- ADDICTION, OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD) AND YOGA: an unorthodox perspective -
The above quote by Robert Heinlein, the famous American science fiction author, is mostly referenced as above. But it goes on, and the last words are actually as informative as the beginning chunk: "until ultimately, we become enslaved by it".
This article is a loose compilation of my current understanding of various issues which I consider to be connected and relevant together. More importantly, they are universal and concern everybody, to various degrees. It might be heavy reading, since my approach to spirituality has more to do with what's realistic than putting on white clothes and chanting mantras with a retarded smile on my face. The inspiration is my own existence and the observations I have been able to make of people worldwide of different socio-economic backgrounds and cultural obedience. I would also like to add that I am lucky to have extraordinary parents who prove everyday what being a couple, a team and best friends mean, for almost half a century now.
I am writing this on the fly, or as we say in french, I am peeing paper. There is a good chance those ideas have been explored and classified by professionals in the clinical field, but it doesn't really matter to me. The more something of value is expressed in the original words of an author, the richer and more colorful the understanding becomes. Of course, I make no claims as to the veracity of the following lines. They serve as a personal catharsis for myself, as well as a blow torch for others, hopefully.
Why unorthodox? Because I propose a 'non-dual' model where I provide an overarching and unifying explanatory (and predictive) principle for many things which at first glance seem to be incompatible and opposite.
The less we are slaves to our daily acts of trivia (in other words our addictions and OCDs), the freer we are. We make sense of the world in interesting, fresh, original ways, paving the way for intellectual, emotional and artistic innovations, more humanity and comprehensive understandings.
That means more free will (another article), a broad array of choices at our disposal for each Δt where we can fork the Universe into a different direction for ourselves and others. And THAT, is a good thing. Why ? because we decrease entropy inside, by actually arranging ideas and emotions into a coherent more loving whole, as we become seemingly more random and creative, and free outside.
So let's get started....
addiction and ocd are expressive modalities of the same universal human condition: fear of the void
In this article, addiction and OCDs are treated as the same thing. As a matter of fact, I will go as far as saying that no substance is truly addictive: compulsion is inside of us and seeks outlets of expression.
There is no difference in kind between smoking pot, snorting cocaine, drinking alcohol, washing one's hands every 10 minutes, being glued to the mobile phone screen, indulging in sugary sweets, watching porn, being obsessed with money, wanting to purify oneself through yoga or spiritual practices, sexual fetishes, being anorexic, being bulimic, being a workaholic, being obsessed about spirituality, happiness and enlightenment, having to seduce at any cost the moment a guy looks at you etc...
We'll see shortly what those 'daily acts of trivia' provide the user. The only difference between all of them is the social treatment they receive. For some reason, for example, addiction to alcohol, the deadliest drug of all, is socially acceptable though much more harmful than many of the other practices or substances cited above.
Here, it does not matter why some find more acceptance than others. The point is that it is all different EXPRESSIVE MODALITIES OF THE SAME UNIVERSAL SYMPTOM.
This primal fear is exacerbated by a chaotic environment in the first few years of the infant life.
The fear of death is Universal. Its intensity is a function of both the personal make-up of the individual, and its beginning contextual conditions in Life.
The more we can count on regular, rhythmically recurring things of value in our first few years, the less we will develop artificial needs to create them later on in life.
The emotionally needy parent (the drunk dad or the insecure mom with a compulsion to seduce), who randomly showers the kid with his or her current emotion regardless of the kid's behavior, creates a chaotic environment where the kid constantly needs to learn to read on cues what's gonna happen to her/him, rather than focus on the right thing to do.
Growing up in a war environment, where nothing outside provides any relief from the ongoing anxiety of survival.
It's as if we need a certain quota of predictability/visibility, especially when we start out in life. If both our inner environment and outside circumstances early on are unpredictable, we will have an emotional 'black hole' seeking to be filled (mostly by addictions and OCDs) later on.
The responsibility of care.
In order to be emotionally mature later on in life, two fundamental factors are needed:
- a modicum of predictability for one's inner emotional state and outside circumstances.
- An understanding that at the root of the manifest world lies the duality between a female and a male principle.
The worst thing that can happen to a child is for an adult to only propagate their current mood of the moment on them: the child has no way to correlate her own mood to her own behavior, but must constantly watch for it in somebody else: it is the root of future co-dependency.
What's important are the symbolic fillings of who or whatever raised you. If you have been raised only by your grandmother but she was intuitive and intelligent enough to fill in the gaps for both archetypical female and male energies at the same time, you're gonna end up much better calibrated that a child having had both parents failing in their archetypical roles.
polar opposites need to be integrated early on.
I feel I need to make this comment nowadays, since I am sympathetic to the LGBT cause.
