One of the first steps in dealing with addiction is to discover the emotional cause of it, whether it is fear, depression, anxiety, or pessimism clinical feelings of emptiness. Many times these unwholesome thoughts and beliefs come from what I call the “wanting mind.” In wanting mind, we feel that our current state of unhappiness could be cured if only we could have the money, job, relationship, recognition, or power we had and lost, or never had and strongly desire. Often we cause ourselves suffering when we ache for something that lies out of our grasp or cling in vain to something that has already passed away. Sometimes, wanting mind involves tightly holding on to something negative: an unwholesome belief about how things ought to be or should have been, or an unwholesome emotion such as anger, sadness, or jealousy. Mindfulness practice helps us develop the capacity to see clearly exactly what we’re attached to so that we can let go of it and end our suffering. The hidden areas of resistance that emerge into our awareness can be noted and examined later so that we can make the conscious choice to reject them.
You can never completely avoid the wanting mind or any other hindrance. Desire is part of being human. It
causes us to strive toward bettering our lives and our world, and has led to many of the discoveries and inventions that have provided us with a higher quality of life. Yet despite all that we can achieve and possess, we can become convinced that we won’t be happy or contented unless we acquire even more. This unwholesome belief can lead to competitiveness and feeling resentful toward, or envious of, those who seem to have an easier life.
If I have a patient who is using drugs or even food to manipulate their moods I first refer them to a nutritionist; a psychiatrist or psychopharmacologist; or a holistic doctor such as an integrative medical doctor, to break this habit. In addition to this I recommend mindfulness meditation, yoga practice, and regular exercise as they are all excellent to help mood regulation. These types of activities lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your bloodstream, increase your interleukin levels (enhancing your immune system and providing you with greater energy), and streamline your body’s ability to cleanse itself of chemical toxins, such as lactic acid in your muscles and bloodstream, which can affect neurotransmitter receptors and alter your mood.
Many musicians and artists use drugs, particularly mild hallucinogens such as hashish and marijuana, as tools for transforming their moods and tapping into their creativity. But over the years of counseling many such artists, I’ve come to the opinion that drugs are very rarely a good option and are never the best way, in the long term, to hook up to your creative core. You can open the doors of consciousness with drugs for a limited amount of time, but then the cost is too high. Even if you don’t develop an addiction or empty your bank account while using them, you over stimulate the dopamine and norepinephrine receptors in your brain. In a sense, you burn them out so that everyday pleasures can’t produce a positive, much less euphoric, feeling without resorting to drugs again. I’ve seen people become over stimulated by one drug, then start using
another to reduce its side effects and help them sleep, leading to such a severe imbalance that it takes many months of correction to bring their systems back to balance.
Wholesome practices, such as mindfulness meditation, are far more effective for opening yourself up to core creativity and becoming creatively toned. They aren’t fraught with the danger of severe emotional crashes and chemical imbalance. In many ancient cultures, hallucinogenics were used ritualistically, with great restraint and respect. Using drugs as a quick transport is quite different.
The challenge to altering these addictions is the fear that you can’t change which can push you into denial and cause you to minimize the consequences of your unproductive behaviors. Whatever you discover about yourself and however painful your discovery, dramatic breakthroughs are always possible. Research on mindfulness meditation shows that qualities, we once thought immutable that form temperament and character, can actually be altered significantly. By retraining your mind through mindfulness practice, you create new neural networks. If you’re aggressive, you can find ways to temper that aspect of yourself, becoming assertive and clear about your boundaries without entering into a competitive and possibly even hostile mind-set that will sabotage you.
Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. is the author of the widely acclaimed book, Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change. He is the Executive Director of the OpenMind Training® Institute, practices mindfulness-based mind-body psychotherapy and leadership coaching in Santa Monica, CA, for individuals and corporate clients. He has taught personal and clinical training groups for professionals in Integral Psychotherapy, Ericksonian mind-body healing therapies, mindfulness meditation, and Buddhist psychology nationally and internationally since 1970. (www.openmindtraining.com)