Below are four sneaky addictions I have noticed forming in modern life and in the yoga world. When in balance, none of these ideas are harmful nor would they interrupt or delay healing. But when they become compulsive, when we feel restless without them, when they begin to define us, then it’s time to take a look and see what’s going on. This is the path to freedom that so many contemplative traditions discuss. When we see how something we are doing is hindering our growth and hampering a peaceful mind, we have begun the path to true contentment and joy.
In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron makes the point that all addiction stems from the moment we begin to feel uncomfortable. Usually as soon as we touch these spaces, we immediately reach for something to push them away. We have a very low tolerance for our tumultuous inner ocean, so we try many things to get away from it. But we can only do this for so long. The ocean waves will get bigger and stormier, and one day we will have to address them. We can avoid ourselves in a game of constant and exhausting internal acrobatics, but we cannot outrun ourselves. To be at peace, we must be able to quell the waves. To quell the waves, we must dive into them. To dive into them, we have to stop and make the choice to get in the water. To make that choice, we must see whatever it is we are doing that keeps us from jumping in.
Untying the bonds of our compulsions takes time and a lot of patience. It is not something that happens overnight. We must be patient, vigilant, and most of all kind with ourselves in the process. This process is a winding road with many unexpected obstacles, but we can take heart that many before us have successfully navigated this path. We are not alone, and we have the support of our teachers to lean on as we make our way.
(Let me be clear that I realize the word "addiction" is loaded. I am not in any way trying to minimize the experience or the healing process of addiction. When I use the word addiction in this writing, I am using it to convey subtle behaviors that we might use compulsively to escape our healing and ourselves. I am not referencing serious substance or behavioral addictions. Those require professional medical and mental health care support to address.)
4 Sneaky Addictions
I notice this addiction particular in my generation, a restless need to constantly be on the move, see everything 10 times, and gobble down life like a greedy guest at a banquet table. There’s an almost insatiable quest for meaning and satisfaction, but a very unclear understanding of where meaning and lasting satisfaction are actually found. Unquestionably there is great value in seeing the world, exploring, getting a feel for the richness of life, but it is not where we find that for which we are searching. Wherever we go, however far we travel, the lenses of our internal filters always color our experience. Until we look at how to remove and clean these filters we could travel to Jupiter and still feel dissatisfied and restless. Only by going inside, by finally stopping, by being still, by having the courage and compassion to sit with ourselves, can we go to the places that actually heal us and shape us into mature and more peaceful human beings.
In our modern world so much information is immediately available to us. This begins to breed the idea that we must have everything all the time right away. This addiction to immediacy has insidiously invaded the yoga sub-culture as I notice a deepening sense of anxiety and impatience with practice, greediness, and a need to get more from practice faster and easier. We want instant advanced practice, instant peace, instant shredded body, instant headstand, instant enlightenment, and instant answers. In our modern society one of the great values of spiritual and contemplative traditions is, when taught correctly, they soothe our need for immediate gratification. They help us to relax, to enjoy processes more than results, and to be more at peace with the humility of learning. There is great need for these practices now more than ever, but we must be vigilant that they are taught in a way that counteracts rather than enhances tendencies towards suffering.
When I have a causal conversation with someone new, at some point in the opening salvo of small talk one of us will say something like, “Yes well I’m just so busy.” We have in many ways become addicted to our business, getting more done, being uber productive, and then wanting to demonstrate this to the world. I think it’s amazing to do great stuff and to have a full life, and I also think that it’s important to have time to just do nothing, to relax, and to recharge. I know for me, my busy addiction was and is a function of self-worth. When we feel we’re not worthy in some way we must prove our worthiness. We must demonstrate our worthiness by showing the world that we are contributing and doing. When we realize that we are inherently worthy as we are, we feel no need to prove worthiness. We can do as much or as little as we choose and is feasible for our lives to work well. We get choice back, and we make real decisions.
Maturity is freedom from the need to chase all the shiny objects and to be at peace with the realities at our given stage of life. It is not the freedom to do what we want, when we want, how we want. That’s childish, adolescent at best, albeit a popular method of compulsive spiritual bypass in the yoga subculture. I hear “be playful” or “be like a child” more often than you can imagine from teachers. Both of these strike me as odd turns of phrase in a spiritual practice, and often they are used to perpetuate the Peter Pan syndrome that pervades the yoga world in so many ways. They’re also used to justify adolescent or unhealthy behavior to avoid accountability and responsibility.
The path to freedom is the path to being able to choose our actions, words, thoughts, and behaviors independently of our compulsions. This is true maturity, freedom, and deeper peace. This is how we learn to have fun and be adults at the same time, to feel free and honor our commitments, to relax and to be at peace with the harder realities of life. Joy is a state of equanimity, contentment, and ease. Joy is not a manic happiness, high, or mindless party. As we mature in our minds and our lives, we find greater peace. We realize that short-term pleasures cannot substitute for long-term internal joy. We realize that when we have the space to choose, we are free to choose a path that takes us back into where we were or a path that takes us into the unexplored territory of the unfamiliar. It is the path to freedom we have sought our entire lives.