Category Archives: Addiction

Let it Be

Let it Be.  “When in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it  be.”  Lennon-McCartney.   

I recently experienced a minor time of trouble.  Call it depression, a post-retreat counterattack, call it what you will, I was not in a good place for a while.  All my old bad habits and thoughts came roaring back.  Usually I keep that stuff at bay with prayer and meditation.  In the past I used alcohol and marijuana, but they only postpone things. 

During the bad period my meditations were all about the unhealthy stuff and I did not pray.  A spiral into depression ensued.  I have enough things to do in my daily life to keep myself from slipping into a major depression.  I just don’t have the time.  In a major depression all I want to do is lie in bed or the bathtub. 

This go-round I watched a lot of car, motorcycle, and airplane crashes on You Tube.  I also watched a lot of the violence scenes from Sons of Anarchy and boxing knockouts.   Fun, huh? 

The weekend went pretty well, we went to a good modern dance concert after dinner Friday evening, did some gardening Saturday, and the Sunday Insight Meditation dharma talk was a good one.  

Monday morning I woke up to a new world.  I felt good, the weather was fine, and I found myself praying and my meditations went where they should.  Why the change?  I have no idea. Maybe my meditation and prayer practice is working.  I am again able to let it be. 

I tend to have some obsessive thoughts about sex or violence. They arise, and if I pray a short prayer, they pass away.  Over time, they have diminished a great deal.  However, during my down periods, they come roaring back.  If I entertain them at all, they stick around.  A sort of feedback loop is generated.  The thought arises, I entertain it, it gets stronger, and I slip into unwise actions.  

What to do when the thought arises?  Let it be.  It, like all phenomena, will pass away.  Prayer helps.  I know people who hold on to unhealthy thinking most of the time.  They suffer.  The more they suffer, the more the unhealthy thinking stays with them.   

To live like this is a decision.  Unhealthy thoughts may arise from the labyrinth of the brain, but holding on to them is a choice.  The choice is self-reinforcing, so breaking the habit is tough.  We can, however, choose to break the pattern.  Not all days are bad days, even for someone in the depths of depression.  We have opportunities to break out. Almost everyone has opportunities to end their suffering.  Still, at times, the choice is to suffer. 

Cycles

The Universe

The universe cycles.  Things arise, then pass away.  It may take a while, a few billion years or so, but the only constant is change.  So it is with my life, change is the constant, it is just that the cycles are shorter.  The big cycle is of course, life itself.  Born, live, decline, and die.  After that, who knows for sure?

Today, it is about my spiritual cycles.  Those cycles can run from weeks to years.  Lately it is weeks.  I am a seeker, and was drawn to Buddhism in college.  I read, thought, but couldn’t meditate.  Now I meditate and after a number of false starts, I can call myself a beginner Buddhist.   Well, a Bhuddapalian, because Jesus is still in my life, but that’s another story and other cycles.

I have made quite a bit of progress, and have experienced varying times when I am actually living in the moment, not thinking about the past or future.  After all, the past or the future don’t exist except in our heads.  A few weeks I went on a retreat of enormous benefit.  18 people at the Y of the Rockies in Estes Park where we formed a bond during a silent retreat.

Cycles.  After the high comes the low.  From being in the moment, I found myself trapped in my past.  Now, for the purpose of survival I  need the past.  I learned things and apply the knowledge for the sake of survival in a fairly hostile world.  I don’t need all the old traumas and mistakes filling my head, however.  I use that stuff to fuel addictions in order to block what is gone anyway.  That’s how the brain works sometimes.  I block with food, various drugs, sex, and depression.

The problem, those strategies wear off and I am back simmering in the cauldron of despair.  Old pains lead to compulsive behavior leading to despair and addiction.  The Buddhist strategy is to devote oneself to serving all beings, clean living, loving kindness, and letting go-detachment.  Lately, not working.  I watch violence on You Tube, eat, fantasize, and avoid drugs.  Letting go?  Hmph.

I had this dream.  I was back at work after a vacation and there was new stuff I didn’t know how to work with.  There weren’t any instructions, of course.  When are there ever instructions about what to do?  So, I just had to cope, even though the boss and an engineer were running around talking about the future.  They weren’t going to be any help.

That’s where we are, isn’t it?  New tasks and no owners manual.  I just have to sit with the situation until a strategy presents itself.  Oh, wait, I just laid out the strategy, didn’t

I am an Evangelical

Augustine

Well, not really.  But I was one.  I was raised a Methodist, and had a profound conversion experience into a Pentecostal denomination.

Yes, they were evangelical.  Evangelicals tend to take the Bible literally and have traditional beliefs about sexuality, marriage, abortion, and politics.  I hold none of those views.  I’m a liberal of the kind vilified on Fox News.  I retain some Christian beliefs, but am a practicing Buddhist.

I have an extensive library on Christianity.  Most of the books are about the relatively new thinking about Jesus and the Bible, most of them anathema to an evangelical.  I do accept the historical reality of Jesus, but that is about as far as it goes.  I tend to view it all from an historical perspective.

Regarding God, nobody knows for sure.  Most every culture deals with God in some fashion, but my view is he was extrapolated from the spirit world, entities who exist, but in my view are no more deities than we are.  Like us they would like to be gods, but only Donald Trump has made it.

