Suffering Toward Wholeness
Jun 01, 2015 01:35AM
● By Alex Boianghu and Urgyan Zangpo
Buddhism’s worldview describes the human condition as dominated by craving and attachment. Strong psychic undercurrents drive you to form addictive patterns, despite their negative consequences. Everyone is addicted to something to one degree or another, though the form and intensity it takes vary widely. The Buddha was explicit about the cause of addiction – you are driven by the mistaken notion that satisfying your desires will make you happy. There is no question that you all aspire to thrive – to feel fulfilled and genuine to yourselves. So in your search for happiness, how do you get caught up in addictive patterns that detract from your functional well-being and from wholeness? How does addiction become so entrenched that you may barely survive?
You are hardwired to adapt to the surrounding environment and survive, giving you the best opportunity to pass on your DNA. Among other evolutionary capabilities, neuro-plasticity is the brain’s capacity to change and learn through experience. This heightened ability of the brain to rewire itself (especially during infancy and adolescence) allows you to learn from suffering, including addiction. Existential suffering begins at birth and ends in death. No one is immune to the inevitable challenges, harm and pain that are encountered. As children, your most basic needs must be met by others whose own unresolved inner turmoil may limit their ability to function well. In the midst of this relationship, you unconsciously create a façade or self-image that is designed to help you adapt to both subtle unmet needs and overt trauma. These self-images are often maladaptive – while they are created to meet the demands of others in order to get your needs met, they are poorly suited to promote your own development. They contrive a false self and constrict your energy and consciousness. You end up split between responding to your caregivers and honoring your inner authenticity, especially your potential for growth. As you age, the original relational dynamics may never get addressed and remain unprocessed and unintegrated into a healthy sense of individuality. They do not just disappear.
While such maladaptive self-images once served a purpose, they easily become solidified into false identities. Your evolution of consciousness and creative expression gets put on hold with negative self-images that lack both truth and vitality. You feel increasingly defeated and cut off from the functional well-being and fulfillment that characterize your human potential. In the cauldron of unmet needs and unfulfilled hopes – let alone unimaginable traumas – neural networks becomes wired to react to life instead of responding out of choice. The immediate goal becomes survival, which adds additional stress to the budding nervous system. It thereby reinforces the belief that life is a barren, threatening landscape.
As the intensity of suffering and loss of authenticity increase, the yearning to feel relief takes over. You become desperate in your attempts to quench the feelings of emptiness that deny you trust in your deepest truth. The pressing need to feel better in the moment comes to dominate everyday existence. The whole dilemma of entrenchment destabilizes your existential foundations, and you eventually turn to the most immediate means of satisfaction – escape into numbing. In reality this is no escape at all, which feels torturous. In the end, you give up hope and dig ever-deeper holes from which addictive highs are the only relief. This is how addiction unfolds.
Once addiction gains momentum, any desire (and even attempts) to quit are overridden by neurological networks wired to the desire and compulsion for immediate relief. The unprocessed dynamics from the past expressed in distorted self-images and negative beliefs, propel consciousness toward a self-confirming identification with shame and guilt. As the underlying belief in your deficiency deepens, a gray wash of daily existence covers over the radiant potential of life. The residue of vulnerability from stress and trauma closes the heart’s receptivity to what is possible and further fuels addiction’s harmful and destructive behavior toward yourself and others.
Only a multifaceted approach drawing on internal and external resources for healing will undercut addiction’s grip and reinstate your faith in the potential of human consciousness. The first step in addressing all misguided addictive patterns is to address the psycho-physical injuries of the past by telling your stories. You must be heard and, most of all, held in a supportive and mirroring environment so you can start the process of looking to inner resources instead of seeking gratification outward. With self-reflection, you can begin to understand the maladaptive sense of self that you learned through negative conditioning. Such mindfulness requires self-regulation, a skill often diminished by trauma.
Emotional regulation is the ability to tolerate immediate discomfort while reintegrating past feelings that were cut off from the flow of consciousness during your formative development. As long as unprocessed thoughts and feelings continue to operate, you feel divided and unfulfilled. Healing into wholeness requires the integration of all experiences into a functional sense of wellness. Unprocessed material is gently approached and processed without the filters and labels of negative self-identity.
The process of inviting unprocessed material into the light of day encourages a reframing of stress and trauma within a healing framework. Because the brain can change and learn from experience, reprocessing past experiences revamps the brain’s neuro-chemistry so that self-regulation is positively linked to emotional satisfaction and vice versa. It promotes a shift in consciousness that is felt to be authentic and renewing. While addiction reinforces old patterning, new learning heals your relationship with history. By feeling and functioning better, your creativity will find expression in an enriched life full of purpose and value. While suffering is a difficult road to travel, if it is the one you are on, it can and does lead to wholeness when you learn from it.
Alex Boianghu, a licensed professional counselor at Insight Counseling, specializes in somatic psychotherapy and is EMDR trained. He can be reached at 203-994-7295. Urgyan Zangpo is a Western Buddhist lama and the founder of Thrive Meditation. He offers weekly meditation instruction and practice, spiritual conversation and private counseling. He can be reached at 860-619-0456 or [email protected].