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Blog Post

Addiction Exposes the Faculty for Genius

Published July, 2024

Hunger and Focus

Hunger hyper-focuses us on one object. It is non-discriminating and possessive. It can focus on a shot of whiskey or heroin or God. All are hungers for a sensation that arises and resolves in the body. We can learn hyper-focus through both addiction and by concentrating our attention through meditative or contemplative practices. Both addiction and mind-focusing practices have a deep congruence from the standpoint of this basic template. We learn to focus on this one thing and only this, irrespective of conditions.

Hyper-focus Perspectives

And yet our tendency is to call hyper-focus on finite substances or hungers bad or profane, and to exalt the infinite or sacred. Are they really so different? Both are paths of renunciation. There is nothing about addiction that makes it a less-exalted access point to accessing hyper-focus—otherwise known as genius. We can give ourselves over equally to worldly success, bad health, stress-relief, the loss of our most cherished relationships. The outcome does not really matter, nor do the conditions. The question is whether we are able to fully offer ourselves.

The Pleasure of Focus

Hyper-focus is always a pleasurable experience. The mind relaxes when it is focused on one thing. Yearning for God has the exact same sensation as yearning for another shot of whiskey or heroin. The only difference is that the sensation of the infinite is more spread out because it is in a bigger container; that is essentially the difference between obsession and yearning.

Finite vs. Infinite

Aimed at finite objects—money, property, prestige, substances, romance—the result, despite the pleasurable hit of comfort, invariably has diminishing returns. For example, we make money and have all the money in the world only to discover we are still not satisfied. We habituate to the amount of money we have. But it is still important to see that process through: the hunger for money is real. We must realize our potential for earning in the world to have 360-degree freedom. Any place we avoid because our potential isn’t expressed is a place where choice is missing.

Pitfalls of the Infinite

A focus on the infinite also has its pitfalls. It has an aversion to the addictive world. This is a kind of preciousness, a rejecting of life. Some may call closing oneself off from these types of difficult and painful experiences and focusing on pristine insight as “taking refuge” in spiritual truth. But this orientation seemingly precludes the resilience that builds in us when we welcome both our yearning for ascension and a knowing of the parts of ourselves that are not so pretty and pure.

Embracing Eros

Eros wants a new spirituality that is not about renouncing anything, but loving everything. Eros moves freely when our attention is both strong and subtle enough to meet life on its own terms and can be intimate with the whole of experience.

The Essence of Choice

The difference between heaven and hell is choice, and the choice is not whether we are focused on the finite or the infinite. The difference is whether or not we have the choice to focus irrespective of conditions.

Capacity for Focus

No matter how diligently we meditate, we are still in hell if we don’t have the capacity to have an equal degree of focus and connection to the finite. When we avoid the finite, we are pushing away, rejecting, discriminating, judging. We separate ourselves from life and are locked into the very duality we seek to transcend.

Addiction and Mastery

Conversely, most people in addiction are in hell. But there are some masters of addiction who can navigate through the subtlest realms of contemplative practice. What we want is an attention subtle enough to enter the infinite and powered enough to not get lost in the finite.

Developing Attention

If we can cultivate this range of attention, we attain unconditional freedom. Often, the mindful person only develops subtle attention. The addictive person only develops powered attention and can only focus with heavy pressure.

Beyond Rejection

We can be an addict and be doing an addictive bypass to the spirit that is calling us. The same is true with the spiritual realm. If we curl up in the safe, warm womb of refuge forever, we never actually take birth. We become progressively more isolated. It is the same as an alcoholic who ends up alone in a room drinking. Both are rejections of life.

Unconditional Freedom

We need to find the middle ground, where we learn unwavering focus and have the capacity to put our attention on anything—to be non-discriminating and connected. Eros moves through all of life, not just part of it. That is unconditional freedom, which contains the genius of addictive behavior and the true potential of the addictive path.

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