Addicted to Our Selves
An addict is someone who believes he can only function if he has a regular supply of the substance or activity to which he is addicted. Deny him his ‘stuff’ and he goes into a state of profound grief compounded by a sickness that is caused by physical withdrawal symptoms. Similarly, when we are denied our ‘attachments’, we have withdrawal symptoms and suffer the same profound grief – indeed we believe we cannot function without them or even that we will cease to exist.
The word is from the Latin and literally means ‘spoken for’, but ‘addiction’ has come to mean something much more. The mystics talk about our ‘attachments’, a word from the Old French, atachier, meaning to fasten or to fix. ‘Addiction’ carries a powerful sense of compulsion and physical dependency that is somehow missing from the way we use ‘attachment’, but they are really the same thing. Maybe any seeming difference lies in the fact that ‘addiction’ has only meant a ‘compulsive relationship with a substance or activity’ for a mere 250 years or so, and thus has all the urgency of a recently discovered malaise.
But it is not recent: man has always been addicted to those constituents of the physical and mental worlds from which he tries to construct his worldly self. We are addicted in just the same way that a junkie is addicted to heroin. What are these constituents? They are the very substance of our worldly beings: our relationships in all their complexity; our possessions in all the ways they possess us; our ambitions, longing, frustrations, fantasies, lusts and fears, in all the ways they inhabit most of our waking – and sleeping – thoughts and dreams; our tastes and opinions, especially those we hold about ourselves.
Many of the U.S. soldiers sent to fight the Vietnam War became heroin addicts. It was readily available and numbed the pain of fighting a war that seemed pointless to many. When the Americans pulled out and went home, many of the newly addicted soldiers found that the rapid and profound change in their environment enabled them to simply stop using heroin with no serious withdrawal sickness or crisis. Their addictive relationship with the drug was turned on its head by the move back home. So it is with trainee mystics: as soon as we are able to turn homewards, our individual attachments cease to have such a hold over us.
As the mystics tell us, we can stop the mind from giving any energy to the story of our addiction, yearning for the stuff of space and time. We discover we can “just say no.” We can turn inwards. There is a cure.
The materials we use in our vain attempts to build solid selves are the attachments to which we fasten our worldly existence, the stuff we defend with anger when it is criticized. Because these constituents are the very bricks and mortar we use as we try to build our ‘selves’, we come to regard them as our very lives. We cling to them just as a drowning man clings to a life raft or an addict to his stash.
An addict is very like a slave – his actions are completely determined by his dependency as are the actions of a slave by his owner. The mystics tell us that we are spoken for, slaves of our senses; but how can we be slaves of such intangible phenomena, the senses? How can I be a slave of my sense of touch, for instance, or of my sight, or hearing?
Because it is our senses that create the duality in which our slavery sings the blues. The duality says there is “me” on the one hand, and the experience of the world in which I live, on the other. Everything that is not “me” is a great and terrible sea of what happens. An addict believes he can only stay afloat on that sea when he has his stuff; otherwise he will drown.
Baba Ji tells us we can let go of all our stuff simply by discovering the reality within us, by realizing it. He urges us to be objective, not subjective, to discover how to avoid reacting to what happens. He wants us to find liberation from our addiction to what we perceive (through our senses) to be going on. Not only do our senses tell us what is, apparently, happening, but then our minds tell us how to interpret what we think is happening. This event is a ‘good’ thing and it makes me happy, while that is a ‘bad’ thing and it fills me with fear. On and on we go, labouring away at ‘understanding’ what our senses tell us and reacting to those conclusions. Our selves and all their turbulent illusions are entirely in the thrall of what our senses seem to tell us – we are slaves of this seeming reality.
The key word here is ‘seeming’. If we, or rather, when we experience the divine reality that is God within us, then we are free. There is no “seeming” with the reality the Master would have us experience. It is beyond space and time and it is within us.
Being the creatures of habit that we are, each of our perceptions and subsequent reactions makes us more likely to perceive the world in the way we did the last time we were in a similar situation.
Character – how we respond to what we think is real – is habit. Self – the driver of our time-travel limousines – is memory. We remember, however dimly, how we became what we are. The more depressed or frightened we are, the more we see things to depress or frighten us, making us even more depressed or frightened. We get into the habit: we become convinced that the world is the way our personalities perceive it to be. We cling, like seaweed to a rock, to these defining perceptions.
I am what I have, what I own, and what I remember. If I lose what I have, who or what then am I? We are always in search of something to give us the impression we exist. This is at the root of why the Masters urge us to meditate, to become one with the Shabd, so that we can die to live. When we lose everything, are we nothing, or are we one with God and thus everything? The wonder of this mystical process is that by so dying, and only by this death, are we able to live in a way that makes our previous lives seem like death. We die to live so that we may truly live; not just existing, waiting to die, fearful that the story we have been spinning will simply stop.
As long as we have not withdrawn our consciousness in our meditation by completely letting go of everything we thought or imagined or hoped was us, we will be spoken for – addicted to those possessions, fantasies, fears, angers and lusts. The way to kick the habit of our selves is to turn our attention to the core of love, the Shabd, to substitute it for the shadow of the self. Our master-doctor gives us the addiction treatment that brings about this recovery. It is remembering to be here, in the centre and the practice of looking at and listening to what is here. This treatment is called simran, dhyan and bhajan.