In recent years, with advances in brain-imaging technology, and with the internet allowing research to become public knowledge faster than it used to, we’ve learned a lot about addiction. We’ve learned that temperament plays a role, and that children who have difficulty with delayed gratification at the age of five have a higher likelihood of suffering from addiction later in life (i.e. the famous marshmallow experiment). We’ve also learned that children can learn to delay gratification with a little help from caring adults. Also, we’ve discovered that there are physiological differences from person to person which directly affect how prone we are to addictive substances, and finally, we’ve revisited the idea that the fundamental cause of addiction is pain (not lack of willpower).
Dwelling in the space between…
In yoga psychology, we examine the space between having a sensation in the body, developing a feeling about it (I like this, I hate this) and taking action. An addiction works something like this: It’s dreary and damp outside, I feel tired and depressed, I don’t like the feeling, and so I go get myself a piece of chocolate from the leftover Hallowe’en stash. The chocolate gives me a way to feel something I like better, and I can substitute a myriad of other ways to achieve the same end (e.g. caffeine, nicotine, potato chips, facebook, TV, wine—basically anything I find pleasurable). We’re all addicted to something. In moderation, none of these things are a problem. The problem is that if we turn to them habitually and compulsively, if we lose our ability to moderate, all of them can be damaging to our well-being.
One of my students recently pointed me to a short video about an experiment called “The Rat Park”; it’s well-worth having a look at, even though it has been accused (justly, I think) of being an over-simplification.
Have a look at “The Rat Park” and let me know what you think.
Learning to act from awareness…
In yoga and mindfulness practice we are constantly working with our ability to stay present in the face of ever-changing sensations, and to act from a place of deep awareness as opposed to escapism and compulsion. There’s nothing inherently wrong with diversion or enjoying the finer things in life; as long as it feels like a choice. Hopefully, as we practice more we feel better, the cheese balls and cocktails become a little less tempting, and we can take “the middle way.” In any case we can recognize that being less judgmental and more curious about addictions would benefit all of us,
Let’s build the rat park, (just have to go wipe the chocolate off my hands),