Thursday, December 30, 2010

Desire, Anger, and Addiction (cartoon)

If desire is a game of "cat and mouse," anger must be all about cats and dogs.

A 12-step program not centered on a common godly "higher power"? One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps by Kevin Griffin points out that addicts are experts at desire. But desire is not the only way we give in to our addiction (to sex, drugs, food, drink, sugar, caffeine, emotions, or what not; what won't we crave, grasp at, and cling to?)

The other popular route to giving in is resentment. Resentment is a manifestation of aversion. We think about greed all the time. We central problem in Buddhism is that we cling to the "constituents of being" (forms, feelings, perceptions, volitions, conscious states) for a start. Then we run to anything we imagine we will find pleasant and run from the unpleasant.

This does not leave a lot of room for freewill and self-determination -- except for one amazing thing.

When we look with bare awareness (dispassionate observation), that is, when we remain "mindful" of whatever arises in us, we are not controlled by it. Now, the next moment we may go back to being under its control. But so long as we're looking at it, facing it, observing without judging or resisting it, it has no control over us. Things can pull us or scare us off, but we don't have to move if we observe instead.

Meditation, then, just means staying aware of whatever is arising -- sometimes taking it not one day at a time but one breath at a time.

Why? The mind only holds one thing at a time. (This is a fundamental truth in Buddhist psychology laid bare in the Abhidharma for all to eventually experience). So we are either consumed by experience or standing outside that consumption looking at it.

Desire arises, awareness of it arises. Aversion arises, awareness of it arises. So long as awareness does not arise, we are just our desire and anger. But by looking, it all starts to seem funny. What I thought was mine, that's not mine. It arises dependent on its conditions (and what we've associated with it).

When tose supporting conditions subside -- and they will always subside -- it will subside. I'm stressed, I want a cigarette/orgasm/drink or I want to vent. The only link is the one we associated by practice.

With this, that comes to be; with the ceasing of this, that ceased to be. Why am I angry/resentful? Because someone did something and that emotion had become my customary way of responding. A woman stood up and said, "I'm unhappy because of my mother!" The therapist replied, "Great, send her to me, I'll treat her, and you'll get better." It of course does not work that way.

We're all the problem we need; the solution is right here, too. If I'm angry because I'm angry -- not because of external conditions I'm "choosing" (the choice may have been made far sooner when we developed the habit) to be angry about. So I can be unangry right now without anything else changing. It's that amazing, that easy, that doable. But only right now. That's all there ever is. Stay mindful of all that is.

A third way addiction kicks in is... In fact, all Five Hindrances provoke our addictions.

No comments: