Compulsions: two levels of what we escape

 

When we have a compulsion, there are usually two levels to what we try to escape. 

The compulsion could be any activity – eating, using alcohol or drugs, internet, work, upholding an image of ourselves, certain thought patterns, or just about anything else. Behind compulsions is a wish to avoid certain uncomfortable sensations and thoughts.

And those uncomfortable sensations and thoughts come in two layers

First are the immediate sensations in our body we wish to avoid. They seem frightening to us, so we use our compulsion as a strategy to avoid them. Sometimes, we may be conscious of uncomfortable or frightening thoughts associated with these sensations, but not always.

Then, there is a whole undergrowth of uncomfortable and frightening thoughts and additional sensations often in the form of chronic contractions. These can be quite entrenched, seem very real to us, and can stretch back to childhood experiences. 

Often, we would do almost anything to avoid consciously entering and meeting these. Including escaping into our compulsions, even if these come with their own unpleasant consequences. 

Several things may prevent us from consciously entering what we try to escape from. Mainly, it seems scary and frightening. We have our own beliefs telling us it’s scary and dangerous. Our society, at least traditionally, has told us these parts of us are dark and hide something terrifying. Our society makes it easy to escape through various addictions and compulsions. (We see others do it, and escape routes are easily available partly because some of them are profitable.) We may, wisely, think we would get lost if we enter these parts of ourselves, we may rock the boat, and we may take the lid off something we won’t know how to handle. (This may be true if we don’t have the right support, guidance, and skills.) 

The answer is to do exactly what we have avoided, do so with support and guidance, and eventually learn how to do it safely for ourselves. We need to meet and befriend these areas of ourselves. Become familiar with them, see the innocence behind it all, and perhaps invite these parts of us to heal. 

Over time, we get to see that it’s actually not so scary to enter these areas after all. It may be uncomfortable at first, but as we rest with the sensations and thoughts, and investigate what’s there, it tends to shift into an experience of relief and even of returning home. We are returning home to parts of ourselves we have shunned. 

It’s important to do this befriending in a skillful way, and that often means to initially be facilitated by someone experienced. These parts of ourselves are best met and explored in a way that’s respectful, patient, allows these parts to be as they are, see the innocence behind and in them, and invites them to heal in their own time. 

For me, the most helpful ways I have found of doing this include natural rest (notice, allow, rest with), inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries, Big Mind process), heart-centered practices (ho’oponopono, tonglen – towards these parts of ourselves), and releasing associated body contractions (TRE, massaging the contractions etc.). I won’t go into the details here since I have written about it in other articles. 

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Compulsively seeking awakening?

 

Sometimes, people compulsively seek awakening.

How does it look? One end of the spectrum is a rash “I need awakening now!” urge. The other end may be people who are a bit more mature, skilled in how they go about it, and are in it for the long haul.

What’s the upside of this? It may actually work. It may bring about healing, awakening, and needed disillusionment (not necessarily in that order). A strong effort – especially combined with some insight, skill, and persistence – can, ultimately, lead to healing and awakening, often through a series of disillusionments.

What’s the downside? If we are compulsively seeking anything, it often means we are chasing an image or a state, and that we are compulsively trying to escape or avoid something. We may overlook what it’s actually about for ourselves. And we may successfully avoid, for a while, what we wish to avoid, which is something in us that needs attention and healing.

What’s a good way to make use of this urge?

Be smart about it. Find an experienced guide or coach that seems sane, mature, and grounded. Learn the skills and apply them. Explore different approaches. Combine the ones that work best. Stay with what works.

Explore the urge itself. Investigate the beliefs behind it and find what’s more true for you. Investigate your ideas about awakening and what it gives you (for instance, through how these ideas appear in the sense fields). Find healing for the parts of you creating the urge for awakening. (The pain you may want to avoid, the reactions to the pain saying awakening is the way).

Use approaches that invite in healing and awakening. Most likely, an urge for awakening is a combination of a genuine pull towards awakening and a reaction against our own pain. A genuine pull towards awakening is, in itself, quiet and persistent. (At least, in my experience.) And a compulsion that comes from our reaction to our own pain can be more loud, stressful, and more of a drama queen. Most of the approaches I write about here, in these articles, do both.

