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Working with Attachment and Addiction

This guided meditation script is useful in gaining back freedom and enriching self compassion. Working with Attachment and Addiction talk is given by Tara Brach, meditation teacher, psychologist and author.

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Namaste and welcome. In Buddhist cosmology, there's a term that I think's really powerful and it's called the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. And it's a psychic realm and it's a description really of us and certain states and it's the beings in it are depicted with these narrow narrow necks and these huge bellies which really are reflecting this endless desire for satisfaction and this incapacity to ever really be satisfied, the grasping and addiction that we get caught up in. So, it's really that space of living in that chronic sense of, something's missing, I need something more to be OK.

And I was reminded of this term because last weekend on Saturday night I spent about 15 or 20 minutes walking through a Sands Casino in Pennsylvania and you might wonder what was I doing at a casino? I was at a wedding and a lot of the guests were in that hotel. So, Jonathan and I decided we'd just have a sociological experience of our culture. So, we wandered through and the most notable thing to me, and it was packed Saturday night, was that nobody was happy. There was this sense of, there was either this intense focus and being pumped up and this wanting you could feel or this kind of deflation or angry or in some way defeated. There was very little eye contact possible. I mean even couples were there, they weren't there together, really. You know, one of them was on the machines. It was the Land of Hungry Ghosts and it sounds extreme but when we're honest we realize that for many of us, we live with a kind of gnawing dissatisfaction, a kind of a disappointment that our lives aren't turning out the way we wanted. There's a sense of never arriving like we're trying to get somewhere or not and we're not there.

So, this hungry ghost can have a whole range of degree. But along with that is that we have then patterns, again chronic patterns, on how we are trying to meet our needs. And we use all these different substitute gratifications whether it's sugar or approval seeking or our possessions and as we know, when we're doing that, it's temporary fixes. You know, we feel we're on a roller coaster. We feel better for a little bit but then the need is back there again. So, we have a lot of this hungry ghost energy that runs through many of us.

Some of you might remember one of my favorite little essays on this kind of thing is, I called, Inner Peace. If you want to achieve inner peace you need to finish all the things you started. So, I looked around seeing all the things I had started and hadn't finished. So, today I finished one bottle of gin, a bottle of red wine, a pint of Ben and Jerry's, my Prozac, and a large box of chocolates. You have no idea how good I feel and how short lived that will be. So, this hungry ghost energy, it fixates on substitutes but it can be really tenacious. I remember a line from Woody Allen where he says, "I love this old watch. You know, it was my grandfather's when he was on his deathbed he sold it to me."

Working With Attachment And Addiction

I've shared that when I was in high school, my introduction to Buddhism was basically, you need to let go of your attachments and not be caught in desire. And I thought that meant that desire was bad and it was quite a number of years till I came back around to Buddhism but it was a misunderstanding. And it's one that I see in a lot of people because the teachings are not that desires are bad. In fact, desire goes hand in hand with existing. There's no existence without desire. You wouldn't be here if it weren't for desire, really. And filling desire can be temporarily pleasant and not having it filled can be temporarily unpleasant but it's being caught that's the suffering. OK? It's the caught part of it. It's where there's a hook where, and we're going to look in our lives, where we have that hook, where there's a sense of, I have to have this to be happy. I have to have this to feel OK. If it doesn't, if life doesn't cooperate in this way, it's really not OK. OK?

When Tai Forest Monk Arjun Cha, very very well known, inspired a lot of this generation's teachers in Western Buddhism, it was known that he'd walk around his monastery and when he'd see one of the monastics looking like they're having a hard time, he'd go up to them and say, "You must be very attached." And that was his comment, "You must be very attached." And then the invitation would be, OK where's the hook?

So, I do think of our attachments and addictions when they reach the very strong locked in way as a flag. And as a flag, it's really a flag that we've left home. It's a flag that our attention's energies are fixated outside ourselves and in some way we've pulled away from our own awareness in our own heart. And if we can pay attention to where we're stuck, where we're most stuck, if you can like really get it, this is where I'm hooked and if we're willing to pay attention to deepen our attention, then that very place of stuckness, the hook, actually becomes a portal to a very profound transformation and freedom and that's the promise.

So, this class, what we'll do is we'll, there will be an inquiry into where our attachments or addictions constricting our life force, where for each of us. And again, it can get very very subtle. The more you've been working on the spiritual path and deepening attention, the more you find more and more very very subtle hard to detect places where there are some holding on. I think the best nutshell summary that was given of freedom is that to cling to nothing, nothing at all whatsoever, as mine, as me or mine. So, it's a non clinging.

