It’s not about trying, it’s about training. Too often, due to many complicated factors, we are led to believe we can think our way past an addiction or problem that we have. We try to intellectualize our way, autonomously- without the help of anyone else like a counselor, through a compulsive and / or repetitive reliance on drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, internet addiction, sex, anger, self-pity, money, or other engrained problems that might be ruining our lives or impacting our health. We try to move past these things having such control of us and our happiness, but to no avail.
We try, try, try, but we can’t.
What is stopping us and keeping us trapped? We are trying so hard but are not able to get to a place of Shalom? Shalom is an appropriate word to describe what our goal is. Shalom is a Hebrew word that does not have an English equivalent but if we are familiar with biblical language we might refer to it as the “peace of God which surpasses understanding.” This is happiness to the 10th power. Shalom means peace, harmony, wholeness, integrity, ecstasy, and implies a complete lack of angst or stress, or want, and even those words don’t do it complete justice.
Most of us have had our compulsions at one point or another. We go shopping even though the credit cards are maxed out. Or we scratch the itch of alcohol addiction, so we’ll feel better. Another shot, another affair, another lie, or another temper tantrum. The brain gets its novelty, and the receptors in the brain that we’ve wired to crave this stimulation are rewarded and so we get our fix of dopamine. Our egos are stroked in some cases. We feel better, for a while. But then we go into withdrawal and need more. We are living a disordered life. We think consuming MORE, of whatever it is, is going to make us happy.
We don’t realize it but we are like the people you see in the casinos positioned mindlessly in front of a slot machine for hours at a time. Scientists call this the “extinction mechanism” by which a person can become so addicted by stimulation that they will literally play, in the case of slot machines, to extinction, or death. The extinction mechanism of slot machines carries over into other areas well. Consider how many lives have been ruined by other addictions like drugs, alcohol, and debt. Maybe the elusive and undefinable “success” is our drug of choice.
The Biological Addiction Pattern
Scary thought, right? It is scary but we all have the potential to be this way and to live to “extinction” with certain things, even things like media consumption, or we can at least relate to the feeling.
We are overstimulated, craving these “hits”, constantly marketed to, and constantly bombarded by advertisements. In the airport security lines there are even ads on the security trays sometimes. Beautiful men and women, eerily starting to look a lot alike, on ads everywhere are trying to get us to buy the latest watch, latest suit, newest car, or take another big trip. We need to upgrade and buy the newest model, remember (wink, wink)? I’ve even heard people joke about trading in a spouse for a newer or better model.
We have been brainwashed into all sorts of addictions and made to believe our sense of self-worth and identity comes from consumption, consumption of goods and consumption of other people. A bigger house, more food, nicer restaurant, more money, a better looking spouse or boyfriend, a nicer wardrobe. If I can just scratch the itch…….maybe I’ll hit the jackpot this time!
We know all of this is going on, deep down, but can’t seem to “master the horse” we’re riding, so to speak. Mainly because we haven’t learned to master the rider- ourselves.
In light of all this angst and addiction. Let me suggest a new method. If these things we “love” are killing us, making us compulsive, overweight, unhappy, and restless, how about we learn to love something else?
Instead of trying, let’s start training.
When you were young, what did you love? For me, it was reading, sports, fitness, history, God, asking questions, shooting guns, music, stars, dogs, romance, fishing, choirs, banjoes and fiddles, pizza, friends, traveling, and politics. I still love all of those things. Most of them are free. I can get high off of these things. I can love these things and they won’t hurt me. There are 200,000,000,000 billion galaxies in which each one has 200,000,000,000 stars. Go outside and look at the stars tonight. Enjoy the feeling of wonder and awe. This is a high in its own right.
We need to train ourselves to love new things, healthy things. We need to make ourselves be part of these healthy loves on a habitual basis, even when we don’t want to. We need to train ourselves to be different people. The other night, I went for a walk for an hour and just looked at all the trees and the plants and the people, and the landscape, and the sky. The green of trees is an amazing explosion of addictive beauty if you really think about it. Life is amazing.
The human is a habitual machine. We act or we think, and the action or thought turns in to a habit, and then the habit becomes part of us. Our habits are who we are. It is an engrained biological, mental, and spiritual routine which becomes our reality. This year, I have gotten over the hump and have been meditating every day after trying to for several years with no success. Guess what? I now look forward to it and I get anxious if DON’T meditate!
We are what we love. We are action-oriented creatures. We need to train ourselves to love the right things.
This new love of meditation is a healthy love which is shaping me and allowing me to commune with the creator and has given me quite a bit of joy. It is still hard at times to slow down and do it but I am always glad I did once I start, just like a good workout or a visit to an old friend. These new habits we engage in build new pathways in the brain in a process called neurogenesis. We love new things, healthy things, and these things change us and bring us peace.
The brain has a trait called neuroplasticity which means it is capable of rewiring itself into something different. The brain can change its anatomy to reflect these positive changes. Our “Shalom”, which surpasses all understanding, becomes not only something we intellectualize, but something we experience daily and it becomes who are – a peaceful and joyful person.
Let’s quit trying and start training.
Even when we don’t want to, we train. We don’t try.
We train our loves, and when we love the right things we find what we were looking for in the first place.
Here are some suggestions for healthy loves to replace old unhealthy ones:
- Anxiety > Prayer
- Overreaction / Anger > Meditation
- Watching too much TV > Going for a walk
- Lust > Spirituality, Gratitude
- Drugs / Alcohol > Exercise
- Social Media > Reading a Book
- Obsession > Simplification, Tidying Up, Getting Rid of Clutter
- Anger, Bitterness, Jealousy, Cynicism > Love of God
- Debt > Giving to Others
- Gambling > Volunteering or Mentoring other Addicts
- Illicit or Immoral Behavior > Routine meetings with a counselor
- Stress > Nature, Time Outdoors
- Worry > Relaxing Music
- Self-Pity > Keeping a Journal and List of Projects
- Hopelessness > Friendships
- Aggression > Weightlifting (* This is huge for me; I have an excess of energy and I need to blow off steam in a healthy way. Otherwise, I have too much pent up aggression.)
- Shopping > Going to markets, festivals, and fairs, where the pleasure is in the senses and sights as much or more than the spending
- Depression > Beauty, Animals, the Sun
- Complaining > Taking a class, learning something
These are just some suggestions. If you have some healthy loves you’d like to share, please do.
Thank you and have a great week!
Special thanks to my friend Ken Boa for inspiring this post through his teachings. For more info see www.kenboa.org
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Byron Bay, Australia – Beauty is a healthy love and is everywhere when we open our eyes to see it