The Habit of Avoiding Pain – The Dynamics of Addiction

The Habit of Avoiding Pain – The Dynamics of Addiction

“All compulsions become slaveries.” Osho

Your human brain is probably the first wonder of the world! Tens of billions of cells with zillions of connections, buzzing with activity that allows you to read these words from anywhere on the planet. In fact, part of the buzzing is the process of verbalizing, putting words on experiences and events. We can call this activity “minding” – a process that we often just call “the mind.”

One of the amazing qualities of the brain and its mind is the ability to learn.

To understand the way our addictions and compulsions work, you can imagine a brain cell (in reality a complex network of cells) that registers “hunger.” It soon learns to link up with another cell (again another complex network of cells) which can arrange for you to go to the fridge and get something to satisfy that hunger. And off you go to get something to eat.

A perfect system. The body knows when you need food, and the mind learns where the fridge is! A natural response, like a lion knows how to find its prey when it is hungry but doesn’t bother when it is not hungry. The learning system is so smart that this can all happen automatically, unconsciously.

The problem is we are no longer natural, and food doesn’t only relieve our hunger.

It was one of the most fundamental connections we have with the world after our birth. When that early hunger was not satisfied, we started to feel anxious. What a relief when finally the milk arrived.

What do I learn? Swallowing something is a great way to calm my anxiety. Or maybe it is my mother’s love that I miss… the same lesson. Or maybe it is the sucking sensation that I associate with a relief of tension.

That same unconscious part of our mind will arrange everything, without our needing to be involved.

Hardly did I realize I was anxious, and I was already opening the fridge door.

Or maybe, one day I was just very upset about something and had a drink, or took some other chemical. And wow! – that just touched the spot, and now I feel fine. The unconscious of course takes note. Anxious, are you? How about a drink?

The key is that I want to feel better now. I have learned that the best way to feel better is to find some avenue that dulls the pain.

It could be some distraction, like sucking on a cigarette or downing some alcohol to distract me and provide some anesthetic. Or maybe it is food? Or sex? Or perhaps I want to relieve a sense of insecurity by taking charge of something. Maybe I can control all those dangerous bacteria that are all around us by endlessly washing my hands. Or perhaps it is people I can control, with money, or power…. The list is endless.

By avoiding the pain, it becomes hidden and, by definition, unconscious.

The logic, the belief that I am only overeating – or smoking, or drinking, or taking drugs, or mad after money or power – to soothe my pain is also hidden, also unconscious.

We are all unique and our experiences are also unique, so it is not difficult to see that we can easily end up with almost any unnatural response to almost any emotional situation. You can call them habits, compulsions, obsessions, or addictions… whatever you want to call it, but it is a similar mechanism: finding the anesthetic effect of some distraction from the pain that I want to avoid. Whether it is called alcoholic or workaholic, the mechanism behind involuntary compulsions is the same.

The Habit of Avoiding Pain – The Dynamics of Addiction

You can also see that it is not something “out there” that is addictive. Addiction is related to something “in here” that I have unconsciously convinced myself I need to repeat whenever I want to relieve my pain.

Then, suddenly you realize you are overweight or underweight, or at risk of killing yourself with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Or your children hate you because all you care about is money….

I must stop!

Every cell in the brain that links to another cell in the brain has a pathway that says, “Yes connect.” And another pathway that says, “No, don’t connect.” Like an on/off switch if you like.

The more often you run the “Yes, connect” routine, the stronger the connection is made and the faster and more automatic this pathway becomes.

Now suddenly, in your attempt to stop doing whatever it is, you are putting all your efforts to strengthen the “No, don’t connect” pathway.

Makes sense, right? Well, not really.

What is really happening is that we already have a tight linkage with the “yes” connection, and now we are adding another tight linkage with the “no” connection. We are doubling the connection – or at the very best not decreasing it.

It is as if you were driving a car with one foot pressed hard down on the accelerator and the other on the brake at the same time! The harder we push, the more we are stuck to the floor.

That is why that silly political slogan, “Just say no” was bound to fail.

So, whatever you “do,” whether it is a “yes” or a “no,” makes this unnatural connection stronger. The only solution is to “do” nothing.

What does that mean? It means you cannot do anything directly to the addiction.

Instead, the key is to allow yourself to passively observe this tug of war between one part saying yes and another part saying no.

Now you are no longer cooperating with the “yes” – let’s go to the fridge or the cigarettes, or the drugs, or whatever. So, of course, that original pain – the experience you didn’t realize that you have been keeping buried by this addictive distraction all this time – will surface.

Here is where the outer science of Western psychology and inner science of the world of meditation – an approach that has inspired most of the planet for most of our history – part company.

Western psychology assumes that healing can only happen by analyzing the cause of the pain.

This usually involves talking about it, or in some way creating some detailed expression of the cause of that pain.

By contrast, the inner science proposes exactly the opposite. Don’t even think about it! Let alone analyze it, consider it, or discuss it…. That is just bla bla bla! Just another distraction. In fact, involuntary verbalization may be the ultimate human addiction!

Instead, allow yourself to experience the pain or whatever sensation is there, without any verbalization at all. Embrace it with totality.

Then you are no longer avoiding it, hiding it – so then it becomes conscious. Like opening a festering wound to the fresh air, so healing can happen.

This is the key understanding behind the transformative possibilities of acceptance.