It's a very alive one for me, the particulars of talking about attachment addiction because my mother was an alcoholic and she stopped drinking when I was, I think 18, and then that became her life work, working in the field of alcoholism. I had an eating disorder when I was younger. I've had siblings and friends having every kind of possible addiction we can think of. Through the years working with students and as a therapist, most people when they start getting real with themselves find that they're hooked on something. So, it becomes part of our honesty and our self awakening to get, "Well, what is that? What's going on?" Just out of curiosity, I'm going to do a hand raise thing, how many of you feel like you kind of know your primary areas of attachment or addiction, you're kind of onto yourself on that? Can I see by hands? For those that are listening, four fifths. I'd like to share this with those that aren't in the room. How many feel like you're consciously working in this area? Like you're really kind of trying to undo and loosen up? Yeah. Okay that's interesting.

pause...

I've shared that when I was in high school, my introduction to Buddhism was basically, you need to let go of your attachments and not be caught in desire. And I thought that meant that desire was bad and it was quite a number of years till I came back around to Buddhism but it was a misunderstanding. And it's one that I see in a lot of people because the teachings are not that desires are bad. In fact, desire goes hand in hand with existing. There's no existence without desire. You wouldn't be here if it weren't for desire, really. And filling desire can be temporarily pleasant and not having it filled can be temporarily unpleasant but it's being caught that's the suffering. OK? It's the caught part of it. It's where there's a hook where, and we're going to look in our lives, where we have that hook, where there's a sense of, I have to have this to be happy. I have to have this to feel OK. If it doesn't, if life doesn't cooperate in this way, it's really not OK. OK?

When Tai Forest Monk Arjun Cha, very very well known, inspired a lot of this generation's teachers in Western Buddhism, it was known that he'd walk around his monastery and when he'd see one of the monastics looking like they're having a hard time, he'd go up to them and say, "You must be very attached." And that was his comment, "You must be very attached." And then the invitation would be, OK where's the hook?

So, I do think of our attachments and addictions when they reach the very strong locked in way as a flag. And as a flag, it's really a flag that we've left home. It's a flag that our attention's energies are fixated outside ourselves and in some way we've pulled away from our own awareness in our own heart. And if we can pay attention to where we're stuck, where we're most stuck, if you can like really get it, this is where I'm hooked and if we're willing to pay attention to deepen our attention, then that very place of stuckness, the hook, actually becomes a portal to a very profound transformation and freedom and that's the promise.

So, this class, what we'll do is we'll, there will be an inquiry into where our attachments or addictions constricting our life force, where for each of us. And again, it can get very very subtle. The more you've been working on the spiritual path and deepening attention, the more you find more and more very very subtle hard to detect places where there are some holding on. I think the best nutshell summary that was given of freedom is that to cling to nothing, nothing at all whatsoever, as mine, as me or mine. So, it's a non clinging.

It's a very alive one for me, the particulars of talking about attachment addiction because my mother was an alcoholic and she stopped drinking when I was, I think 18, and then that became her life work, working in the field of alcoholism. I had an eating disorder when I was younger. I've had siblings and friends having every kind of possible addiction we can think of. Through the years working with students and as a therapist, most people when they start getting real with themselves find that they're hooked on something. So, it becomes part of our honesty and our self awakening to get, "Well, what is that? What's going on?" Just out of curiosity, I'm going to do a hand raise thing, how many of you feel like you kind of know your primary areas of attachment or addiction, you're kind of onto yourself on that? Can I see by hands? For those that are listening, four fifths. I'd like to share this with those that aren't in the room. How many feel like you're consciously working in this area? Like you're really kind of trying to undo and loosen up? Yeah. Okay that's interesting.

pause...

So, as I mentioned there's different degrees. And so the first question, let's just to ask is, what actually is desire because it's considered this universal energy that all life desires to exist to flourish. And I remember some years ago probably about four or five years ago, I
read a really interesting article in New York Times science section that described how a mathematically perfectly balanced universe couldn't exist. In other words, a matter and antimatter where exactly equal, they'd cancel each other out. But, and this is there was one of those demonstrations in the Fermi National Accelerator Lab where they created a little mini universe and show what happened right after the Big Bang. And they show in collisions that there is a slight bias of certain elements in the electron to it's charged opposite. So, there's this cosmically miniscular leaning towards attraction. So, that rather
than cancelling each other out, existence happens.

