I was in a session with a client at my centre the other day when I witnessed the precise moment when suffering ended. It was breathtaking. In that moment, I saw the endless grasping – the controlling, fixing, righting what’s not right, perfecting what’s imperfect, knowing what’s not known, searching for answers – STOP.
In my work as an addiction therapist, my job is to lead people to the edge of the door beyond which lies their heart waiting to awaken, and guide them to travel through that door and emerge the other side as their authentic self.
For most people, recovery from addiction is a long journey, since the addictive behaviour is the outermost expression of many layers of imbalance and conventional treatment for addictions tend to focus on the most apparent symptoms first. As a result, people can spend years in therapy and never really get to the deepest source of their imbalance. Some might manage to stay on track for years, slowly working off the drive towards addiction as they re-educate themselves to a new way of coping with life – yet never really doing the deep healing that would set them free and tolerating a life of being an addict. For some luckier ones, they might reach a stage at some point when the latent drive towards addictions eases off.
What drives addictive behaviours is a deep feeling of not having enough of something or other. This feeling can come from unresolved emotions, unhealed traumas and losses, giving rise to a state of unwholeness in the pit of an individual. In our attempt to cope with this feeling, we reach out to all kinds of things to make us feel better. When we do this excessively and we’re unable to stop, we’re said to be addicted.
Almost everybody suffers from this unwholeness. Almost everybody is addicted to something. Addiction is not confined to drug and alcohol taking; just in the dimension of computers and internet alone, you can be addicted to checking emails, Skyping, Facebook, playing Free Cell, etc.
Addiction is a behaviour that is acted out excessively and you feel as though you can’t stop that behaviour. You can also be addicted to being in pain and anxiety – where your thoughts are continually generating those states of being. The thoughts which you have trained yourself to run in a repeated loop are what you can’t stop, trapping you in pain and anxiety.
Therefore, addiction and suffering are synonymous. Suffering is when you try to get out of something or towards something, and feeling as though you can’t change the situation.
Like many people, my client had spent most of his life being in suffering. A painful past and an addiction to feeling bad were the sources of his long-term suffering. He had undergone treatment for addictions a number of times throughout his life but the deepest source of his discomfort within himself was still plaguing him.
Through our guidance, he had gone to the deepest, darkest places which he’d been too scared to go in the past. Armed with admirable courage and complete trust in our guidance, he had forayed into the depths and reclaimed parts of himself by stretching the capacity of his heart to love and forgive those who’d wronged him.
The power that came back to him was so palpable that it imbued the room with an electrifying presence. As the sense of separation dissolved, replaced by a merging with the light that was revealed to him beneath the human dramas, he said:
“I am full, filled with the most incredible energy…. and it is all mine, it comes from me.”
This, to me, is the heart of addiction work. That emptiness, hollowness, void, deep loneliness or whatever it is called, must be filled from within in order for addiction to stop. Otherwise, the drug is only going to be replaced by another drug. Maybe it’s alcohol, pills, relationships, exercising, Tweeting or anything that seems to be a lesser evil but is nonetheless a drug in disguise.
It is not so much that the addiction is bad for you. It is that the gem it can point you to lays forever buried. Like a pebble in your shoe it pokes at you to get your attention but you spend the rest of your life trying to ignore it, yet putting up with the discomfort. If you stopped walking and examined the pebble you might find out what wondrous gifts it contains.
How to End Suffering
Stop running from your pain.
You can’t stop your suffering while you continue to run from your pain. When it feels counter-intuitive to stop, take a deep breath and make an about-turn and face your pain. Stay there, face-to-face with it, for just a few more moments. Resist the urge to run away. Feel the power, disguised as fear. Stretch your capacity to remain there. You’re there… and you’re still there…
Let the truth of what you’re facing cleanse you. For the longest time, you’ve probably been covering it up with a number of defensive behaviours which have manufactured a false self. You’ve probably been secretly yearning to return to your authentic self – freely expressing who you truly are. With self-honesty, you are on your way to reclaiming yourself.
Change the direction in all levels.
