The idea that we can change, and that we have all of the tools we need at hand, within us and around us, to do so, can be inspiring. There is an aspect of the Buddhist teachings that stresses our capability for self-reliance that is perhaps sometimes missing or less emphasized in traditions that come from religions based on reliance on a God or Higher Power, and notions of a “fallen” condition of human beings.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Buddhism or Taylor let us off the hook and just pat us on the back and say, “You’re great! You can do it, champ!” As if we were free of flaws. In fact, what she says is that those of us who struggle with addiction are not basically so different from everyone else:
We all have addictions, big or little…. We might, for example, be addicted to our own point of view, causing unnecessary harm through bigotry or hypocrisy. We might be addicted to coming in first, or never trying because it is all too hard. We might be addicted to getting people to say nice things about us, or making them angry with us so we can blame them for our misery…. In the end, we are addicted to our own self-pity.
Taylor is reflecting here in her two points of emphasis—we can free ourselves by changing our minds, and all of us come equipped with addictions—not only the virtue of a balanced viewpoint so important to Buddhism, but also it’s underlying take on human nature. Buddhism holds that we are not born “sinful” or inherently flawed, but rather that mind itself, consciousness itself, “has Buddha-nature”—the qualities of awakening, of wisdom and compassion; but that what we encounter in the course of our lives tends to cover over or obscure this. In other words, what is “wrong” with us is learned or acquired; but we start out “right,” and can always recover that original nature. This can be good news to those who suffer from a sense of failure or shame in relation to their addictions and their actions in the past.
There is also something in what she says about addictions being common to all and being the root causes of later substance and process addictions that has touchpoints with the idea of “defects of character” in the Steps, although there is no moral judgment in Taylor’s Buddhist approach. It’s just a fact that the human mind is capable of being damaged by experience, and can also be healed. No praise, no blame.
It’s also characteristic of the Buddhist approach to recognize, as Taylor does, that initially our addictions often develop as a misguided search for happiness. “Addictions are a desperate way of seeking happiness,” she says, a desire that the Dalai Lama says is in all living beings—the wish be happy and avoid pain.
Taylor stresses the importance of developing the quality of mind she calls “equanimity,” which means a calm, clear, balanced state of mind. This can be achieved through meditation. Seeing that we can achieve a state from which we can view our impulses to use or act out without indulging them, and that we can get “beneath” the immediate, surface impulse and observe the patterns of mind that gave rise to addictions in the first place reinforces motivation. Once we realize that “The cause of our addiction is not primarily the substance,” she says, but distorted patterns of thought and feeling, we feel empowered to do something positive about it. It is at this point, according to Taylor, that we become capable of saying “Enough!” Then we can move to reclaim our own minds.
Chonyi Taylor believes in the value of medicine and intervention, but notes that “Medicine helps to rebalance the body, but if the mind is still dissatisfied, then we are likely to head straight back into an addiction.”
She also emphasizes that “Unhooking ourselves from our addictive behavior is a slow process,” so that the patience a regular meditation practice develops is a great help in staying with the steps along the road to recovery.
Overall, I think that this book can be of real assistance to many who are at a stage in their recovery where they can take in this kind of input and actually maintain the practice of regular meditation. And I think it’s view of self-empowerment can be life-affirming, as well. But I do want to sound a couple of cautions.
One of the limitations that I have noticed over the years in some Buddhist teachings is what seems to me an overly simple division of the human being into body on the one hand, and mind on the other. I find this to be somewhat the case with Dr. Taylor’s book, fine as it is in so many regards. In emphasizing the cause and cure of addiction in what she labels “the mind,” and deemphasizing (while not denying) the role of the body, and saying little about the intricate connections between them, I think she neglects some of the valuable findings of science and medicine during the past forty or so years on the mind-body link. There is also an overwhelming body of evidence that some people simply have a genetic predisposition for addiction to alcohol, or an inability to handle it. Tragically, this was the case with the indigenous population of this nation when European settlers reached these shores. The people who lived here had no experience with alcohol, and no built-in, genetic tolerance to it, and easily fell prey to addiction, which the colonists exploited. There was nothing defective in the Native Americans’ thinking patterns, any more than there was in their defenselessness against bacteria and viruses brought from Europe that their immune systems had never faced before.
There is also the matter of temperament, and environment. My experience, whether with spirituality and meditation or anything else, is that one size never fits all. What knocks one person down is insignificant to someone else. And what heals one person might be ineffective on the next soul. So I recommend Enough! to anyone interested in a fresh, different approach to addiction and recovery, keeping an open mind to a new perspective, while remembering that nothing is for everyone. But approached carefully, there is plenty of wisdom in the book for anyone.
- Be What You Love: Create Your Own Meditations Part 2 - September 2, 2021
- Be What You Love: Create Your Own Meditations Part 1 - August 26, 2021
- ENOUGH! Can We Choose to Break Our Addictions? Part 2 - August 19, 2021