Addiction as a Doorway to Accelerated Spiritual Growth

SpiritualWarriorAny addiction or unwanted behavior can be used to learn and practice transcendence, which is achieving a state of excellence freed from the limitations of matter (or the physical world).  Trans means to go beyond or through.  And end is the point at which an act or experience is completed.  So to transcend is to end reliance on physical sensations and appearances and to go beyond it to the spiritual realm or authetic Self.

All spiritual growth depends on radical transcendence. It’s radical because transcendence requires full cooperation and participation. There’s no half-way application, no ambivalence, no substitute, no alternative. It’s a fundamental, irreducible spiritual practice common to all traditions. Transcendence also offers the added benefit of making day-to-day life work better.

Transcendence is experienced by undoing a bodily habit of some kind. The urge to do the habit will still come into the body-mind, but there’s no response to it. You get the urge to eat when you’re not hungry, but don’t act on it. You feel like drinking to get drunk, but don’t do it. You feel the urge to have a meaningless sexual experience, but don’t engage in it. Transcendence is the conscious override of an unwanted impulse, sensation or urge.

Here’s how it works. The pesky, habitual impulse appears. Sensations run through the body. Needy thoughts run through the mind about what you have to have to be satisfied and happy. Tension is noticed, accepted and allowed to run its course. Eventually this tension runs out of energy and disappears by itself. All that’s required is the deliberate, intelligent application of inner peace, which is doing nothing. That’s transcendence. The needy impulse is fully experienced, rather than suppressed or masked, but without treating it as real or worthy of a response.

People like to complicate and exaggerate body-mind urges. They’re discussed. They’re studied.  They’re labeled. They’re lamented. They’re medicated. And most of all they’re treated as meaningful and important. Nothing useful is accomplished by falling into the impulse or by devoting excessive attention to it. Nothing. The impulse has no inherent use or necessity. People who continually talk about their impulsive behavior are drawing attention and energy to what’s not wanted: the problem. This never works. All energy and attention must be redirected to the solution.

If you happen to be someone who has an unwanted habitual behavior, you’re called to a more realistic and practical appraisal of your situation. Response to the impulse makes the impulse stronger and delays the moment when transcendence is learned. The impulse will not automatically improve. It will not disappear over time. Contrary to popular lore, it will not be undone through the death process either. Physical death is transformation not end. Death does not result in the experience of peace unless peace has been acquired during life. For those who are open to the concept of reincarnation, consider the possibility that the habitual impulse will continue to manifest and present itself into the next body-mind experience. And the next. And the next until it’s transcended. Ultimately, transcendence is the one and only functional option.

Responding robotically to an unwanted behavior is like being under a magical trance-like spell, where the spell is in the form of a very specific mind-body pattern. Instead of breaking the spell, people are distracted by attempting to understand the pattern and by assigning meaning to it. Some think the pattern means they’re diseased or genetically disadvantaged. Some think the pattern is a by-product of unhappiness, depression or an inferior childhood. Some think the pattern means they’re unworthy, bad or wrong.

Conventional ideas like these are presumed to be useful and true and are routinely extended by many, perhaps by you. Devote yourself now to releasing your attention from this seemingly well-intended but highly negative and fearful orientation. Instead of accepting and extending these ideas, you can transcend them. Indulging in fearful and negative thoughts always results in contraction, and contraction of any kind is painful. No one thrives in a state of constant pain or chronic anxiety and fear. Robotic behavior patterns are made worse by fearful thinking, not better.

Many people also inappropriately assign moral judgments to those who indulge in unwanted behaviors, but there’s no reason to judge self or another as wrong or bad. There’s only the choice to experience more pain or to end it. No one else really cares if you’re in pain. Consequently, you have to be the one that cares. The simple, essential prospect of release from constant pain is the inspiration to expand beyond the sensations of the body-mind and transcend. A truly bothersome behavior can be a fast-track to transcendence, and this is a huge advantage.

