in the substance that you *thought* was giving you something valuable, and you will become more interested in life, real life. You will find yourself not even thinking about the supposed good time to be had from the substance.

This scenario even applies to relationships (with humans, not just bottles)– ones that you want to think are happy and healthy but you know at a deeper level are not. But you cling to them. Why? Maybe for security, for your sense of identity, for the perks and pleasures that come and go but leave you feeling heavier and emptier.

All these unhappy things will fade away naturally, once you become naturally happier. It can happen fast or it can happen slow. In the meantime, you do what you apparently have to do to "get there". Where are you getting to? To who you already always really are. Your true Self. This is the paradox, the human condition.

Of course the core addiction is to being human. That addiction, that being-in-love in a shortsighted way, is what the whole Advaitan or non-dual path is about.

The path of happiness is really one of losing, of shedding, of letting go. Letting go of all that is in the way of happiness, of what we are. So in that sense, mind being that which is in the way – all the habits and tendencies and erroneous beliefs – what we really want is the opposite of mindfulness. Instead of mind-fullness, we want mind-emptiness. Call that Zen, or call it Non-duality, call it anything you want. It is what it is, no thing.

Effortless Versus Going Along With

One can make the error of confusing effortlessness, ease, relaxed beingness, with going along with a thought or feeling: allowing oneself to be controlled or manipulated by a thought. For example I find myself eating or drinking something that I think may give some pleasure, like it did in the past, but deeper down I know I'm just making excuses to do something that doesn't do anything for true happiness or health, and comes with a cost. Call it confusing laziness with effortlessness (laziness is tinged with judgement however).

The laziness is likely mere resistance. Resistance is effort. It takes energy. It must be maintained.

There is a decision there. So where is the effort in the decisions: is it in the decision to go along with stupidity, or with real intelligence?

Well it depends.

In the case of laziness, despair, escape, repeating stupid things and so forth, it may seem effortless on the surface but it's just a thought. It's a job actually. It takes more effort to swim through mud than it does to fly through the air.

In the case of intelligence, there may be some effort to see through the fog and to unclench the fist you've been unconsciously clenching (metaphorically) for so long. But once you're used to it, in a new habit (as it were), there will be no need for that effort. True intelligence has a freedom to it, and flies on it's own. It's powered by light.

Call it discrimination: going along with natural effortless intelligence, natural discipline, joyful activity, freshness and insight... or going along with a heavier thought and feeling, escape, resistance, clinging, attachment, repetition, the past...


May you experience Peace in your life.


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