Explore approaches that give a first hand taste of what awakening is about. This will give a guideline and also some grounding to your exploration, and it’s part of the disillusionment mentioned above. (The Big Mind process and Headless experiments work well for some people.)

It does seem that compulsively seeking awakening is a phase of the process for many people, whether it’s more rash or seasoned, or more fanciful or skilled.

In any case, it’s the divine wishing to wake up to itself. It has temporarily experienced itself as what it inherently isn’t – separate, isolated, prone to believing thoughts and so on – and wishing for awakening is another phase in its ongoing exploration of itself. The awakening itself – with its ongoing clarification, maturing, and learning to live from it – is yet another phase.

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Bliss addiction

 

This is another 101 topic I have written about before and thought I would briefly revisit.

We can be addicted to bliss, especially during a certain phase of the spiritual path.

Here is what often happens:

We get a taste of bliss.

We want it again.

We try different strategies to get it again.

We try strategies to get it to stay.

And eventually, we discover that we seek a transitory state and an experience, and that’s ultimately futile.

As far as I can tell, this bliss-seeking compulsion has a few different functions.

It’s a carrot on the path. It keeps us going so our seeking and practices become more established and more of a stable habit. Especially as it tends to happen early on the intentional path.

It can bring a certain healing. It can make us feel loved. It can help us trust life more.

It’s a lesson in the difference between states and what we are. It helps us differentiate the two.

It’s an invitation to explore what in us drives the compulsion and find healing for it.

As experiences come and go, we will eventually notice that what we are is what experiences happen within and as. And that that’s what it really is about, at least as we mature a bit. Seeking and losing and refinding and relosing bliss is a strong invitation to notice this.

And what drives this compulsion to find bliss, or really any compulsion? It’s often a sense of lack, a sense of not being good enough, and wanting to escape uncomfortable identifications and feelings.

So there is nothing wrong in seeking bliss. It’s natural. It’s quite common. It has several functions. And it leads us to a slightly more mature phase of the path.

Note: What strategies do we use to seek and maintain bliss? Most often, it’s a combination of meditation practices, prayer, and yogic or energetic practices. And for some, it’s psychoactive drugs.

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Self control vs seeing through 

 

A client mentioned a few times that he needs more self-control.

If we take our urges to be solid and real, then it seems we need self-control to deal with or oppose them. That’s stressful. It creates a sense of struggle, and we may even lose that struggle.

Fortunately, there is another way.

We can examine the urge. How is it created? What images, words, and sensations makes it up? Can I find the urge in any one of the images, words, and sensations? Do any of them tell me to do something? And if it does, what images, words, and sensations tells me it does?

As I explore this, and get to see the images, words, and sensations making up the urge, the urge itself may soften or fall away. And as it does, self-control is revealed as not needed. (Of course, self-control can be explored in a similar way. Can I actually find what self-control seems to refer to? What images, words, and sensations makes up what appears as self-control? What’s the threat if I don’t have or use self-control?)

I should also mention that urges are often connected to a persistent body contraction, and this may need more exploration and work. There may be more images and words connected to the contraction,  creating and reacting to it. Physical activities, including TRE, yoga, and massage, may help release the tension and the contraction. As the contraction soften and releases, the urge may too, since bodily contractions seem to fuel urges and compulsions.

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Relationship addiction, love addiction

 

As the new relationship shifted back to friendship, I experienced a new sense of spaciousness that came from not having a partner to focus on as I had done for the previous 17 years. In this newly opened space came both immense pleasure, and pain. Debilitating thoughts and intense sensations arose that I labeled fear, and sadness. Using inquiry and embodied rest I journeyed through rotating stories and beliefs, many of them tied to childhood experiences that I had not yet unwound. Feeling utterly alone as a child was one of my biggest sources of trauma, around which I had built a lot of conditioning to protect myself from feeling. There was layer after of layer of feeling unsafe, unloved and simply unable to live without being in relationship for fear of being alone. The various awakenings experienced were no match for the conditioning and trauma that lived in the space of my body.

