There is a great book that came out recently, Chasing the Scream, by Johann Hari, a powerful voice to add to the ever growing choir that is trying to rehabilitate the rehab industry and shift the paradigm on how we view addiction and treatment of substance use/misuse. With this in mind, I decided to repost an old “position piece” of mine (see below). (By the way, the other voices to note are that of Stanton Peele (Diseasing of America) and of Andrew Tatarsky, the leading expert on harm reduction approaches to substance use treatment).
In my previous work as a clinical director of a drug and alcohol treatment program in a county jail and in my current outpatient work with substance use clients I continuously come across a certain iatrogenic (treatment-related) legacy of powerlessness which stems directly from the 1st of the 12 Steps of the AA/NA philosophy (“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable”).
I get it: admitting that you have a problem is a psychologically healthy thing. But admitting that you are powerless to solve it?! What a self-deflating stumble of a step to start a journey of recovery… What were Bill W. and Dr. Bob thinking?!
Perhaps, Bill W. and Dr. Bob were trying to pull off a bit of East-West synthesis? Perhaps, the thinking was that surrender or letting go of one’s attachment to the idea of being in control is power? That passively accepting and witnessing the urge to drink (or use drugs) rather than directly fighting the urge head-on would be akin to psychological judo or jujutsu, the “soft method” martial arts that harnesses the opponent’s strength and adapts to changing circumstance?
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
Or, perhaps, this confession of powerlessness over addiction is nothing more than a failure to appreciate the psychology of a craving.
Let’s take a look!
Just the other day, a guy I’ve been working with, who’s been through the revolving door of the 12 step programs and who had decided to seek psychotherapy in addition to “working …
The Universe likes to witness itself. An argument could be made that conscious life itself is Nature’s hunger for mirroring itself. If taken at face value, this idea comes to existentially mean that each of us is a mirror.
This morning, up at 2am or so, I look out of the window – Pittsburgh (where I live) is covered with beautiful frost and Tetsuzan’s verse comes to my mind, adjusted in a moment-specific way:
“How can this beautiful snow be for me alone? Still it is, I think, for me alone.”
Whatever is – in a sense – doesn’t exist unless sense-witnessed by a reflecting mirror of awareness. And if you happen to be the only mirror who is awake at the moment to sense-witness a given manifestation of this Universe, then this mountain, and this snow, and this proverbial rose (that you are choosing to pause to smell) exists for you alone. It’s the “this”-ness, the “such”-ness of the moment – if sense-witnessed – that is for you and only you alone right now.
Our natural state is that of balance. Any system (including a living one) is homeostatic, self-regulating. Likes and dislikes knock us out of that sweet balance that we are naturally in. This is a simple thought. You can’t go wrong with it. So simple that it is, arguably, self-evident. But, I think, it’s worth repeating and remembering.
Centuries ago Xu Wugui said something along the same lines:
“If you persist in gratifying all of your impulses and desires, letting your likes and dislikes have free rein, then the foundation of your true nature will suffer.” (Zhuangzi)
Yes: right now you are both coming and going, living and dying. Put differently: right now you are dying and not-dying. It is like that now… and, per my conviction, at any point of time, whether it is right now or at a later now when your conditioning and programming tells you that you are “dying.”
This “ceasing and arising” is a non-stop parameter of reality – regardless of its existential or temporal coordinates.
Dostoyevsky once described money as “coined liberty” (1915, 16). Indeed, money is independence. But what is money?
All money is reducible to one and the same currency: energy. That’s what flows through us, what moves us, and what motivates us. Money energizes because money is energy. The American greenback is a symbolic leaf of life: It starts out as a banknote of photosynthesis and is metabolized time and again through the samsaric mill of metabolic reincarnations until it transmutes into a living leaf of informational and symbolic value that is redeemable for energy. Currency is literally a current — a current of energy trade. As such, money is a fundamentally heterotrophic invention. Money is an exchange of borrowed calories by those who didn’t produce them in the first place. Autotrophs, the energy generators, have no need for money. Plants, unlike animals, are fundamentally and inalienably democratic and energy-independent. Each blade of grass has more sovereignty than any human nation. A blade of grass depends on nothing for its metabolic needs except abundant sun, air, water, and minerals. Each blade of grass is a dominion unto itself. It needs not ask, beg, buy, or trade. It is sovereign.
And so shall Homo solaris be. Reliant on the commons of sun, air, water, and minerals for physiological needs, Homo solaris will be beyond money and thus beyond the corruption of money and therefore fundamentally sovereign and inalienably free.
In his book Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth, Richard Fortey reminisces about the photosynthetic Eden of Precambrian time: “Cellularity had become a food chain, gobbling began, and voracity has never gone away. If there were a point in history at which Tennyson’s famous phrase ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’ could be said first to apply, this was it… The era of photosynthetic passivity and peaceful coexistence…had passed from the Earth, and the hierarchy of power has never subsequently been forgotten” (1998, 92-93). He’s absolutely right: Heterotrophy is fundamentally hierarchical. Human photosynthesis, through “techno-organic evolution,” wouldn’t have to mean passivity, but it certainly can mean peaceful …
Got 6 minutes to kill? Watch this ordinary miracle. (If this video is legit and not edited) it is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long while – not in terms of the visual effects, of course, but in terms of the implications of the highly nuanced consciousness that is running this show and the flawless real-time psycho-somatic coordination that obeys it.