Polar opposites are symbolic: the child understands them through behavioral semiotics. A woman can teach masculine/yang principles, a man can teach feminine/yin principles.
It does not matter if the new life has two fathers or two mothers, physically speaking, or even only one parent. It is important that there is a clear split between the archetypical roles that either of them takes, or if it is one person, sequentially. The salient point here is that the young born needs to develop an inner sense of that inherent duality present in the manifest world. Failing to do so will exacerbate the emotional black hole and restrict both enjoyment and freedom.
As a matter of fact, quite often, people with similar black holes recognize each other and are attracted to each other. Sometimes to the extent that it will trigger a permanent or temporary change in sexuality.
the emotional blackhole (EBH)
Good calibration to start Life is linked to having a map that represents the terrain fairly well. The world is inherently a tough place and an appreciation of its richness and complexity is a prerequisite for being well calibrated. If the female principle or the male principle is lacking, there are going to be predictable consequences brought about by a constant need to fill the gap later on in Life.
a. The emotional black hole is the deficit, or the debt of predictability that was necessary early on in life.
b. It is filled by something which does not betray: something that always provides the same effect to the same causes (addictions and OCDs).
Typically, lack of masculinity in a boy's upbringing will feed compulsions of potency and, if unchecked violence or sexual abuse.
For a girl, it will be a compulsive desire to be validated as desirable and attractive whatever the cost, with duplicity and manipulation as the main tools of the trade.
The EBH is unconscious, at least initially.
This is exactly what allows one to justify one's addiction to oneself, and feel entitled and reassured that they are doing the right thing. The reality is that it is only a post rationalization of whatever is needed to make the person feel better about themselves.
The emotional black hole is the root of all compulsive behaviors. Initially unconscious in all good faith, we intuit it more and more as we grow older, denying it with all we have. Eventually we live with it in full conscience, if we are lucky. Else we lurk around it our whole Life remaining forever a slave of the initial deficit.
Paradox: It's tricky when the adopted behavior is socially frowned upon (like being a drug addict), because the convolutions needed to justify the entitlement are dubious. In a way, it is a chance for the subject. But what about fucked up social values?
Some addictive practices are actually rewarded by society. For example, being obsessed about money in capitalistic society is not just accepted, but lauded. As a result, being greedy, or having more than one's need is a good thing. The compulsion to have more and more money and the compulsion to gamble (invest one's money on the market) allow the agent to feel normal, for lack of social dissonance, whereas his condition is the same as the guy in the street shooting heroïne.
modalities of expression of the ebh
The emotional black hole, this unbearable random void, must be filled with a symetrical and rhythmical pattern, which will dress up the primal fear with an illusion of security.
The world is random and scary. Human beings fail us all the time: we don't know what the nature of our interactions with them is going to be. Elements, natural or social, economical or political are extremely complex and unpredictable. If the beginning of Life of the agent was not anchored in love, security, comfort and confidence in the future... Then there is very little to find stability.
But what if you invent this illusory stability ? Look at the routine of the anorexic/bulimic or the obsessive compulsive type, or the Iyengar or Ashtanga Yogi ;-). No matter what, they are NEVER betrayed by their routines. Same garbage IN, same garbage OUT. It does not matter that it is garbage. You know exactly what you get. The effect is always the same: you can rely on it and feel secured about the outcome.
The more honest the victim is, the more they will destroy themselves. The less honest the victim is, the more they will destroy others.
Most of the time, it will be a combination of both. Extremely sensitive people usually destroy themselves through drug addiction. On the outside, they seem careless and ruthless and perfect assholes. On the inside, they actually have too much respect for alterity to abuse their sisters and brothers. And they choose to slowly (or quickly) kill themselves when the emotional black hole is too much.
Totally self-centered, navel gazing people, usually put an air of saintliness and are the most self-righteous: they fight for justice in the world, saving lives and little animals, and justify their inner despair and frustration by OCDs about social justice. They are by far the most dangerous, since this is the root of all fascism.
Most people lie in between those two poles
The most pernicious expression of the ebh is pharisaism, the root of all addictions, OCDs and fascism.
Because the reality of the EBH is denied and must be hidden (in all good faith), which does not make it disappear nonetheless, the emperor needs new clothes.
It is worth repeating. The most insecure and un-confident one is, the more they will look for an external means of expressing their frustration and anger. It is paradoxically interesting to see this feature in most spiritual seekers, once again illustrating this paradox perfectly.
The causality works like this. I feel like shit, resentful and afraid. I need to find a way to express my inner discomfort and spill it over people, because I do not have the emotional maturity to deal with it myself. Let's find an objective cause in the real world that will allow me to express all this violence, despair and pent-up frustration in ways where I feel totally entitled.