Acceptance does not mean resignation, or defeat! It means being in a silent communion with whatever is being accepted.

Even if you scream “No. I won’t accept it.” Then accept that! You can only start the journey from where you are really standing! Not from where you believe or imagine you are standing.

Then you can then discover the shocking realization that the emotion itself does not create the suffering. The suffering begins the moment we hesitate to say yes to the experience. Again, we are surprised to discover another shocker. You can’t “do” acceptance. It is another of those phenomena that you can only allow!

Maybe you are not so fortunate, and you can’t really feel the pain. Which means that it is deeply hidden in the unconscious. This means you are making great efforts, unconsciously of course, to make sure that this pain does not see the light of day.

Then you may need even an encounter group! You know those stiff-upper-lip chaps who have so little connection with their bodies or their emotions, that even though they are clearly boiling, they can only insist that they are “Fine thanks. Indeed!”

Less repressed emotions may be accessed by OSHO Active Meditations, which use chaos to shake loose whatever is buried in the unconscious.

For a world gone mad, radical methods are needed, like OSHO Dynamic Meditation for example. This meditation offers a powerful cathartic experience. Not much can remain hidden in the unconscious when you participate in that meditation with totality.

Or maybe just the experience of verbalizing the pain in a nonsense language of meaningless sounds – that are authentically language-like – will allow the hidden emotions to surface.

This is all part of the same ancient understanding reflected in the story of “The Empty Boat.”

Anyway, no matter how you manage to engage directly with the emotional pain, it is the simple, but not so easy, art of just being in its presence, and letting it be, with no judgment, no comment, no nothing! – for as long as it takes – that is curative.

How long is that? As long as it takes you to allow yourself to embrace the pain.

“Allow yourself,” did you say? Yes, the final trick in the toolbox! “You” – and your understandable need to protect yourself from this pain, to hide it away – are the cause of the problem. So, “you” can’t “do” anything to help! Only “non-doing” – that is “allowing” with no involvement on your part at all – as in “doing nothing,” is of any use.

For anyone brought up in a world of “Don’t just sit there, do something” to hear this totally counterintuitive advice to “Don’t just do something, sit there!” is mind-bending! What to do! Existence never listens to our ideas!

Anyway, what does this “allowing” and “non-doing” mean?

Luckily, there is an app for that too: the meditation is called OSHO Kundalini Meditation and you can find it on the iOSHO app available here. This is an OSHO Active Meditation where the first fifteen minutes give you the opportunity to discover the knack of “allowing” rather than “doing.” In addition, the first thirty minutes are about not only “non-doing” but also allowing the “doer” to disappear. So, there is shaking, but no shaker, dancing but no dancer.

And finally, now that everything you have ever heard about habits and addictions and such like has been turned upside down, a couple of further points might be helpful.

It is easy to feel really pissed off with this “unconscious,” whatever it is, that keeps bringing this pain to the surface. In reality, the unconscious takes care of your breathing, your heartbeats, your digestion, your immunity… basically everything you need to survive is being taken care of 24/7 without any involvement on your part.

You could say that this unconscious part of you is the best friend you ever had.

The reason it keeps bringing this pain to your attention is that the energy stuck in this buried emotional memory has to go somewhere. The simplest way to release this energy is for you to simply allow yourself to take a good look at whatever it is. That is what making it conscious means.

When we avoid it, that energy will find other unnatural forms of expression. Or, see it, and it will be gone, and gone forever! So, bringing this pain to your attention is a gift that the unconscious is offering to you. A doorway to letting it go forever.

You may also see that you are very lucky.

For whatever reason, there is a part of you that just won’t tolerate the pain and will go to extreme lengths to find an alternative. Many others just put up with it, but not you. That energy you have to find an alternative to pain can now be used to find a real solution.

For example, as Osho explains:

“And then slowly via the bridge of hypnosis transfer them from the drug to the meditation.” 2

Once you start to approach this whole process of allowing yourself to see exactly what is going on now – with gratitude! – everything changes.

“He is doing the right thing in a wrong society. But it will destroy his health, it will destroy his whole life. And we have something which can give you better experiences, more authentic, more real.” 3

“And they will prove greater meditators than ordinary meditators, because their very addiction to drug shows they were searching for meditation – but they found something hallucinatory in the way.

 “But they are really religious seekers. If we can make them feel that, ‘You are seekers and not the condemned and the cursed, but really the salt – very salt – of the earth’ we can manage to bring all drug people towards meditation very easily.” 2

Then, it all become very clear as Osho describes it:

“From immemorial times man has remained interested in all kinds of alcoholic beverages for the simple reason: to forget.

“He wants to forget the inner emptiness.

“But for how long can you remain intoxicated? Sooner or later you have to come out of it, and the inner emptiness is there, hurting. It is like a wound that goes on becoming bigger and bigger. It heals only when you have been able to attain a state of bliss.

“Then suddenly all wounds disappear, and instead of wounds there are flowers. Each wound becomes a flower, a lotus flower.” 4


You can read or listen to some of these talks here:

1 Osho, Finger Pointing to the Moon, Talk #1 – The Divine Is You
2 Osho, The Last Testament, Vol. 4, Talk #6
3 Osho, The Last Testament, Vol 2, Talk #16 – Fear Is Always of the Unknown
4 Osho, The Imprisoned Splendor, Talk #27

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