Question: How to get rid of addictions like smoking, overeating?
Acharya Prashant: Do you overeat when you are sleeping? Do you feel an urge to smoke when you are sleeping? Do you feel an urge to smoke, even when you are deep in relaxation? When do you feel like smoking?
Listener: I have been drinking and it started when I was feeling depressed. But later on, drinking became a habit. Then you drink because you are happy, you drink because you are sad, you drink because nothing is happening, out of boredom.
AP: Yes, but I still want to go into that.
Do you still drink when you are sleeping? Do you drink in your deep moment of contentment? You said, you drink when you are happy, you drink when you are sad. Don’t you see, both of these are moments of excitement? Do you feel like smoking, when you are utterly peaceful? Does that happen?
I am not talking of mere absence of activity. I am talking of peace. I am not saying that you are peaceful when there is nothing to do. When there is nothing to do, then you will be bored, not peaceful. And when you will be bored, then you will feel like smoking.
Do you feel like smoking when you are peaceful? Do you? Is smoking the problem? Can you quit smoking as long as you continue to be what you are? Restless, peace less, excited, turbulent. But nobody ever comes to me and asks, “How to change life?” People come and ask, “How to quit drinking, how to quit smoking, how to give up on drugs?”
Do drugs come, and insert themselves in your mouth? Does the cigarette, unwrap the pack, rise itself and comes to kiss your lips? Or do you go and buy the cigarettes? The cigarette does not buy itself. Who is the buyer of the cigarette, why not talk about him? It’s not smoking that you want to quit, you want to quit that mental state that necessitates smoking. And if that mental state keeps coming, you will continue to smoke. But you will never talk about that mental state because that mental state is related to “I” and our entire lifestyle.
There might be people around you who make it compulsory for you to smoke. Not because they urge you to smoke, but because they put you in so much of tension, that you will need to smoke. But you are deriving some benefits from those people, so you will never ask, how to quit those people. Instead you will ask, how to quit smoking? Now, you can never quit smoking as long as you are with those people.
It’s quite possible that those that you call as your intimate ones, are the ones that make it important for you to drink. The environment might be in the house, of a nature, that makes you so heavy, that you are forced to drink.
L: The other aspect of drinking is that you want a high. And it gives you a high for a short time.
AP: Who wants a high?
L: Body, Mind. The Mind.
AP: The Mind is nothing. The Mind is pair of opposites. The Mind lives in duality. Now tell me, who wants a high?
Would you consider the hint? The Mind lives in dualities. The Mind wants only the opposite of where it is. So, who wants a high? The Mind lives in dualities, if the Mind is in one state, it wants to jump to the opposite one. So, if the Mind wants the high, what is the state of the Mind?
L: It is low.
AP: It’s low. Had you not been feeling low, would you want a high? Why don’t you go into this feeling of lowness? What makes you feel so low that you want a high? And why don’t you correct those factors?
L2: Sir, my father used to have a cigarette at Four in the evening, after working so much he would say, “It is enough, let us have a cigarette.” I was watching it for many years and I also started doing that. Exactly at four in the evening after work, I started to say to myself, now it is enough of work, let me reward myself with a cigarette.
AP: So, when work gives you a feeling of strain, then you want to celebrate the passing away of that strain by saying, now this is a symbol of my freedom. Work was bothering me till four and I have been able to leave it behind now. This is a symbol of my victory.
Had you really loved your work, would you have wanted celebrating the closure of work? When you love something, do you want to celebrate its demise? So, when you take up work, that you really do not want to do, then obviously when the work is over you will celebrate, thank God it’s gone, finished.
All the addictions are nothing but the tendency of the Mind to jump to the opposite state of where it is right now. You keep the Mind bored, it wants excitement, it wants parties. You keep the Mind suppressed, it wants to drink and then act like a free man. Have you not seen that how people give them the license, to be a totally different personality after drinking. And if they have been very suppressed persons, then they will act like wild people, having drunk.
That opposite personality, is just that – the opposite of what you have forced yourself to be, throughout the day, throughout the week. In the office, you are Mr. Nice, in front of the wife you are Mr. Submissive, and then in the bar, you will the most raucous and unmanageable drinker – Breaking bottles, throwing tantrums, inviting brawls. The Mind knows that it is suffering in one condition, but it is not intelligent enough to know, that the opposite condition is no better. So, if I do not like A, the only option I have, is to move to the opposite of A. The Mind does not have the option, to move beyond A.
So, sitting here, it starts feeling suffocated, it jumps to this another place. Here again it feels suffocated and then again it jumps from here to there and so on. And this is what we call as life.
The option to sublimate, to rise beyond A and B, somehow does not come to the Mind. It is possible, but it does not come so easily. You are living at a place where you cannot have your way, for some reason – financial, emotional. So, you act docile, pliant, cultured and then you take your car and hit the road and on the road, you are the most outrageous driver – picking up fights, driving like a maniac, rubbing past, brushing past. And why are you doing this? You are doing this because, you have been suppressed at home.
