The brain is always looking for solutions to the very problems it creates for itself. This is especially true when it comes to addictions, and all addictions are the same at the core. The brain, in its quest to feel better creates the problem, then it tries to fix it by feeding the problem it created, all the while perpetuating a stream of ambivalence, angst, and drama – when all it really wanted to do was have a rest. It’s so repetitious and predictable.
I often notice the trouble the brain causes when I teach art. So many brains are always trying to take over a process that only takes eyes and hands, and as soon as the brain steps in, that’s the end of the authenticity of the work. Eyes get bigger, lips are contrived symbols, trees are lollipops. “Just look at it!” I say, over and over, “Let your eyes tell your hand what to do. Leave your brain out of it.”
There’s a difference between Mind (the universal Mind we all share, call it God if you like) and our brain and its lower primal “lizard brain.” Mind is the Greater Intelligence that drives the universe and all of its miraculous workings including our wonderful bodies (and brains) that don’t need our help in order to operate. Mind created the limbic system that tells us when we need to eat or drink to survive, while our brain cooks up drama and drives us to eat more cake than we can enjoy, and drink stuff like poisonous ethanol.
Brain thinking appears to happen independently in individual bodies, which is why we think it belongs to us, when really it doesn’t. Brains are the cause of egos and war and strife and separation, and addiction, and when it comes to survival, it’s designed by Mind to serve us very well. What went wrong?
A couple of years ago when I was doing inquiries with Scott Kiloby around my ethanol addiction, I was asked to look at the images and cues going on in my head to realize they were not real. I’d make up excuses about how, as an artist and creator, much of my success was based on my acting on these ideas that pop into my head. I’d lock onto these ideas, take action, and manifest them. I did not realize then that I could easily discern what’s worth acting on, and what should be dismissed; what was truly inspiration, and what was that “little monster” mistaking substance for sustenance. That’s the tricky thing about addiction and creative people – urges and inspiration can get mixed up.
Recently, after being a non-smoker for much of my adult life, with a hubby who smokes moderately, I found myself in the clutches of nicotine addiction once more. I’d make my decaffeinated coffee in the morning, and my brain would think, hmmm, how nice to sit out back and have another “ine” with your caffeine even though I was having little or no caffeine. And it was only a matter of a couple of moments of self-admonishment before I’d give in. And then, as anyone who has been addicted knows, the pain is pretty much equal or greater than any imagined pleasure. Why, oh, why do we do this? We do this because we give our thoughts much more power than they deserve.
When it comes to addiction overall, I need to take my own advice, and stop looking to the brain for answers. A Buddhist monk once said to me, “You tinky too much.” And he wasn’t kidding!
I needed to see that it’s the brain there that causes all the trouble. Looking back, it was pretty easy for me to stop drinking ethanol, the obsessive portion lasting only a couple of months which I creatively negotiated quite easily. But the setup was arduous years of brain interference! Brain really hates being left out. But, in order to leave addiction behind, we need to allow the thinking to just come and go without identifying with it. We need to stop taking our thoughts seriously. We need to realize they are impersonal. We need to realize that we are not our thoughts, and we have absolutely no chance of controlling them. Treat those thoughts like the wind. Sometimes it’s calm, sometimes it whispers, and sometimes it blows really hard. But it’s all just wind, and we have as much chance of controlling it as we do the thoughts that pass through our gray matter. They are as much “ours” as the clouds in the sky. To release addiction, we need to understand this, and depersonalize those thoughts.
After re-reading Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, I stopped again, easily. But then I was out relaxing with my husband; he lit up, and I had one, and the cycle began again! Can I blame my husband’s smoking on my inability to be smoke-free? No. Brain would love to do that, but I know the truth: I tinky too much – I’m addicted to thinking!
So, at the core of addiction is perceived discomfort, as with the need for food or water. But it goes deeper than that. It’s really the need for rest – mental rest. That chattering monkey is going on and on day and night relentlessly. It needs a rest! You tinky too much!
Amy Johnson in The Little Book of Big Changes says something to this effect: When you feel an urge it’s actually a cue from higher intelligence telling you to slow down. I’m finally starting to get it. In the past my slowing down was done artificially with booze or cigarettes. I remember thinking to myself – Why can’t I just simply be?
The key is to realize that your thoughts are not you – to live more in the clarity of Higher Intelligence. And it takes some practice to put thinking in its place. I’m still working on it.
So, we’ve got The Greater Intelligence from which we spring, live within, and return to. Then we’ve got these articulate thinking, rational brains, and underneath that is the beautiful primal brain that makes sure we survive. That’s where the little monster hangs out. We tricked it into thinking we need some substance for survival – for rest – so it’s always nagging at us for more.
That little monster can’t talk! It’s too primal and base. When you “feel an urge” that’s what’s happening, you are feeling signals from that lower brain. I am the one that puts words in the monster’s mouth; I am the one who gives it an addictive voice. When I hear things like I’ll go to the store and get some. or You know you’re gonna do it, that’s my brain giving voice to that little shit – taking a simple and vague uncomfortable feeling and owning it. And right then I have a choice. I can go do it, or I can sit right there and breathe and just allow it to be as it is – a firing of a few synapses, brain business as usual. No fight, no drama, nothing to do, nothing to fix. Then the voice says, “Just one last one.” Ya right…
After smoking for a couple of weeks, it became painfully obvious that the little monster was running the show. My throat was sore, my ears were itchy, I was developing swollen glands, yet I was still compelled to smoke! The only way to kill that thing is to starve it, and the only way to starve it is to feel the feelings directly without a story, without adding a voice, and keep dismissing it like the useless thought form it is. STFM!
I was out rowing under a clear blue sky, contemplating all of this, when a big driving wind came up like a metaphor. 🙂
There are two ways to negotiate heavy wind when rowing: You either go with it, or you turn directly into it and slice through it. As I was slicing through the wind, getting splashed on my back and making awesome headway, I realized that dealing with an absurd so-called urge, when it seems to be broadsiding you, is when it’s really critical to turn directly into it, and realize it is nothing. However strong it feels in the moment, it’s just air!