Category Archives: addiction

Even Bad Habits Don’t Deserve to be Kicked!

A More Effective Way to Deal
with Destructive Behavior

The spacious mind that arises out of the regular practice of meditation is a perfect stage for noticing a self-destructive behavior, and then noticing the voice inside us that activates or instigates that behavior. This noticing and listening is much more effective than trying to strong arm ourselves into stopping the behavior. How many times have you quit smoking or gone on a diet only to sabotage yourself? This is clearly a painful self-destructive pattern. Each failure makes us feel like a failure. Each hope dashed lowers our view of our own abilities.

Remembering when we have been successful at changing a behavior, we also remember a feeling of being whole-hearted, of being completely clear, and that it felt as if the change came about naturally. That sense of wholeness and clarity allows for positive change. Otherwise, the thundering roar of a cacophony of conflicting inner directives – desires, urges, fears – may totally derail us. The clarity comes from all the inner voices being in tune and in harmony. All our inner aspects need to be on board before a real shift can happen.

If we are really noticing, we find that on every journey to an unskillful action there is a conversation between inner aspects. At first we may notice only the most urgent voice demanding that cookie right now. The urgency is uncomfortable or exhilarating, and it may feel like our only choice is to comply. But when we pay closer attention, we find there is at least one other voice as well. If we recognize that the urgency doesn’t necessarily require immediate action, that we actually can tolerate ‘listening to the inner baby cry’ a bit before responding, we might begin to hear another voice as well.

There is a quiet voice within each of us that we may never notice until we are really paying attention. The silence of meditation allows us to become aware of a calm inner spacious wisdom. Through the regular practice of meditation, we can seek this wise inner resource out, as I did in my book Tapping the Wisdom Within, A Guide to Joyous Living.

As we begin to listen to this inner wisdom, we can allow it to have loving diplomatic conversations with our other aspects, negotiating inner peace. We can shift the internal power structure so that the urgent caffeinated aspects that have been yelling so loud that we give them what they want just to shut them up for a while, are no longer calling the shots.

At first it may be hard to find that wise inner voice, mostly because our more rambunctious aspects are running the show. But with regular meditative practice, quiet walks in nature, setting the intention to stay in the present moment and be kind, we create a spaciousness that allows us to notice and listen with curiosity. With that spaciousness, our journey of self-discovery truly begins.

Any self discovery we have done in the past, without this spaciousness, is more likely to have been a grabbing at identity clues and claiming them. I am that, I am like that, I am that kind of person. Our discoveries may be interesting or comforting, but really they are just decorative accessories of identity.

The self-discovery we embark on through this meditative practice is not a grabbing identity as if our behaviors or preferences are life preservers to save us.

Often it is our attachment to a certain identity that causes us and those around us suffering. My mother died of emphysema. She said she could have quit smoking much sooner, but she was so sure she would be an incredibly boring person without a cigarette in her hand to make her glamorous! Those artful smoke swirls of 1930’s movies had done their number on her. Of course when she finally quit she was even more interesting and enjoyable to be around.

A good question to ask ourselves when we are wanting to quit a habit but are finding it impossible: Who would I be without my cigarette? or Who would I be without my sweet treats? or Who would I be without my quick temper? The answers may set us on a fruitful journey of exploration.

Perhaps you have known a child whose room is piled high with all manner of garbage – discarded soda cans, gum wrappers, etc. – and they refuse to acknowledge this is trash. What’s up with that? Perhaps they are desperately building an identity for themselves, and everything they have touched defines them. So throwing away the soda can is for them throwing away a bit of themselves. This is an extreme example of something we all do to varying degrees. We take pride in our choices of the objects we have chosen to fill our lives, and vest them with the power to define us, to represent us to the world and even to ourselves. We can be very rigid in our definition. I would never wear that! I hate that kind of food. I’m the kind of person who lives in this kind of house, decorated in this particular style. I can’t imagine myself in a different setting. All of these kinds of statements are not just preferences, they are the life preservers of our identity, and we cling to them pretty fiercely.

When we come into a vaster vantage point of Right View, we begin to see that none of these things are us at all. What is offered is much greater than all of this little detritus floating around in the sea that we’ve been clinging to for dear life. It is the invitation to recognize that we are the sea itself. We don’t need life preservers of identity to rescue us. We are already rescued! We only need to recognize our true nature.

Notice the little voice in you saying, But I want the cool things! This is not about giving up the things. It’s about shifting our relationship to them and the world around us, not believing that these things define us. And then not being attached to the identity of being a person who can do without things. It’s an ongoing process!

If you are not yet ready to give up the life raft of identity, don’t fret. Don’t add yet another voice to the cacophony within that says you haven’t got it. Baloney! You’ve got it. It’s all there. In your own time, in your own way, at your own pace, you will reveal all to yourself. Patience. Practice. Intention to be present in this moment and to be kind. Let that be absolutely enough. It truly is.

And with that regular meditative practice comes:
– The spaciousness to notice a thought, a desire, an urge, passing through
– The patience to stay with the thought a while before fulfilling its demand through action.
– The ability to see that the thought has a voice, an agenda, an intention that may be rooted in fear.
– The time to pause and follow that thought thread down to its roots
– The willingness to become familiar with this voice, to give it an affectionate name,
– The wisdom not to claim it as identity but to recognize its concerns
– The skill to negotiate a workable solution that circumvents the unskillful behavior it requests, while fulfilling the deeper need for a sense of safety and security that it desires.