And most of the times when you pick up your car, it is being picked from the home. So, in what condition do you hold the steering? In a suppressed condition. You could not say to your father, what you wanted to say. You could not say to your sister or your wife, what you wanted to say. So, now you take it out on the streets.
You will die one day. People will think you had an unfortunate tragic accident. It is not a tragic accident, it is suicide. It is not even suicide, it’s actually murder. You have been murdered. People will not even come to know. You have been brought to this. You have allowed yourself to be brought to this.
L: So, how does Mind have such an understanding?
AP: Whenever you are feeling an urge to go towards something, see what is the present condition. For example, you are feeling like getting a high from liquor, ask yourself, how am I right now? Don’t just jump into the event, don’t just jump into the future, “I will drink the liquor and I will feel high.” Ask yourself, how is it right now? And you will get the answer.
It is impossible to be addicted to the alcohol, without being addicted to misery.
And if you get an answer that, “No, it is not out of frustration that I want to drink. It is just one of those things.” Then go ahead, then proceed. But if you are honest, that answer would be rare, that answer would come one in thousand times. There is only one in a thousand drinker, who would drink just like that.
L: Now a days it is a fashion to drink.
AP: Even misery is a fashion. When misery is a fashion, then drinking is a fashion.
Suppression is not always gross. Suppression is extremely subtle. To live in a manicured home, is a great suppression. It may appear that there is all the freedom possible, but to just live in a posh bungalow, can be the greatest of suppression if you go into it. Suppression is not just about, do this, and do not do this. The very smell of the air can be suppression. The very sight of the walls and the paint can be suppression.
L: In my case, for example, where I am not addicted to smoking or drinking, I am addicted to reading to a point that whenever I feel sad, I pick up a book to read. It was so obsessive that I would just carry my selected books everywhere, and even when I would stop my car on a red light, I would pick up a book and read a few lines while I am waiting. It was, as if, every time I would read I would get a breath of fresh air and if I don’t read, I would feel very suffocated.
AP: “Something is going wrong. Something is going wrong. Something that I do not know. I want to know, I want to read.” That which is going wrong, the books will not be able to take care of that. When we took examples of addictions, we took very obvious examples. Very accepted and gross examples. An addiction is anything that the Mind sticks to. Whenever the Mind sticks to something, it is just an escape. So, that goes without saying.
The Mind simply does not keep attached to anything without the intention to escape the reality. All obsessions, all addictions are just methods to escape the Truth.
Addiction is a broad term. It is not just about having alcohol. It is about having an object that feels like relief, that feels like peace, that feels almost like God. That is where I will find my relief. That action is my panacea. That fellow is my Messiah.
L2: So, that was an addiction?
AP: Of course. Whenever the Mind places its fundamental peace outside of itself, you will be addicted to that object. People who consume alcohol, won’t consume alcohol as alcohol. You know what they consume alcohol as? Do they say that it is C2H5OH? If you tell them it is just ethyl alcohol, they will say, you do not know what it is. This is emancipation. This is heaven.
L: Sir, it means that my Mind then always has been in some or the other kind of addiction. Sometimes reading, sometimes work. The Mind will stay like that?
AP: Addiction never calls itself as addiction. So, if in this moment you can see that you are addicted, this is one glimpse of not being addicted. Addiction will never say that it is addiction. And even if it says that, it will say that only theoretically. It will say that only jokingly. It will never really see the full import of the statement.
When, even if for a while, you can see, what it means to place your peace out of yourself, then in that moment, you just lose the energy to be addicted. Addiction requires a lot of energy, you know that, right? You have to do this, you have to do that, then chase things and then force yourself to be addicted. You have to arrange that entire gathering. You just don’t start drinking, drinking is not like breathing. Drinking requires arrangements. Even the cigarette pack, at least requires to be bought. It’s not like breathing. Even thought requires energy.
When you will see, what all these addictions, be it alcohol, be it a person, be it a thought, are doing to you. Then the energy to pursue those addictions will simply drop. When you will see, what is the state of Mind in which you chase something then the desire to chase, vanishes. Active desire condenses into a very passive peace. Superficial turbulence subsides and what you are left with is depth.
A simple advice –
Instead of chasing a medicine, pay attention to the disease.
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Acharya Prashant is an emerging champion of socio-spiritual awakening in the world today. An alumnus of IIT-Delhi and IIM-Ahmedabad, and a former Civil Services officer, Acharya Prashant is an acclaimed Speaker, Vedanta Teacher and author of over 50 books. Apart from that he wears various hats: a veganism promoter, an environmental activist, a science activist, a campaigner against superstition, and a champion of essential human freedom. Know More