You can’t stop physically acting out a behaviour for long unless you also change the direction in your emotional, mental and spiritual self. Just as the first tip above tells you to stop and change direction in your emotional reality, you should also explore what’s keeping you in suffering mode in your mental-cognitive realm – stopping the kind of thinking, self-talk, beliefs and attitude that perpetuate suffering, and adopting new ones. Equally, look at what you’re doing spiritually; if you’ve been keeping your energy small and self-punitive, reach out and connect to concepts that give you a sense of expansiveness.
Let go of the past.
Do you hold on to your past way too much? This can provide a great distraction for you and generate a lot of conflict with yourself – such that when you’re moving towards the things that make you happy, you sabotage your own happiness. You might do this by shutting down emotionally and further confusing yourself – as a kind of blurring-it-up mechanism to avoid facing your problems. If you aren’t aware of it, you might even seem to be hitting a wall wherever you look and end up having your focus all over the place.
We hold on to the past because we believe we might lose an essential part of us if we cut ties with it. But letting go of our past does not mean wiping it off our memory. Whatever painful experiences you’ve gone through have made you who you are today. It simply means deciding that you no longer want to be governed by the sense of guilt, loss, disappointments and tragedy of the past, and move forward in your life.
Even if you think you’re not choosing it, I invite you to take a deeper exploration to see if there’s a part of you that might need to make a clear decision to let go of what’s been pulling you back from happiness.
Notice what is already good.
In the throes of suffering, you may be focusing only on the bad stuff. Without dismissing that the bad stuff is there, turn your head around and see what else you notice. Physically look up and around you, taking your attention away from you for a moment.
Do you notice a certain heaviness at the thought of doing this, or even as you’re doing it? A kind of sticky web that glues you to your preoccupation with the bad stuff? This is the energy that traps you in suffering mode. It also contains a lot of your power which you’ve put into it every time you perpetuate the cycle of addiction/suffering. When you break out of the cycle, even if temporarily, you break that strand of web and free up a pocket of power. This pocket of power will return to you as you move forward in a direction of higher vibration.
Maybe you notice a certain colour in a painting that is your favourite shade. As you focus on it, you notice the same shade jumping out from a few other places and catching your attention. You may start to feel a sense of richness evoked in you as you admire the shade, and you feel a certain openness in you – as though the world seems a little less bleak now.
As you do this, you still battle with the sticky web that tells you that you haven’t finished with your suffering, that there’s more suffering to be done. At this point, you can yield to the sticky web or you can push through to move into an increasingly expansive state. By staying with the opened feeling, you will start to notice other things that can give you more positive feelings. You may remember that you have people who are loving and supportive in your life, or the opportunities you do have to create happiness.
Give something of yourself.
One of the most powerful ways to turn suffering into empowerment is by turning your attention to someone else. It doesn’t mean you have to solve someone else’s problem; just by engaging with someone you may gain a different perspective on your own problem and a renewed sense of self – which might turn out to be the very thing that sets you on a different direction towards greater happiness.
No matter how depleted you may think you are, you do have something of yourself to give. Even a quick phone-call to a friend can stop the cycle of self-beating and put you on a different path. The sense of fulfilment when you feel as if you’ve contributed to someone else’s happiness can even heal you of the pain that made suffering a prefered choice.
Ending your suffering can be easier than you might imagine. The state of non-suffering can be yours with just a slight shift in your focus. It doesn’t mean that you will forever be free of difficulties as you go through life. What it means is that a type of situation that tended to provoke an intense and emotionally charged reaction in you will stop having that kind of effect on you.
If certain people’s behaviours tended to provoke anger or irritation in you, you’ll find that you no longer have such reactions. If the idea of people laughing at the ideas of your project embarasses you, you stop having the constant feeling of wanting to hide aspects of what you do and find it easy to share it with others. If someone criticising you would make you feel so bad about yourself that you’d automatically consume a substance to numb you of that pain, you now find that it doesn’t bother you that much and you can cope with it calmly.
At the end of the day, what it means is that you are free. Free from all these torments that make you feel uneasy within yourself. Free from the constant need to right an injustice because you can’t bear the deeper feelings inside you which you’re afraid to face when you give up your personal crusade.
Freed from all these low-level struggles, bullshit, pretenses and dramas, you can allow the full force of your highest self to embody you. Who you are, is not who you think you are… and that is very good news.