The modern-day apes that we are… we are amazing…
Opposable Thumbs + Pattern-breaking Minds = Ordinary Magic.
What else is there to worship but the ordinary magic of what already so naturally is?! (Not a dig at religion, just a statement of awe…)
A few weeks ago, as I was making room for a Christmas ornament on a book shelf, I spotted a book that I haven’t visited in a while – a book by Christopher Milne, “The Path Through the Trees.” The last time I took a walk through Milne’s word-trees, so to say, was when I was working on my book Present Perfect. Back then (as I typically do when I read) I had dog-eared some pages to mark a few favorite hangouts of my mind. So, as I took the book off the shelf, this forest of words, I knew exactly where I wanted to go… To this place:
“Everything in the man’s world must grow. Yet nowhere outside his world does this happen. All living creatures, plants and animals alike, reach eventually the particular size that suits them best and there they stop. Of course it is our burning ambition for better and still better, our insatiable appetite for more and yet more that has taken us to the top of the ladder. But now and again it does no harm to look down at the others and see how they manage their affairs. We may be different from them. But are we so very different? So it seemed to me then and still seems to me now that life without growth ought to be possible.”
Yes, life without growth ought to be possible. Maybe you, reader, are already well enough – even if you are not as well as you would ideally like to be… Maybe, as you plan another year, maybe you need not do any better than you did the year before… Maybe there’s been enough progress…
As I see it, a shift from material consumerism to psychological acquisitiveness or spiritual perfectionism is more of a regression than a progression.
I find it both curious and not curious that the words ambition and ambulation are related – both are rooted in the Latin verb “ambulare” which means “to walk around. Goals, aspirations, ambitions walk us away from What Is. And What Is – exactly as it is – can be enough, if we …
With a few minutes to kill before the day starts, I go to Amazon to post a review of Paul Brunton’s very excellent “Notebook 4″ on meditation (which I have recently been re-reading) … only to realize that I was there ALREADY once at that Amazon page back in 2006 when I had posted a review of his book.
So, I am now reading my own review that I (?) wrote in 2006. That’s 7 years ago – there is not an atom in my body now that I had in 2006. No, I didn’t write this – not the “I” that I right now am.
So, I read on Amazon: “13 or 14 people” have “found this review useful” – for whatever that means. Not too bad, I think. Do I (today) find this review useful – the review that I (7 years ago) wrote? Maybe, maybe not.
So, here I am, reviewing a review – and thinking to myself: that’s how we so often are: self is always in a process of self-review… That is, until you escape this cognitively recursive self-consciousness by breaking the orbit and climbing up to a higher Self. Some call it “soul,” some call it “metacognitive distance.” Some call it the “original face.” I no longer have a name for it: I just know it when I see it – and I know that this “it” is both me and not-me, that it is both you and not-you, that is both everything and nothing.
That’s the thing with reading meditation books – they put you on a circular track that keeps bringing you back to something ineffable.
Here’s my original review of Paul Brunton’s book:
“The Notebooks of Paul Brunton” – as stated in the editors’ introduction – is a compilation of insights by a teacher of meditation that was reserved for posthumous publication. While the fact that these writings were reserved for posthumous publication …
I came upon this graffiti on a Pittsburgh sidewalk and it caught my clinical-philosophical eye – a face of a pig (from what I can tell) with the word “truth” inscribed on it. Enigmatic, I thought. I snapped a photo and continued on with my walk.
And then a possible meaning of this dawned on me: “Truth is a pig!”
“Why is that?” you might ask. Because truth is messy: everyone has their own version (interpretation) of it and, when the truth comes out, it tends to be rather devastating to our neat little illusions about reality.
In these blog-posts I often talk about epistemology and how it applies to the psychology of daily living. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that studies what can and cannot be known. Truth – as I tend to think – is mostly a myth. Our minds are fundamentally and inevitably subjective. And, thus, incapable of apodictic (absolute) knowing. So, it seems to me that we are all believers – we worship our own minds, our ideas about reality. So much so that we even believe in truth.
Jains, an ancient Indian school of thought, have a doctrine of Sayadvada – a doctrine of tentativeness, essentially. A doctrine of epistemological non-violence, if you wish. A style of engaging which is lubricated with such parentheticals and caveats as “in some way this is and in some ways this isn’t” or “in some ways this is inexpressible and unknowable.”
Reality – as I see it – comes to us not from the past but from the future: whatever is right very now isn’t our now yet. What I mean is that we are always at an information-processing delay. It takes time for us to process a stimulus about whatever currently is. So, what we conclude to be a current state of affairs is actually already an outdated past. The very present, this Now that we so much talk about is really a Subjective Now, a Now that objectively no longer is.
Yes, reality, it seems, comes to …
We are everywhere in the body: wherever your nerves are, so is your brain.
About a year ago I read in New Scientist: “One tiny spider has even had to let its brain spill into its legs, because its head is too small to accommodate it.”
We keep thinking of our brain as being inside our skulls. But brain isn’t an organ – it’s an organization – an organization of neurons (nerve cells). And these nerves are not just inside your head – they are everywhere in your body. Therefore, wherever you experience yourself in your body, there – as a brain – you are.
Play with this idea to expand (spatially) your sense of self (as a distributed field of awareness).
Spill your mind into your body.
Neural Tribe: http://neuraltribe.squarespace.com