Out of all the yamas and niyamas, the fundamental ethical principles of the yogic path, tapas (discipline, dedication, intensity, fire) has always been a weak spot for me- or rather, tapas directed toward inner awareness and development, that is. I'm always astonished at the dedication that addicts show to their disease. Daily life becomes a set of strategies to feed the habit and addicts will often let nothing stand in the way of their drug of choice. I was like that- no matter what kind of time I was having- good, bad, or indifferent- my drug of choice was there. And despite all my inner convictions to the contrary, all my best efforts- even days strung together without using- I always fell back to the thing that I now accept I'm hard wired to abuse to my own destruction.
In my case, historically it was alcohol- my mother and grandmother, long deceased, and several living family members share this.
And it's important for me to say that no amount of green smoothies, yoga asana, meditation, or anything else offsets the negative consequences of untreated, active addiction.
As we learn in the Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR), the area my work is most focused on these days, many addictions have their roots in unhealed trauma- "the issues live in our tissues," as we say. We also apply a broad definition of addiction to mean that anything we do to avoid, deny, hide, or camouflage pain can become an addiction.
So, in that broad sense,
power and control
sex and love
substances (both legal and illegal)
can all become addictive given the right conditions- especially the toxic combination of unhealed trauma and co-dependency- and a family history compounds the likelihood even more. (Check, check, check.)
How do you know you're addicted? We say that if you engage in the behavior when you really do not want to- or when you know it's wrong or harmful- it's possible you are addicted to that substance, habit or process. My friend Tommy Rosen says that addiction is "any behavior you continue to engage in despite the fact that it brings negative consequences to your life." So, if your relationships suffer- or your health is affected- or your legal or parental or work or financial status suffers- it's worth looking at. But the thing is, sometimes, even with consequences we can't always see how we (or others affected by our addiction) are suffering- and even if we can see it, the characteristics of addiction itself often render us unable to admit it. This is the nature of the disease of addiction- the disease itself tells us we do not have a disease.
Addiction affects the master controller of the nervous system- the structures of the brain itself- and the entire nervous, digestive, and endocrine systems become wired around the addiction. But there is hope and the promise of recovery for those who "have the capacity to be honest." I cannot properly convey the gratitude that I have for my teachers who showed me the way to this recovery path that I am on. Their honesty saved my life.
After some time on this path (and surrendering, surrendering, surrendering- recovery is a process of subtraction) I've been able to identify my motivation- that's a critical piece for me. In Y12SR we work with the koshas- the multi-dimensional layers of being, which concern our physical bodies, our energy, our thoughts and psychology, our character, and our heart- our deepest layer, which touches the divine. These layers are inter-dependent and all-pervasive- meaning everything we do and experience manifests in the koshas OR our koshas are constantly shifting- what you do to one affects the other.
Intention happens somewhere at the intersection of the character and the heart. It's said that any intention if it comes from the heart is already a part of you- your character is a reflection of your deepest desires, and your value system. Of course it's possible to act without intention- people do it all the time! I've thought (and written) a lot about ethics lately- and suggested that our actions must be grounded in ethics to be sustainable and effective. It's true for me- and in order to know my own heart's desires I've got to be willing to sit for some time each day and touch that divine place. This helps me know when an action is coming from external motivation or inner guidance. (It's not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, to act from external motivation- but I assert that even taking an action that comes from the outside-in, paying your taxes for example- comes with it an inherent connection to something from the inside-out: in this case, not wanting to pay fees and go to court and suffer those financial, legal, and ethical consequences and everything that might flow from that. Or, paying taxes might come from a desire to give to your community and support services that help people in need, and provide schools, libraries, first responders, roads, clean rivers, and things like that.)
Back in December I made the commitment to practice daily silent meditation. The time I practice varies- but often I start with a little pranayama, especially alternate nostril breathing, then an additional length of time sitting and breathing in, breathing out. Often the meditation follows asana practice, but not always- I've done it in airport terminals or on airplanes, in my car in the driveway of a student's house before a session, riding in a car on a trip... you name it. I've even done it while hiking trails. What I experience during my meditation is very personal, and very powerful in ways I can't articulate right now, and so I think I'll stop short of explaining what it's like.
It's been 145 days now since I set that goal, and for the first time in my life I am beginning to see and feel and trust daily the path I'm being called to follow. There is a grounded quality to my days- a thru line- so that whether I'm running, or practicing asana, or sitting, or teaching, or eating, or going to the bank, or writing an email- I can feel the presence of my heart's intention. It burns bright in me now- and that's what I think is meant by tapas. If I want to feel stronger, more steady, more present- I've got to feel it at every level- every kosha must experience that strength and steadiness. So I must engage in physical, energetic, mental, ethical, and spiritual ways that move me in that direction, the direction of my own heart.
In my last entry on activism I wrote that I try to act with kindness, generosity, non-violence, and honesty. I may unpack these a little in a future entry. These ethics, as I was taught, become a compass by which I can set my bearing each day. I will certainly fall short- progress, not perfection- but I can always check in with my intention and see who I am "becoming" on the way toward my goals.
The steps we must take each day are unique to the lives we live- where we build our worlds. This is the "what" we do. More important to me these days, is the "how" we do it.
How are you taking each step?
p.s. If you're interested in exploring Y12SR or taking a training, visit y12sr.com.