I was raised believing that I needed a man to take care of me, and on subconscious levels I believed this, even though rationally speaking I would swear it’s absurd. All the studying of feminism, philosophy, and psychology in the world couldn’t have saved me from subconscious belief systems and biological programming which helped form various stories: needing relationship to prove sense of worth, to feel special, to be important, to be loved, to be safe. Being in a relationship distracted me from coming face to face with my various deficiency stories, and the life I created through intimate relationships kept me from fully diving into my ultimate fear of being alone. Nothing could have prepared me for the intense feelings of wanting to be held and touched, that almost seemed to command me to be in relationship or have sex. Over the last six months I’ve learned to hug myself, and love myself, and be with myself in deeper ways than I had ever imagined.

– from The Addictive Nature of Relationship by Lisa Meuser, one of the senior Living Inquiry facilitators

Lisa is describing it so well that I don’t feel I need to add much to it, other than that I recognize this from myself. I too have a relationship addiction, and a love addiction.

And it’s there to compensate for or cover up a sense of lack, loneliness, feeling unlikeable, unlovable, unpopular, an outsider, and more. All of this was there when I was a child, and it’s still with me to some extent.

Relationships makes me feel OK about myself. If she likes me, loves me, wants to have children with me, then I must be OK. Especially if she is attractive and popular.

This is no reason to not be in a relationship.

But it’s good to notice, and it’s something I want to look at.

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Internet and podcast compulsion

 

I am going to do a “CI package” – three or four compulsion inquiry sessions in a row – on internet and podcast compulsion.

It’s not a very strong compulsion, but it’s there. If I have some time to spare, I often go on the internet and read news and science, go on Facebook (most of my friends post interesting things on sustainability, psychology spirituality etc.), and sometimes watch videos on NRK, BBC, Youtube or other places. Similarly, if I go for a walk, or take a rest, and also before falling asleep at night, I often listen to podcasts and audio (science, Adyashanti etc.). As soon as my life is filled with something else that’s more meaningful, I am very happy to not go on the internet or listen to podcasts. It often feels like a relief.

I see three reasons behind this slight compulsion:

It’s an escape, a way to avoid feeling what’s here. A way to avoid feeling what appears as uncomfortable feelings in the body, and avoid looking at the associated (and apparently uncomfortable or scary) words and images.

I wish to understand and know as much as possible about the world – through science, psychology and spirituality (nondual, integral etc.). My mind is trying to find a sense of security and safety that way.

I wish to experience and know about as much as possible. There is a slight compulsion to have a sense of richness of experiences. There is a desire to not “miss out”, and also to connect.

The aim of the compulsion inquiry, if there is one, is to see what’s here, to see how my compulsion is created. And also to find a freedom around the topic, in this case a relaxed and comfortable freedom to go on the internet and listen to podcasts, or not.

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Scott Kiloby: The inquiries creates a different relationship to what’s arising

 

Addiction is based around the idea of a one time fix. Like, I’m going to take this drug or do this thing and wipe away all my pain. Of course, it never works. Pain is still there. But to treat the inquiries the same way doesn’t do them justice. Don’t think in terms of “what inquiry can I do to wipe away my pain for good.” Isn’t this just looking for another fix? A Magic wand?

The inquiries are used best, in my view, as a way to create a different relationship to what is arising, to let it be as it is, and to see that it is not what it first appeared to be. For example, it looks like there is an urge to drink, but upon looking it can’t be found. Or it looks like there is a threat, but upon looking, it can’t be found. And through this looking you are changing your relationship to what is. Instead of trying to escape discomfort, you are allowing it as it is. Instead of looking for a one time fix (in a drug, a drink or a certain inquiry), the experience of life itself changes, where all is allowed as it is. And yes that brings quite often less or no addiction, less or no fear, less or no identification. But NOT as some magic wand that you wave once, but rather by seeing your experience differently moment by moment. A one time fix, whether it is from a drug or a particular inquiry, is just an experience. It comes and goes like everything else. But to be awake within your life in every moment is quite a radical change. And by “awake” I don’t mean some mystical state in the future. I’m merely saying, for example, do you see that mental picture of wine, is there a command to drink actually on it?

– Scott Kiloby on addiction and the Living Inquiries