A truly important aspect of our humanity in modern society is addiction. The advent of pain killers and other drugs along with street drugs have both helped and harmed. The vast majority of crime is related to addiction as reflected by these statistics:
80% of offenders abuse drugs or alcohol.
Nearly 50% of jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted.
Approximately 60% of individuals arrested for most types of crimes test positive for illegal drugs at arrest.
These facts clearly demonstrate that addiction has a powerful influence on the mind and is causal in a lot of bad choices that lead people to situations in life that they really don’t want to experience. If we want to create the causes and conditions for a peaceful mind we must understand addiction in both its harsh and subtle form.
Addiction is not being able to say, “no” to something. If you can’t say no to it you are addicted to it. The harsh forms of addiction are usually obvious – drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, food etc – basically anything for which there is a 12 step program. In the throws of harsh addiction you don’t function well on a daily basis. The addiction becomes the most important thing in your life and you exist to feed it. During these times you function at a very low, unconscious and distracted level.
These harsh addictions must be dealt with first. It will be impossible to step onto the path of enlightenment while being so distracted by addiction. During that process it’s important to look at past traumas and your mind’s reaction to them. You must face your life head on. You must be able to sit with the pain of not acting out. It won’t last forever. Lovingly move through it. Also, don’t get stuck in the pain or identify with the pain. Let go of it. Sit with the pain and move through it. Let it come and let it go. Once you stop acting out and reach a more balanced state of mind you are ready step on the path of enlightenment. You will begin to see things much more clearly.
Many of us function well but still deal with more subtle forms of addiction. You can be on the path of enlightenment while still experiencing the subtle distractions of cravings and attachment. Notice that we are using different language to describe the subtle. We are moving them to a different category. The harsh is more rooted in brian chemistry meaning that we as humans have found ways to highjack our chemical reward system. That’s why its so irresistible. Imagine being able to take a pill that feels like an orgasm. Harsh addictions are similar chemically. The subtle is not as deeply rooted in brain chemistry thus softer language is more accurate. With the harsh we must rebalance the chemistry that is way out of balance. This usually involves in psychiatrist. While there is a chemical component to the subtle, it’s not as pervasive and as such can be dealt with through awareness and devotion to your practice.
The difficulty regarding the subtle addictions is that they are … well … subtle. They are easily justified and most times difficult to identify as addiction. They are more like the seeds of addiction that if allowed to grow turn into big oak trees of addiction that are much more difficulty to remove than the simple seed. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Nipping it in the bud”? By recognizing subtle tendencies toward addictive behavior you are “Nipping it in the bud”. Much, much easier.
To different extents both harsh and subtle addictions are a function of brain chemistry. That is why devotion to your practice – your Zen List – is so important. It keeps your brain chemistry in good balance. Exercise, hydration and a healthy diet based whole foods with lower glycemic indexes will help you brain chemistry stay in good balance. The beauty of this is that it makes our practice so much easier.
What we are practicing is creating the causes and conditions for a peaceful mind. When our minds are peaceful our world is peaceful. Notice that we have not spoken about anything cognitive. That is because if your chemistry is out of whack the congestive does not matter. The difficulties are not conceptual they are chemical. So, you stay in good chemical balance and then approach the conceptual/philosophical from a clear place. Otherwise, you are waisting your time.
Tom Notarianni Jr.
Founder of The Peaceful Minds Center