Thoughts On Addiction & Desire
Lately I’ve been humbled by learnings received from awareness practice, astrology, and a book on the science of addiction titled “The Biology of Desire” by Marc Lewis. Humbled because their messages overlap and basically point to the same thing from different perspectives, making my understanding deeper, and more 3-D.
THE BIOLOGY OF DESIRE
What I keep learning from all of these modes of healing is that the human brain is truly on an evolutionary trajectory to bridge the lizard brain (fight-flight-freeze), mouse brain (pleasure now), with the primate’s higher functions of reasoning (delayed gratification), and really trying to adapt to a world where immediate dangers exist that requires compulsory reaction (ie. slamming on the breaks when someone runs a red light), and where thinking and evaluation is probably wiser before downing that 3rd or 4th drink. For some of us that’s not a problem, and for some of us with just the right triggers, the Stimuli-Response feedback loop (in Pavlov’s fashion) starts getting trained to compulsively drink beyond the reaches of a dopamine high.
So how did that compulsion overtake sporadic impulse to become involuntary responses, a.k.a. addiction? Psychology of course points to any type of trauma where temporary relief through substance is used to avoid undesirable feelings. From the metaphysical perspective, we carry karmic tendencies that make us perceive an absence of what's wanted, then coping behaviors ensure. And using astrology, we get to see these tendencies through the birth chart. In any case, the biofeedback system begins to use substance of choice to compensate for the perceived lack. Replacing love with sweets, security with alcohol, or emotional chaos with OCD, etc.
Negative states of mind can trigger desire, and the law of diminishing return fuels it. We are set up neurologically to acclimate to new environments and have it become routines. So given a brand new palace to live in, the brain will register excitement for a while, then it will make it a routine, which means the part of the brain that seeks pleasure and desires (which is different from experiencing pleasure) will need to up the ante to get another pleasurable high. That’s why eventually two drinks are not enough. And the mind will make up stories and fantasies that justify the increase. And all of us are like this. All of us live through the exact same neurological process day after day. Substitute drinks for food, drugs, sex, violence, shopping, or any other compulsive behavior, then we start to see the law of diminishing return operate in all the details of our lives.
In the informational explosion age, the amount of triggers are amplified and the bombardment towards our neurological systems never stops. Our neurosis are constantly triggered as the stimulus-response biofeedback system continue to amplify the threat. We are all subliminally trained towards coping behaviors. It’s the same process either you are a dictator or everyday folk. Just that doing flight-or-flight with access to nuclear codes can look very different from doing so without. But the process is the same. The impulse to increase pleasure and suppress pain is the same. The compulsion to self-protect from perceived threat is the same.
THE BIRTH CHART
And so the spiritual and metaphysical tries to get at addiction and desire from the angle of perception and projections. Meaning we react to the movie that we project from our own minds, and becoming conscious of that is the release. From that point of view, the astrological birth chart really isn’t the deepest truth of who we are. Rather it is a representation of the tendencies that could manifest based on karmic conditioning, and it presents us the choice to become aware of these tendencies. It’s there as a mirror so we see more clearly where we may be unaware of those blind spots. And the point being that our potential to feel alive and fulfilled is far beyond these blind spots - or the chart. These tendencies are further entrained by the workings of our neurological system that currently leans heavy on negativity bias, even though it is on its way to evolving into newer upgrades.
A side note here, that in using the birth chart, the notion that we are to live out the best version of our charts is a common one. Useful perspective of course, but needing proviso. It needs to be footnoted that the chart not become a yard stick for self-improvement, but a tool of reflection for awareness experiencing itself in clarity.
So back to perception. It is everything. Intimately getting to know our triggers and simply seeing it without judgment (and even seeing the judgment arise, and then fall) is the way. And it is compassionate and loving to our bodies. The lizard brain will again want to make this a crusade - either I fight you to death or I avoid. By seeing it, we bring attention to a relaxed neurological state where higher functions of reasoning or what spirituality likes to call the small still voice of intuition can be heard and be an active player in creating a purposeful life.