A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The eighth item on the list reads:
Each morning, I am born again. What I do today is what matters most.
The past brought me here, but it is over. The future is totally uncertain. I aspire to concentrate as much of my attention and effort on the present moment, the current situation and the living relationships I cultivate with myself and others.
Shout out, also, to Eckhart Tolle and The Flaming Lips. Living in the moment, cliché as it has become to say, is truly liberating. The more I practice, the better I get.
I can relate to this because I do spend too much time feeling angry and embarrassed about the past (regret) and worrying about the future. Regret and worry are both fear. Regret looks to the past and worry looks to the future. Fear is a function of my ego. I could also say that my ego is fear-based. That is why it seeks to control. It seeks to control me so that it can use me to control my environment. Of course it never achieves complete control and therefore never feels secure.
My ego does not exist in the now. It only exists in the past or the future. When I worry or regret I am ceding control of myself to my ego. Therefore, If I do worry it is always about a future event. It might be a future event a few seconds from now but it is always in the future.
I cannot worry about what is happening right now. As such, the now is a refuge I can escape to. There is no fear in the now because I have all the information on the now in the now. There is freedom in the now and seemingly infinite possibility. My true self exists in the now. When I worry or regret I abandon my true self to fear and my ego.
I cannot change the future or the past but I can change (that is, take action in) the present. And really now is the only thing that exists or ever exists. As Eckhart Tolle says even if I had a time machine and used it to travel back in time, when I arrived at my destination it would still be now.
Therefore, now is all I have or will ever have. When I worry or regret I fall asleep to this essential fact. When I worry or regret I am not actively living my life. I am passively watching a depiction or version of my life. It is possible to have positive depictions of the past or future (e.g., nostalgia or anticipation) and it seems impossible or impractical to always exist in a state fully appreciating the now. But most of the time I find myself not in the now. So, to cultivate an active experience of the now is a useful exercise.
Jerry Seinfeld has this routine where he describes how Night Guy screws Day Guy. Night Guy wants to stay out late and party. Waking up hung over is Day Guy’s responsibility. Night Guy always screws Day Guy. In terms of addiction, it is Night Guy who is in the driver’s seat. Day Guy has to pick up the pieces. A friend of mine realized he had a drinking problem. He went to AA meetings but could not relate. So he got a doctor to prescribe a drug called Disulfiram, which makes drinking alcohol very uncomfortable and allowed Day Guy to take the power back from Night Guy. It was Day Guy who took the Disulfiram and by the time Night Guy took over (the early afternoon in my experience) there was nothing he could do about it.
I saw a series of videos (above) where a science teacher describes addiction to internet porn (I think this applies to all forms of addiction) in terms of “Two Minds”. The first mind is the Limbic System, the primitive brain that deals with fight or flight and seeks to attain pleasure and avoid pain, lives in the moment and experiences the world on an emotional level. This correlates with Night Guy who wants immediate gratification and is willing to screw Day Guy to get it. The second mind is the Prefrontal Cortex, which considers the long-term consequences of decisions, plans for the future and thinks logically. The prefrontal cortex corresponds with Day Guy. Addiction, obviously comes from the Limbic system – Night Guy, who kicks in whenever an unpleasant situation is experienced and immediately goes to a pleasurable situation experienced in the past and creates a craving for it on an emotional level. It does not consider the long-term effects of its methods.
The science teacher goes on to talk about the neuroplasticity / adaptability of the brain. When an addiction is acted upon the brain reacts by creating a stronger pathway of neurons for that. The more the addiction is acted upon the stronger the pathway becomes. Conversely, the less an addiction is acted upon the more overgrown the path becomes although it never disappears entirely. He also talks about meditation as it relates to the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. Basically, while meditating the limbic system causes the mind to wander and the prefrontal cortex brings the mind back. By repeatedly bringing the mind back, meditation exercises the prefrontal cortex making it stronger and better able to withstand the urging of the limbic system to give into addiction.
I saw another video where Eckhart Tolle describes how addiction can be overcome through awareness of it and not giving into it. In this model addiction is (or is like) the ego (which seems to correlate with Night Guy and the limbic system to some degree) and acts as a separate entity unto itself. The more the authentic self (which may correlate to Day Guy and the prefrontal cortex although maybe not entirely) becomes identified with the addiction the stronger the addiction becomes. However, through awareness of the addiction the weaker it becomes. This is similar to using meditation to strengthen the prefrontal cortex.
I have also looked at some AA videos. There is no end to them on the web. I posted one above to give a flavor but certainly watching the whole thing is a major time commitment. According to my understanding of the AA model, addiction is a disease with both physical and psychological components. As a disease it is an abnormality that requires treatment or outside intervention that the self is not capable of offering to the self.
I guess the point of all this is, there are many ways to look at addiction. At the very least addiction points to a problem that requires attention. On one level addiction is against self-interest because it is physically and psychologically unhealthy. But at the same time addiction is a survival tactic. At the heart of addiction there is an intolerable feeling that must be either acknowledged and dealt with by fully experiencing it which is difficult. If the intolerable feeling cannot be experienced it must be suppressed. Neither Day Guy nor Night Guy wants to experience this feeling but Day Guy is at least capable of considering options other than suppression.