“This one is gonna go on and on…until we get smart or we get lucky. He won’t stop.”
– “Why not?”
“Because it makes him God. Would you give that up?”
Have you ever noticed that some of the things you do are easier to plan and execute than others? Why do some people have no problems changing their diet while others struggle endlessly? How could a lack of discipline be the problem if the same people have no issues in other areas of their lives?
This is not a black and white answer that simply states: Some people can and some people can’t. This is about starting to see the emotional maze we have all been born into and that we have been reinforcing for as long as we can remember. Being born into emotional slavery sounds harsh, but it is rather accurate. The strangest thing is that after a while, we become the warden as well as the prisoner.
The manifestation of that maze is different for all of us, but its essence is always the same. We all know that simply telling an alcoholic to stop drinking will not work. If stopping to smoke was easy, there would be no smokers left.
The only thing that seems to work is taking one addiction away and replacing it with another one. You remove alcohol, you add a sense of community, like in AA. You remove self-mutilation, you add exercise. You remove overeating, you add smoking. That’s how we tend to do it, right? And even better: You remove one relationship, you replace it with another one.
Does that seem familiar to you? That’s life as most of us tend to live it. For a good reason: It’s easier to satisfy a need than to change its the root cause.
We all have many emotional addictions: Sex, relationships, security, approval, exercise, love, alcohol, eating, drugs and everything else that can lend itself to obsession. Some of these are culturally accepted, like exercise. Some are viewed as addictions, like alcoholism. This is not always logical because people can easily die from exercising too much.
There’s one thing, though: None of these behaviors must be necessarily addictive, but they will be, if they complement our character flaws.
In the book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Carlos Castaneda tells the story of finding your spot. For everything in life there is a good spot and a bad spot.
“He said that the good one was called the sitio and the bad one the enemy; he said these two places were the key to a man’s wellbeing, especially for a man who pursuing knowledge. The sheer act of sitting on one’s spot created superior strength; on the other hand, the enemy weakened a man and could even cause his death.”
Nothing in itself is bad, our emotional needs just make it so. No act or thing on this planet is bad just by itself. No gun, no murder, no drug and no action is bad, it is the way we place it in our lives that gives it its value.
If you kill someone out of jealousy or out of self-defense, it makes a difference. If you share food because you want to be liked or because you want others to be fed, it makes a difference.
As with many things in life, very few people can tell if we have a good or bad relationship to a certain behavior. This, we need to teach ourselves or we will never learn. How do we discover if something is an addictive behavior? That’s easy. What do you think about almost every day and what is responsible for most of the up’s and down’s in your life?
It does not matter if someone else seems responsible or not, it is still your personal up’s and down’s. Addictive behavior causes up’s and down’s. They are a sign of emotional immaturity. Life starts when you have moved beyond that.
So, how to deal with emotional addictions?
Just avoiding the behavior does not work because our Willpower is limited. You can cling to a rope with all your might, but after some time, you will fall.
Exchanging it with another behavior will also not work because then you are just avoiding reality. The devil is in the details: If we have exchanged smoking for running, we will expect a certain high from this new behavior. Pursuing this high will still lead to pain and health issues. Too much of anything is always unhealthy, no matter what culture approves of. Obviously, continuously replacing romantic partners to find the perfect one will only lead to bitterness. This is about internal balance not external improvement.
Trying to regulate the behavior is also prone to failure because then our mind will be unable to concentrate on anything else anymore! If we limit our cookies, we will start to obsess over cookies. We become what we put our attention to.
So what do we do? The one thing you will need to overcome it is this: Realize right before you start that behavior that you cannot own the result and you cannot take it with you afterwards. There is nothing you can keep.
Let’s investigate that further: What happens in addictive behavior?
We feel like we need something to gain emotional stability. We anticipate that behavior, anxiously. When something goes wrong, we get cranky and beat ourselves up. When it goes right, we feel like god, just for a moment. Then, repeat.
Again, this can be anything. Eating, exercise, sex… whatever. If you realize that you cannot own something, which you have linked your self-concept, it will feel like someone is trying to remove some of your vital organs. Your mind will repulse that thought and will make your stomach cringe. It will tell you that you are not good enough. Let me tell you this: It is lying to you because it knows your weaknesses.
But don’t worry, that’s ok because there’s another voice within you that is very quiet and difficult to hear. It speaks calmly with a soft tone, telling you the naked truth. It sees where you are in your life and is not afraid of telling you what you don’t like to hear. That’s the voice you must listen to. It has your best interest at heart.
The way to overcome addictive behavior is this:
Be able to go cold turkey for at least 30 days if it is something like complaining, exercise, sex, refined sugar or anything that can be stopped using discipline. Pay attention to how the hole wants to be filled through other behaviors. Look at what happens when you don’t pursue it. Meditate on it. If you feel some other addiction emerging, go to point 2.
For things like eating, relationship patterns, cummunicational behaviors and all things that can’t be avoided, do this: When you feel the craving, sit down for ten minutes and remind yourself actively that this thing cannot change who you are. You cannot own the result or keep anything that you will gain. If you are in the process of it, slow down and look at this thing you crave. Realize that you can never really own or have it. There’s nothing you can keep, no souvenir to take along with you. Look at it. What is it really? How could something that is outside of yourself change what is inside of yourself?
Here’s a part from an old zen koan from the book Bring Me the Rhinoceros by John Tarrant:
Xuefeng touched his chest and said, “My heart isn’t at peace. I can’t fool myself.”
Yantou gave a great yell. “Don’t you know that the family treasure doesn’t come in through the gate?” he said. “Let the teaching flow out from your own breast to cover the sky and the earth.”
Life has not built our robust and ingenious bodies if there wasn’t something inside to protect. If we were empty shells who had no value within them, we wouldn’t need a body at all. It’s already within us, it won’t come in through the main gate.
Whatever it is that you do, it is just something that you do. Emotional highs and lows are immature. If you want to be successful, you cannot be a slave to this rollercoaster.
As Bruce Lee said in the TV show Longstreet:
“Like everyone else, you want to learn the way to win, but never to accept the way to lose – to accept defeat. To learn to die is to be liberated from it. So when tomorrow comes you must free your ambitious mind and learn the art of dying!”
If we realize that we cannot really have or own something we are free to master it. Even our own lives, we never really own. Here’s a dialog from the movie First Knight, where a boy is fascinated by the superior fighting style of a knight and asks him to explain it.
“Knight: That’s the way I fight.
Boy: Could I do it? Tell me. I can learn.
Knight: Study your opponent, so you know what he’ll do before he does it.
Boy: I can do that.
Knight: And wait for the critical moment.
Boy: I can do that.
Knight: You can’t care about your life.
If you realize that the object that creates conflict in your life cannot be owned by you, you are set free because you can never be owned by it.