May 06, 2003

The biggest addiction

I've been reading various blogs about the Bill Bennett scandal: it turns out he's big on gambling while also being big on moralizing. Some people use this to slam him, some defend him. I googled a bit to find out what kind of moralizer Bill Bennett has been, and I didn't want to spend enough time to find out. But in any case, we all have our addictions, don't we? In fact, for some people, the addiction is moralizing! Telling other people how to live their lives is one way that people take their attention from their own lives. And sure, gambling is another way to cover up unpleasant feelings in our lives. Personally, I understand this quite well, as I've spent a lot of time trying to understand the stock market for a few years, and for me there is an aspect to it, that if I understand the markets, I will become rich, and that will take care of all my problems. Of course, I realize that it's not that easy, but I try anyways. So everyone has different strategies to try to avoid or cover up unpleasantness in our lives or in the world we live in.

So what's the biggest addiction? It's the addiction to ego, which is the addiction to pleasant feelings. That's why I think both Bill Bennett and those who point out his hypocrisy have got it wrong. Both of them are trying to point out the problems with others, as if that will make their own life better (okay, I admit that I do the same thing). We think that if we understand why other people are wrong, that it will make us right, and that gives us a pleasant feeling. Everybody wants to be right.

Now there's nothing wrong with pleasant feelings. But if we spend our lives chasing after them, and avoiding unpleasant feelings, then we often create problems for ourselves and those around us. That is the nature of addictions. By avoiding unpleasant feelings, we can create more unpleasantness than we are trying to avoid. And avoidance often doesn't work well as a strategy, many times it's just a delaying tactic. When we chase after pleasant feelings, we often find the feeling isn't as fulfilling as we expected. Once we experience it, it's gone, and then we're left with the same empty feeling we were trying to avoid. So we repeat the cycle.

So how can we avoid this trap, without falling into moralizing against it? What is the right relationship to have to our pleasant and unpleasant feelings? Well, great spiritual teachers have taught to accept everything as a gift, both the good and the bad. Just experience it for what it is. This too shall pass. It doesn't mean we should seek out suffering to build character, but if it comes our way, and is unavoidable, then just experience it for what it is. By not trying to avoid it, we might learn something about ourselves.

Okay, I've gotten a ways away from Bill Bennett and gambling, so let me try to tie this back together. Often, what we call sin, is the chasing after pleasant sensations and/or avoiding unpleasant ones. Sex, drugs, gambling, even shopping, TV, blogging and religion can all fulfill this function. What makes them "sinful" is our attitude about them, not the activity itself. Prohibiting the activity doesn't stop our attitude of chasing after pleasure and avoiding pain. Instead, if we bring attention and mindfulness to our activities, and really understand why we do things, as well as their consequences, then we'll be able to develop wisdom, and harmful activities and attitudes will naturally fall away. So instead of proscribing these types of activities, I think it's more skillfull to allow them to take place, while encouraging people to do them mindfully, and bring awareness of their effects to those that do these activities.

Posted by BuddhaBoy at May 6, 2003 06:14 PM

What if Bill Bennet is the unpleasant feeling in my life that I'm trying to avoid through addiction?

Posted by: stevebo at May 12, 2003 10:16 PM