What is the nature of addiction? Addiction happens when we substitute a superficial low grade or low quality incomplete unsatisfying experience for a higher quality or deeper, more profound and satisfying experience. Although addiction almost always has some kind of harmful effect on our lives the addiction is in its essence an attempt to reach a deeper experience which, however, always falls short of its goal. Addiction is a partially experienced experience. This is why we feel compelled to continuously repeat the superficial experience. In a sense our addiction is a message for us, it is trying to draw our attention to some disavowed part of our personality that we need to pay attention too.
Almost all addictions to drugs are substitutes for the natural human desire for altered states of consciousness, such as meditative, shamanic, ecstatic and trance states. An addiction to alcohol may be a substitute for joy of life and connection. An addiction to heroin may be substitute for a sense of beatific oneness with existence. This is why ex-heroin addicts make good Buddhist meditators. An addiction to tobacco may be substitute for mindfulness and resting in the space between events and thoughts.
An addiction to pornography may be a substitute for intrinsic sensuality and the wild, erotic imagination. An addiction to meditation or other spiritual practices may be a substitute for not living our lives with sufficient depth. An addiction to cocaine may be a substitute for self belief and leadership. An addiction to anxious thinking may be a substitute for embodied, relaxed, courageous engagement with life. An addiction to acquiring possessions or money may be a substitute for connection with nature and community. The Industrial growth culture’s addiction to fossil fuel is a substitute for building abundant benevolent earth community. An addiction to facebook may be a substitute for real intimacy and connection. An addiction to the small self may be a substitute for sovereignty and power. An addiction to looking for approval may be a substitute for love, kindness and tenderness.
In order to help free ourselves from an addiction we might need to bring consciousness to the actual inner felt emotional and somatic experience of our craving for the thing we are addicted too. Then we may be able to access the power, essence or deeper need that lies behind the addiction. Instead of taking the drug we need to take the ‘energy’ or the ‘essence’ of the drug. We may need to listen to the message of the addiction. We may need to find the deeper experience that lies behind the addiction, that the addiction is a partial unconscious attempt to reach or fulfil, and to fulfil and experience that experience consciously and fully.