Rather than perceiving the impulse as undesirable and dastardly, give it a new purpose. Make it the doorway to spiritual and personal growth. Ancient wisdom-based cultures taught the elimination of habitual patterns, one after another, as a disciplined practice for spiritual warriors on a path to acquiring personal power and supernatural abilities. These cultures no longer exist, but anyone can still assume the heart and mindset of the ancient spiritual warrior.

A warrior is someone who fights battles as a way of life. All warriors have the same goal: to conquer and defeat the enemy. To win! Battles change from one era to another, from one country to another, but the goal of winning never changes. The difference between a worldly warrior and a spiritual warrior has to do with the type of battle that’s fought.

Worldly warriors fight battles with other worldly warriors. They fight to win tangible things like land, money, power and glory. Spiritual warriors are concerned with just one thing: defeating the ever-present impulse to self-destruct. It’s the only worthy battle. Spiritual warriors hold the intention to win it.

Everyone can learn transcendence. No exceptions.

This article was written by Karen Bentley, the author of The Power to Stop, and it was origially published on BlogCritics.

BOOK REVIEW: The Addictive Personality by Craig Nakken

Since 1988  Craig Nakken’s book, The Addictive Personality, has sold over 200,000 copies to an audience of professionals, addicts and their families.  A popular, 25-year shelf life is a big and distinctive deal for a book, and this remarkable achievement is what drew me to read it.  Hazelden, the publisher, is a Minnesota-based company dedicated to substance abuse prevention, treatment, education, recovery and advocacy.  It’s well-known for supporting 12-step ideology and protocols, and predictably, The Addictive Personality presents the traditional  12-step party line.

Nakken believes, for example, that addiction is an expression (or acting out) of emotional suffering. In the early stages, addiction is viewed as a dysfunctional attempt to achieve emotional fulfillment by creating a trance-like state of mind or a positive mood change. Nakken also embraces the concept that addiction is a progressive disease that occurs in three basic stages. First there’s internal change, then there’s a lifestyle change and finally there’s a total life breakdown.  Addictive, pleasure-seeking people are characterized by temporary and volatile emotional states, unstable relationships, high intensity living, powerlessness, an angry predatory manner, and an appetite for excessive/pointless hedonism.

The book is organized into four sections:  1) the addiction process; 2) stages of addiction; 3) the why of recovery and 4) family and addiction.  Even though the third section is focused on recovery, there are less than 15 pages actually devoted to discussing solutions.  Hands down, this is the most disappointing feature.   Almost none of the author’s energy goes into showing how a better understanding of causes can be used to inspire recovery, to speed recovery or to make recovery more efficient.  I was expecting a much more scientific approach where the solutions directly match up directly with the causes.   Instead, Nakken gives a rehash of the 12-steps.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t do an adequate job of explaining exactly how the 12 steps work to neutralize the underlying problems he painstakingly identified.

Another disappointment is Nakken’s underlying confusion with darkness and light. For example, the notion that recovery is “about allowing us to feel guilt” is a dark idea that makes recovery unattractive.  Guilt is the judgment of self as bad, wrong and unworthy, and it always results in anxiety, depression and the perception of self as unlovable.  There’s nothing useful about indulging in guilt because it exacerbates the impulse to self-destruct. Who wants to take life straight, so to speak, when you feel so very bad about yourself?  Many people, especially therapists, think that guilt is helpful because it leads to correction.  But this is not true.  Guilt and correction are two different things, and correction is most efficiently accomplished without it.

All-in-all, I got zero positive reading charge from the The Addictive Personality.  It was too clinical and boring for my taste.  Nakken’s reliance on stereotypes and labels did not inspire or uplift me, and his rigid, uncreative interpretations close the mind rather than open it. For these reasons, I give this book an unenthusiastic recommendation of one-half thumb up.   That said,  The Addictive Personality is technically well written, and I realize many of Nakken’s ideas are widely accepted.  Just because they don’t resonate with me doesn’t mean they won’t resonate with you.

If you want a psychologically-oriented 12-step interpretation of the causes of addiction, The Addictive Personality will be just right for you.  Pass on it if you’re looking for something with a little more practicality or heart.  Here’s the link for The Addictive Personality at the Hazelden online store.