The Cycles of Addiction

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The Cycles of Addiction

When the mind gets caught in the feeling of pleasure, there is the tendency to want more of it. Or, when the mind experiences an unpleasant, painful feeling, it wants to get away from it. This is what is called the bridge between ‘feeling’ and ‘craving’. This is the key point in the addictive process because this is where the trouble really starts: where the feeling of ‘like’ transforms into ‘I want’ and the feeling of ‘dislike’ turns into ‘I can’t stand’ or ‘I can’t bear it.’

When the mind grasps at the feeling of like or dislike and follows that craving, the attention very quickly gets drawn into that and the universe shrinks to the single desired object that we’re craving for. All the rest of the world gets screened out. We are taking hold of that object and investing our sense of hope, ownership, our sense of identity in it; this is the case regardless of whether it is a sense-object – what we see, hear, smell, touch or taste – or something more subtle like a mind-state or a memory. In that absorption, we are creating a commitment to that, an identification with that. That becomes the most important thing for us. This is bhava, becoming, which leads to jati, birth, a full absorption into the thing that we’re chasing after or resenting.

That commitment, that full absorption, then naturally leads to the experience of alienation, of insecurity, incompleteness; there is disappointment that that desired object was pleasant for a moment but then after a while it ceased to satisfy us: in short, there is dukkha.

That experience of dukkha, in turn, supports and conditions a cyclical process, because if the mind absorbs into that feeling of regret, disappointment, even self-hatred, if that’s not seen clearly, if we’re not fully cognizing how the whole picture is, then that feeds avijjā – the quality of ignorance. It makes us less mindful, we see less clearly and so that then creates a set of conditions whereby we’re more easily pulled into the next wave of that which is attractive, that which is irritating, that which we are habituated to. We thus find ourselves repeating the same habits, getting lost in the same patterns over and over again.

This is how we use the word ‘ignorance’ in Buddhist psychology. It doesn’t mean lacking the pertinent facts about some issue, a want of knowledge, as it does in regular English usage; instead it means ‘unawareness’, ‘unmindfulness’, ‘nescience’ or ‘not seeing things clearly’.

This reflection from Ajahn Amaro is from Just One More, Appreciative Joy, pp.13-15.