Think vegan or saving little cute animals for example...
It is pernicious because those are excellent causes in themselves. But more often than not, they are just an excuse for letting the emotional black hole loose in the world.
The way out is to gradually change the nature of one's addictions from good to bad, and to progressively find pockets of freedom in routine.
This would require further developments.
But a first step can be to switch from negative addiction to positive addiction: instead of drinking, I am going to do yoga. At least, I don't kill myself, I am actually doing some good.
Yet, this change in modality of expression of the black hole does not address the cause. Simply the symptom. The next step is to find freedom in the simplicity of the routine.
The most difficult thing to do...
I know of one advanced practitioner who has expressed in beautiful, simple and clear terms exactly what this might mean. If you have read so far this intense piece, I suggest that you pacify yourself with a beautiful text by an instructor who has (together with his wife, friend and partner Lea Marie Perfetti) rekindled my flame for Ashtanga Yoga: Tarik Van Prehn. If you're not on facebook and want to read it on this blog, click here.
YOGA WARS and the eternal battle of "who is better"
By Tarik Van Prehn
If you haven't seen the Youtube video (B.K.S. Iyengar on Power Yoga / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkB93FF52VQ) where B.K.S. Iyengar explains / mocks Pattabhi Jois’s Yoga method, which he refers to as "Power Yoga,” maybe you should check it out. See it, not to take "sides", not to agree or disagree, but to recognize something that we Yogis are all influenced by: Human conditioning.
Competition and the constant need to prove and self assure ourselves and others, that our path is the correct one.
After the ‘Yoga and Pain' article I wrote some weeks back, I realized that generally Ashtangis don’t worry much about what other yogis do. On the other hand, there seems to be a great deal of resentment towards Ashtanga, from people who do not practice or teach the method. Which seems quite ironic. So many haters tried to convince me of my wrong view and approach. One person even told me that she was engaging in the debate to protect my students from harm :). I told her that my students are just fine and suggested her to organize a rally with her students against Trump, since he is causing way more pain to the world than my irrelevant post. Not sure she did it or not, but at least she stopped engaging with me :).
I practiced Iyengar Yoga for 6 years before I started Ashtanga. Looking back, I liked it more or less, but was still "searching.” My search finally came to an end when I tried Ashtanga for the first time. It made more sense to me. It felt better. It was silent. No talking, no one screaming; just breathing and more entertaining in regards to the asanas practiced. What really made me stick to it, was the feeling of contentment I felt every time after practice. It was the best sensation I had experienced in my life up to that point. Obviously, I had to research further to see if there was something "more" to get from it and for how long could that "state" be sustained.
I realized that the initial highs did not last very long, unfortunately. It took me many years to understand Ashtanga Yoga's simplicity. That plain, simple and boring, are amongst its greatest gifts.
In truth there is nothing to get from the practice. Nowhere to go. You surf the waves of life as they are delivered to you and Yoga will simply help you to balance and enjoy the ride as much as possible. You will still have to navigate during stormy weather and high surf. You will get pounded by the waves of life and you will have to keep paddling. You have no control.
If you like what you are doing and it is working for you, just stick to it. If it is not working, change it. It is quite common sense. Yoga has been here for ages and will be here for much longer. Teachers are free and students are free. Karma delivers itself to everyone in different and creative ways and you can't really avoid falling or failing. You are destined to experience everything, even death.
Maybe some people like Iyengar yoga and it works for them. Maybe Iyengar is correct and Ashtanga is not correct. Maybe one should practice in heated rooms, maybe one should take ice baths. I don't have answers for that, but I believe that is totally irrelevant as far as theory and methodology goes. Each of us has to try and see how it feels and that should be the only answer you need when it comes to “choosing” a Yoga style that suits you. Eventually you realize that your experience is what matters. You stick to it if there are benefits. Simple.
Yoga doesn't make people perfect as far as morals goes. It does however make people more transparent. Over the years I came to understand that all the Big Teachers have Big Egos. Even the great yoga masters engage in competition with each-other. Even they have a hard time holding Mulah Bandha (Minding their anus) for a long time. Ego is a survival tool and yoga should help you develop one adequate to your personality and lifestyle. Hopefully your ego will assist you to endure and survive in this crazy and often "unenlightened" society; and not give up until the final understanding is there.
These Yoga wars and dramas are only leftovers from our human conditioned existence. Totally irrelevant in the big picture. I trust more in people who are openly unpleasant, at least what you see is what you get. I fear fake smiles, perfect speeches and perfect yoga practices way more. Don’t politicians do the same? Maybe our teachers and their teachings are not perfect, but when you see a sincere and honest smile you instantly recognize Truth. Isn’t that AMAZING