Destructive, habit-forming behaviour is nothing new. As humans, although the rule of thumb is not the same for everyone, it can be said that on the whole, we have a tendency to seek pleasure, and avoid pain.
Somewhat naturally, this can lead to a desire, and then a dependency on doing things we like, or doing things which make us feel good.
This can include a range of activities, from socially acceptable habits like drinking coffee, to socially unacceptable behaviour, such as heroin addiction. At some point, it can be observed, that we may go from choosing the behaviour, to being unable to function without it.
And we can get addicted to just about anything; the behaviour is the symptom of an underlying root problem, in the mind. Unless we deal with the root cause, we can project our desires onto just about anything physical or material.
In my case, I was very fed up with several addictive behaviour patterns. For example, I had been smoking for 25 years, including hash, grass and tobacco, and I was drinking a bottle of wine every night.
And although I have my gambling problem under control, I went through a phase where I could not walk past a fruit machine without shoving every last coin in my pocket into the thing. When I wrote TFATSMCT, I was still making the odd bet here and there, and hanging off the outcome of certain events for a cheap buzz.
With a regular practice of mindfulness meditation, I was able to confront my so-called "Addictive Personality". Becoming aware of my desires, and connecting with a deeper aspect of my being, allowed me to confront my problems.
On one level, we are all addicts, craving for one thing or another. Facing that and dealing with that became a natural process, once I was prepared to lay my soul open bare, warts and all. But why the need to drink all the time? Was I running away from myself? Did I have something to escape from?
Aside from being honest with myself, I discovered that I could take part in a regular meditation practice, whilst still engaging in drinking and smoking. Then at some point, something clicked, and whilst I continued to practice, I was able to watch my desires arise, and pass, and what's more, without my blindly responding to them, as I had done before. Bringing my behaviour into conscious awareness made me realise that smoking was a largely unconscious behaviour, and not particularly desirable at all!
Of course, I am not the first, or the last, to experience the benefits of a mindfulness practice in dealing with addiction. Vince Cullen, who is a regular visitor to Sunyata Retreat Centre, leads a 'Hungry Ghost' programme which can help anyone who is experiencing difficulties with an addiction.
Vince is an ex-alcoholic who has been associated with the Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Thailand and Buddhist-oriented drug and alcohol recovery since 1998. Vince facilitates the Fifth Precept Sangha meditation-for-recovery group in West Berkshire (UK) and is a charter member of the Buddhist Recovery Network.
He leads a retreat programme for recovering addicts, called the 'Hungry Ghost Recovery Retreats', with the focus on a Buddhist approach to recovery, harm reduction and relapse prevention within a retreat setting.
For more information about Vince, or the Fifth Precept Organisation, please click on the relevant links.
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