Addiction and Meditation

S: I’ve been meditating the last 6 months. I’m actually an alcoholic who was hoping that meditation would help me quit my habit, but I find myself drinking as before once the sun sets. Any comments? Why isn’t my desire to drink shrinking? I don’t meditate drunk. I do this when I’m sober, during the day. My style is eyes closed, concentration on the breath.

When I started meditation, I felt on top of the world for the first two months. Now meditation has lost its charm. I have lost my concentration, the mind easily diverts and I wonder even if I’m “doing it right”

Jay: For a strong addiction like alcoholism, you will surely need patience above all else.

It is easy to make “meditation” into a process, a routine, like all the other routines we have to bring us a positive result. In the simplest and truest sense, sitting quietly is simply the opportunity to come in touch with – to hear, see, feel – what we are at this particular moment. It is simply a chance for what is already here to come to light, because in the usual activity of our body and mind, very little of what is going on more subtly can be seen/heard.

If you focus on concentrating on something like the breath, you may miss what is all around you and inside you. You can watch this carefully. Notice what your motivation is. Are you meditating in order to accomplish some physical or mental state of ease? There is nothing wrong with a state of ease. It may, in fact, come on its own if one is just interested in being awake with what is. Or it may not come. It doesn’t matter what state of body or mind is expressing itself. It only matters that it can be seen, felt, heard.

So in sitting down, the breath is noticeable but it is not all there is and it doesn’t need to be focused on. If you are interested in what really moves you to drink, you can watch yourself every moment. Come to know the movements of the mind and body very intimately.

Watch what happens when something unpleasant comes up. You may catch the built in, automatic responses to discomfort – wanting to run away, wanting to do something that will make the body more comfortable or something that will make me forget about the body completely. If something unpleasant comes up, it is already a breaking of addiction if you can just stay with it, listen to it, feel it, without immediately deciding you have to get away from it.

You say you felt on top of the world while meditating for a while. Because the state of body/mind was pleasant, you wanted to repeat it. But what is the state now when you sit down with yourself? Have you listened to it carefully? Sitting down in meditation doesn’t cause any states of body/mind. It just reveals what is already there. So if you experience distraction, uncertainty, discouragement, then listen to those things carefully and intimately, without even knowing what they really are. That is what you are at this moment – for whatever the reason. To stay with what you are is already a breaking of addiction. And you may discover that things are not at all what you thought they were!

I think we can say that most addictions – maybe all – are based on wanting to feel differently from how I feel now. Of course, all human beings act this way most of the time and for most of us these reactions dominate are lives. We can go to our grave never having seen that we constantly escape who we are this moment. You are fortunate because your alcoholism shows you very directly that when you are unable to be with the challenge of the moment, you destroy yourself by drinking.

I mentioned this possibility of listening carefully to what is right now. This is not an easy thing to happen. All of human training leads us away from it. It is not just an intellectual thing. There is a bottomless possibility of listening more and more sensitively, more broadly, not just in the body but in the whole world. It takes a lot of time devoted to silent listening for this new way of being to be born in us. The roots of addiction are deep. They are not just in our own body. We have to be able to listen into the vast stillness, beyond plain knowing/wanting/interpreting. Then it is possible that some day when the time is right, these roots will reveal themselves and be healed.

If you have the opportunity to go to week long meditation retreat, I very highly recommend it. I think it is the only way for most of us to enter deeply into silent listening so that it wakes up in us. At the same time, the need to listen carefully is here every single moment, isn’t it?

Our lives are like a cave of treasures, the entrance to which is filled with garbage, junk, filth, confusion, irresistible temptations and deep boredom. We turn away from what our life presents this moment because we think it’s not what we want.

Please feel free to write back if I have not been clear about something or if you have some other questions or observations.

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