I am from a milieu steeped in the old time religion.  It is ironic that the concept of original sin came from Augustine, a Catholic Scholastic.  His idea about the event in the garden leading to human depravity rather than free will leads directly to the idea Jesus assumed our sinful nature to release us from God’s curse.  John said God loved us and freed us from sin on the cross, but Augustine said God let Jesus atone for our depravity.

John Calvin

American evangelical Protestantism adopted Augustine.  Conservatives: we’re bad.   Liberals: we’re good, but need help because the event in the Garden gave us free will.  We can choose, a coyote can’t.  But, we sometimes make bad choices.

For several reasons, deep down I believe I’m bad.  I am engaged in overcoming that belief, with limited and intermittent success.  Sometimes I feel good about myself, sometimes I don’t.

I really don’t like Augustine, Calvin, and their wrathful God.  My father and grandfather had that Scots Presbyterian Calvinist outlook even though they were not religious.  I caught it from them.  The underlying attitude was nobody could ever measure up, including me and them.  There, ladies, and gentlemen, is a prescription for an unhappy life.  My mother was raised Congregationalist, another Calvinist denomination (no longer, however).

Grandfather, Father, and Mother were pretty nice people, which revealed their true natures, but under it all they thought they were lost souls.  As our current self-appointed deity would say, “Sad.”.   I’m afraid some part of me will always believe I am really a bad dude, which I caught from them.

Our culture remains contaminated with the evangelical attitude.  I sit here in the coffee shop next to Denver University, started in 1864 as a Methodist school.  The Methodists have never been quite as infected by Calvinism, coming from Anglican roots, but that need for redemption is still there.  The idea behind DU was to bring the gospel to the wilderness.  That was fine, but there was an underlying belief those naked heathen Indians were beyond redemption.  John Evans, the Methodist territorial governor in 1864 and a co-founder of DU, and John Chivington, a Methodist minister and Colonel of the Third Volunteer Cavalry Regiment decided those murdering heathens had to go.  Thus, the Sand Creek Massacre.

The streets at DU are Methodist, starting with Wesley, the Anglican who founded Methodism.  Looking west from Evans Avenue one sees Mt. Evans, both named after an Indian killer.  I live between Evans and Asbury Avenues.  Asbury is named for the first Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop in the United States.  I don’t seem to be able to get away from it.  The current DU students, however, don’t seem to be as infected with that stuff as I am.  The architects designing buildings at DU don’t seem to have gotten the message.  Even the big athletic field House has a bell tower. The old part of the campus has several spires and bell towers.

The University of Denver has, to its credit, recognized the tragedy of Sand Creek and the role of the Methodist founder of DU in the act of genocide.  DU is no longer evangelical, but has the history.  I am no longer evangelical, but I carry the history.

Addiction

addictI have an addictive personality.  My first addiction was to chocolate.  In grade school, Teddy and I found a box of Hershey chocolate bars lying in the street.  Not realizing this was a true case of finders keepers, we hid in some bushes and ate the whole thing.  No, I didn’t get sick. 

I remember sitting in a twelve step meeting when one of the guys said he had to have his “feel good”.  He nailed it for me as well.  I am not sure I have more unrest and pain than others, but I have always sought the “feel good”.  

For the most part I can overcome the addictions.  I quit a three pack a day cigarette habit after five years.  I have quit drinking several times and started again, convincing myself I can control it.  Later I realize I have gradually ramped up into excessive drinking and quit.  I have probably done this seven or eight times, starting in high school.  This time I have been sober for a year.  I’m pretty sure I am done with booze forever.   

I have smoked a haystack of pot.  At one point In the late 1970’s I was buying a quarter pound at a time.  I would go to work, go out on my rounds and light up.  Parties were lots of booze and weed for a lot of years.  One day at work I realized I couldn’t remember things I had done the day before.  I have had about two tokes since.   

Food is another matter.  I am something of a binge eater.  My main weakness is ice cream, chocolate, of course.  My pattern is much the same as with alcohol.  I will eat too much, scare myself, lose some weight, than ramp up again.  I weigh about 215 pounds now.  At one point I was up to 260.  The problem is that I can’t give up eating altogether.  So, I struggle.  And then there is caffeine.  AA meetings always have coffee. 

I think you can see the pattern.  I probably won’t kill myself with my addictions, but they have consumed vast amounts of time and energy I could have used productively.  The addictions are accompanied by a lot of obsessing and compulsive behavior.  I have repetitive thoughts and rituals around the behaviors, from rolling the joint, lighting a cigarette at every change, such as standing up, or sneaking ice cream out of the downstairs freezer.   

I am currently engaged in the spiritual practice of letting go.  This means letting go of everything keeping me from staying in touch with my true self.  This is not an easy process, and I am sure I will be engaged in it for the rest of my life.  “Trapped on the wheel of desire.”  The problem with desire is that it cannot be satisfied.  The new BMW, the Bud Lite, the new clothing style, cool Adidas sneakers, whatever.  The proper number of bicycles to own?  N+1; N being the number of bicycles you currently have.  

Addictions are just the most pathological of this phenomenon.  Our consumer society is driven by desire.  Chasing money, chasing stuff, chasing the latest hit, it all pulls us away from our true selves.  I want to get in touch with my true self, which means letting go.