Now my understanding doesn't go any deeper than that, but it's to me what the intuition is is that formless being wants to manifest. It's like the ocean wants to have waves and that the ocean knows itself through the appearance of waves. That's my favorite way of
describing it to myself. That it's an intrical part of this whole universe that we awaken through perceiving, form perceive. Then the ocean perceives itself through the waves. We perceive what we or this awareness and love through forms.

So, it's an organizing principle and desire takes on different dimensions of aliveness. It takes on the dimension of the desire for food, to connect with food and the material plane to be alive and sex and self-esteem and feeling safe and feeling bonded and self
realization and awareness itself. There are different dimensions of desire, what we yearn for. So, what turns desire into attachment? In other words, where do we get some hooks and stickiness in here? The Latin word for desire is desiderare and it means, away from your star. So, when there's desire there's some sense of being away from home and a longing for home coming and that feels kind of intuitively true. That, I think of it that, our star is the energetic source of our being, the awareness that's the source of our being. And we have a longing to come home to our true nature, to really rest in our wholeness.
So, each dimension of desire, the expressions of aliveness from the [00:11:59] grow [0.3] to the more and more subtle, from wanting food, to wanting the light and experience of awareness itself.

Now, the hook. If our basic needs are not met, if our basic needs for food for security for bonding are not met, then our attention narrows and fixates. Desire becomes fixated. Desire intensifies and the more unmet needs, the more we get fixated until we call it attachment or addiction. And some examples are this: That they've seen with chimps that when there's poor bonding, then the young chimp grows up not only to be very aggressive but to be a binge eater. OK? Just that's what it is. That's the substitute gratification. That's a primitive reward system. And then with fruit flies, and I found this from an article called Sex and Alcohol in a very small scale, male fruit flies deprived of sex may turn to alcohol as a source of pleasure. They did an experiment where they had two groups of male fruit flies and one had sex the other was deprived of sex. It's a cruel cruel experiment and the sexually deprived males overwhelmingly selected the boozy brew
they were given to, either a normal mush or a boozy mush, and they drank four times as much as their sexually satisfied brethren. I love the way they write these articles that I know. But you get the idea.

pause...

And so you say, "Okay so, unmet need. So, what are the characteristics of attachment or suffering?" And there's a feeling of lack, something's unmet, that something's missing. Then there is a mental delusion as to what will actually bring you satisfaction and happiness. That's where we hook onto substitutes that give temporary relief or pleasure
but don't really solve the problem. Okay? And we grasp. OK? So, there's a feeling of need, a misperception of what's going to work and then a grasping onto the substitute. Just to comment on this delusion because it's really a pervasive feature of our psyche that we
have ideas about what will bring us happiness and we're regularly wrong. It's really interesting. Lottery winners are ultimately no happier than non winners. Does everybody at that Sands casino, it really didn't matter whether they're going to win or lose in terms of their happiness quotient. It's not right away. It takes some months to come back to your happiness set point as they describe it. Paraplegics are usually as content as people who can walk. We anticipate good things happening like a job offer or a raise or even having a child will make us happier and that bad things will make us more miserable and
it's true we have spikes but it evens out.

So, what are our common substitutes? What are the things that most of us get hooked on? And I won't spent a long time on it because you know them mostly that when we're missing some sense of security or bonding maybe we'll go for accumulating wealth or overwork and proving ourselves or maybe you know, it will be on physical beauty or social status or power. There's a little line that says, "When women get depressed they eat or shop and when men are depressed they attack another country." So, one of the most pervasive false refuges or substitute gratifications, I think of them as the same thing, is this never ending effort to try to improve ourselves. And it's not the kind of improve ourselves of you know, really sensing the creativity and the knowledge we long for but really a kind of like from a deficit, I need to be a better person kind of striving.

There's a cartoon I've always loved that has a dog on the psychiatrist couch and he's saying to the psychiatrist, "It's always good dog this and good dog that, but is it ever a great dog?" And that's what goes on in us. This is part of the hungry ghost, that so wanting to feel like we're good enough. I mean if we're honest, how many of us are really content and feel good enough? And again, I'm not talking about the kind of impulse to manifest our true potential. That's not what I'm talking about. Talking about the kind of internalized standards we have that make us think we should always look better, do more, be more.

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