I promised in my last blog about Yoga and Health Emergencies to talk more extensively about my struggles with substance abuse and how such practices can lead one to unnecessary suffering and even an early death. So here we are .
Since I was in my teens I gravitated like many youth in America and across the world towards smoking cigarettes and marijuana and drinking alcohol to excess.
What does yoga have to do with these habits? Yoga is defined as the alignment of body and mind . Therefore by definition the excessive use of mind altering substances that are harmful to the body is profoundly opposed to such alignment. Body and mind become disconnected .
The mind urges one to take substances that are harmful to the body for the sake of some termprorary gratification. This temporary “high” is followed by a coming back down , and sometimes in “crashing” . The body and mind thus gets used to a way of extreme living. Reaching ecstatic highs with the aid of substances and suffering lows when one is not using them or not under their influence. If a little can make one feel good for a little while, one thinks subconsciously, more can make one feel good for a longer time and perhaps with greater intensity.
There is also the eroding of judgement that goes along with mind altering substances. What one learned as moral values are easily suspended , right and wrong become murky, and a tunnel vision is created. The focus is simply on “feeling good”, or getting “high”. The temporary euphoric state is sought after whatever the means employed and the consequences that may follow.
If yoga is conscious living , substance abuse is a destroying of consciousness. To paraphrase Zen master John Daido Loori, it’s like taking a baseball bat to ones head and hoping for enlightenment.
Marijuana in particular was my love. It would make me feel instantly light and at ease, free of worry , free of anxiety. Indeed it was freedom that I was seeking and it seemed for a time that pot was a very helpful aide in achieving freedom from anxiety. The old cliche of the happy pothead, laughing and giggling and having fun was certainly true of me . However , the dark side to this tempting means comes in the the form of becoming psychologically , spiritually dependent on it to achieve that freedom. This blocked me from learning other means to deal with the difficulties in life. It blocked me from understanding my mind. If I felt down I simply needed to roll a joint or llight a bowl. Now there are people and also pre modern cultures that ritually used marijuana and other substances as part of spiritual healing .But this was usually as part of a community. It was a healing ritual that connected one with ones community and with the earth.
The way that we use such substances today is as a form consumption or better yet consumerism. Just as we would buy a favorite flavor of ice cream or a favorite car, or favorite video game or dress, we consume substances as part of a consumerist ethic which pervades modern society. In this context these substances become particularly pernicious because we simply want to consume more and more to achieve the satisfaction which it brings us.
Having more , gives us more and makes us happier , is the ethos of capitalist-consumerist society. Brainwashed to crave instant gratification from birth our brains are molded into seeking from the outside to feel better inside. More toys, more things, more food, more homes, more cars, better, bigger. When we can’t achieve these things the sense of emptiness grows within us that is most conveniently filled by alcohol and drugs.
There is a clear connection between addiction and consumerism. Consumerism is a symptom of the capitalist system that dominates social , political, cultural, economic and even psychic life .
So what is to be done?
If you have fallen prey to the habits of instant grattification in the form of substance abuse. Get help as soon as possible. There are wonderful recovery groups out there . The basic solidarity that human beings require for psychic well being is completely absent in capitalist society . 12 steps organizations while they are rooted in a Judeo-Christian spirituality are universal in the lessons they draw and supremely nurturing and supporting in the community that they provide. There are other groups that take a non spiritual or non Christian approach . The important thing is to find that solidarity within a large gathering of people who are going through or have gone through what you are going through. We cannot do this by ourselves . Isolation is the product of the alienation and division that capitalist system inevitably produces . But we humans are social animals that need each other’s support to survive . Consuming by ourselves is not an answer . It is the problem .
Take action to change your world for the better! Get involved in solving the bigger issues as well! Get involved in your local soup kitchen, become a tutor to help underprivileged kids, join conservation efforts, join a grassroots movement for the improvement of the rights of the working class , for preventing climate change – the defining issue of our age. These efforts will give you a sense that your life is not just a meaningless roll through the hamster wheel getting you nowhere till you die. It will help you break out of isolation and out of the alienated state that capitalist social relations has placed us in
Practice Yoga! A yoga practice that includes asana and meditation is a critical component of rebuilding an inner life that is calm and stable and that can allow you to function in the world with compassion and intelligence..
One Love !