When we think of addictions, we think of people caught in the downward spiral of heavy drug addiction, members of Alcoholics Anonymous, and maybe those who abuse over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.
Basically, we think of “addicts” as an unfortunate minority of the population that may or may not have anything to do with us.
But here’s the truth: every single one of us is an addict.
Let me ‘splain. There’s a “God-sized hole” within every one of us, as Mastin Kipp so beautifully put it. Apart from the rare awakened individual, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t unconsciously try to fill this void—in vain—with approval, love, material possessions, success, a Happily Ever After relationship, food, sex, and virtually an endless array of things that distract and temporarily induce pleasure.
Okay, this much isn’t news, you may say. But did you also know that depending on how you approach them, daily activities like listening to music, partying, surfing the web, scrolling mindlessly through Facebook, watching television, and chatting on the phone can be a form of addiction?
An addiction, for our purposes, is essentially anything that allows you to have the illusion of covering up any inner residing pain. And you better believe that we can be all kinds of creative when we’re unconsciously motivated to cover this pain.
I’ve met people who can’t rest in silence so they have to sleep with music or the TV on. I’ve known people (myself included, at some points) who use literature to escape from the terrifying abyss of stillness. The list of possibilities is virtually endless.
This underlying pain may not even be all that pronounced. It can be as dull as boredom, which is a mild form of resistance to the present moment. The commonality between the seemingly harmless activities listed above is that they can all potentially (but not necessarily) be used to cover up the space of silence where our feelings of lack and hurt linger underneath the distractions.
When we get into the unconscious habit of avoiding this space and escaping our feelings, it’s often hard to realize that we’re doing it, let alone to give up those habits so we can courageously feel our feelings.
But like any addiction, whatever habits you’ve cultivated to fill your own God-sized hole will ultimately disappoint and end up doing harm rather than good, because they postpone the inevitable.
Feelings, however painful some may be, are not only useful signs that nudge us toward the right path, but they’re also opportunities for peace, because one of the fastest ways to peace is to feel your feelings.
The first step toward inner peace is to actually recognize that there are feelings you’ve been unknowingly trying to dull and that they have been influencing your actions.
Waking up to the behavior that’s been acting through you that you haven’t ever even really noticed can be an incredibly empowering—and shocking—event. A regular mindfulness practice can be an indispensable tool to hasten this ability to recognize.
Once you’re aware of your little addictions, no matter how intense or mild your particular “drug” of choice may be, the next step is to recognize your urge to indulge in your addiction whenever it arises, and see that it’s motivated by a feeling of “not enough” and of pain.
Instead of judging or condemning yourself and instead of fighting your habits (they will persist admirably if you do), hold that neutral awareness to create a distance between yourself and the habit and its underlying emotions. Any negative emotion or destructive habit vanishes when conscious awareness surrounds it.
For most of us, the prospect of abiding in silence, aloneness, or “boredom” is a terrifying prospect. But a consistent willingness to face that frightening void will quickly reveal that this space—and the feelings within us that it exposes—is far from undesirable; it’s the ideal space for awakening.
Here is where we can transmute our feelings of unconscious lack, fear, or pain into presence, paving the way for a peace that is far more profound than the ephemeral pleasures we crave from our addictions.
Truth is, we’re all addicts of some sort. But here’s the good news: our addictions are precisely the tools that we can use as stepping stones toward peace.