Listening to the voice that is promoting the behavior, naming it, asking questions, negotiating some equitable solution. Voice by voice, we get ourselves together, speaking with one clear intention.

That’s when resistance to the change we want to make falls away. We haven’t ripped it out, we haven’t thrown any part of ourselves away, we haven’t sacrificed anything. We have simply made friends with ourselves and become whole-hearted and able to do what we need to do.

The Second Noble Truth & Coming into Skillful Relationship with Desire


In previous posts we explored the First Noble Truth: That there is suffering in life. The Second Noble Truth says there is a cause of this suffering, and that cause is our grasping, clinging and pushing away of the objects, ideas, experiences and people that we either want or don’t want in our lives.

Wanting. We all know about wanting! Given a blank page we could each sit down and write a comprehensive list of desires, those things we want more of, those ways we want to change ourselves, our situation and the world.

Desire is a naturally arising phenomenon. Getting rid of it is not the goal. That would just be a desire to be free of desire. Instead we want to develop a skillful relationship with our desires. For many of us our current relationship is that our desires control us, dictating our behavior. That’s suffering!

The first step to come into skillful relationship with our desires is to notice a desire as it arises. And then, before we rush to fulfill the desire, we pause. We pause and just experience the desire fully. (See the exercise below.)

Pausing to just be with a desire can be challenging when instant gratification is so easy. With credit cards, stores open around the clock and overnight shipping from anywhere in the world, if our desire is for a particular taste or a particular possession, we can almost skip over the whole experience of wanting and go right to fulfillment.

Do you remember wanting something as a child? The waiting, the longing? We became intimate with our desire. We lived with it for long periods (that seemed even longer!) We could describe the experience of desire as a bodily burden that was almost insupportable. Many of these desires passed. Some didn’t. Some were fulfilled. Some weren’t. Some were given as gifts, treats or rewards. Some we were told to save for. Some we were told weren’t good for us and we wouldn’t be allowed to have ever. Some were for things that couldn’t be purchased.

While none of us want to return the power to our parents to decide whether our desires will be fulfilled, we can recreate a bit of that state of delayed gratification. Not as torture but as a way to come into relationship with our desires and to be more skillful in our response to them.
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Exercise
Stop for a moment now and see what comes up when you say, “I want…..” Whatever desire arises is fine. It doesn’t have to be anything special for you to work with it.

Now, close your eyes and sense in to your body, saying the statement again. Does the statement bring on any physical sensation? Does it bring up any emotion? Does it bring up any images beyond the visualization of the desire itself, perhaps a memory?

This is an interesting self-exploration that you can do with many different desire statements (both “I want….” and “I don’t want…”). For it to be most useful, write down the statements and any accompanying sensations, emotions or images.
When the desire arises of its own accord (not from the prompting in this exercise) you can also notice what, if any, thoughts preceded it and see if there is a causal relationship. You can notice what thoughts accompany the desire that energize or enable the wanting. And you can notice what thoughts follow the desire — judging yourself for the desire perhaps?

It is also interesting to notice any external causes and conditions that may have brought on the desire. For example, you’re walking down the street, perfectly content, when you see a luxury car driving down the street or something in a shop window and suddenly you feel wanting.
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Look at the last sentense of that exercise: “…and suddenly you feel wanting.” Wanting as in lacking in something. As if you are somehow incomplete. Suddenly you are not enough because you don’t have (fill in the blank). Amazing, isn’t it? What an opportunity to notice how we so readily attach our identity to objects of desire, and often even to the desire itself.

By pausing before fulfilling our desire, we give ourselves the opportunity to be fully present with it, to recognize it as a recurring pattern, and to come into awareness – through bodily sensation and evoked emotions and memories that flit through like faint traces of dream.

We may notice that many of our desires, if not instantly fulfilled, simply pass away. An itch that doesn’t get scratched often subsides.

By paying attention to what else arises with the desire, we may recognize that the thing we think we desire is just a mask for some deeper desire that we were not willing to look at, but can now.

These unmasked desires may be for things that can never be fulfilled, like a return to a seemingly safer time, the return of a loved one who has died, or a chance to undo past mistakes. But by allowing ourselves to be fully present with them in a compassionate and spacious way, these desires benefit by being given a voice. Once acknowledged they may shift, but even if they don’t, they enrich our understanding, thus reducing our sense of suffering.

In this compassionate non-judgmental spaciousness, we can also allow ourselves to acknowledge an addictive desire, when we realize that the desire is controlling our behavior and that no matter how often we rush to fulfill it, it never satisfies the gnawing desire that fills us. And if through this process we are not able to skillfully explore this addiction, we can finally seek the help we need to do so.

Desire is not a dictate that we must mindlessly obey, but simply a natural phenomenon coming into our experience of this moment. By pausing before rushing to fulfill desires that arise, we have a rich opportunity to fully experience this utterly human trait as something in and of itself. We can be in a spacious relationship with our desires, neither clinging, grasping or pushing them away. We simply hold them in an open embrace.