Addictions & Subtractions

Dr. Gabor Maté’s work in Compassionate Inquiry posits that addictions begin as solutions, not problems. The fleeting euphoria initially assuages pain via drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, sex, attention, technology, etc. Before long, the chase is on. We all know addiction. We’ve all flirted with addictive behavior. When behavior is driven by unmet needs, the driver is ego. That insatiable ingrate, the archetype of entitlement. Anyone born in the latter part of the 1900’s will likely remember the anti-drug commercial where an egg is displayed and then cracked over a sizzling frying pan accompanied by the tagline, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” Curious though where ego fits into the equation. “This is your brain. This is your brain on ego.” Perhaps there’s some truth in this statement as well. Eckhart Tolle considers the following idea: “If you’ve ever thought: ‘I cannot live with myself any longer.’ Who are you in that sentence? The ‘I’ or ‘Myself’?”

Brain and ego together make for a frightening duo. To quote the comedian, Emo Philips, “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” For all that’s been written about the ego, all the dust-covered spines that line the shelves of any Psychology section in any Barnes and Noble, that joke alone could be a best seller! That profoundly hysterical and/or hysterically profound statement sums up the ego’s grip on the brain, and demonstrates the degree to which our behaviors are shaped by our thoughts.

We live through our hearts! Or, at least we’re built to. This internal pulse beats with purpose and intention. The ego cannot control the heart: only the mind. The ego craves attention and starving the ego creates the space needed to gain awareness of yourself (your self). Starvation is subtraction: Removal for solution. The ego cannot discern between euphoria and gluttony. It only recognizes recognition. Positive change occurs when the ego is not fed, so that the decision-making process has clarity. Clear purpose! Non-ego moments, when we are not tethered to the desire to validate something that cannot be satiated, are the moments where we begin to see who we are at our core. At our core, we need very little. No matter how big a bucket we can buy, if it has even the smallest of holes, it will never be able to stay filled for long. We all have buckets, and they all have holes. Do we remain aware of them and do nothing? Do we remain aware and try to solve the imbalance of spillage by adding more holes? Or, do we patch the holes, knowing that fulfillment is an imperfect process, and not let ourselves get defeated by the fact that we’ll never be free from the hole-poker that is daily life? Subtraction is the key to fulfillment. Removal of the unwanted rewards organically through positive natural consequences. We often try to remove harm through addition. For example, sugar is bad for you.  We know this, but sweetness is also delicious, so we crafted artificial sweeteners. Chemically artificial sweeteners, along with all the other ingredients we cannot pronounce, are these additions proving to be solutions or are they creating bigger problems? The solution is to eat less sugar. To subtract the things that cause us harm and simplify our needs begets fulfillment.

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Aspiring Stoic and Doting Father

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