January 8, 2017 – Seeing Our Addictions


“We must give up many things to which we are addicted, considering them to be good. Otherwise, courage will vanish, which should continually test itself.Greatness of soul will be lost, which can’t stand out unless it disdains as petty what the mob regards as most desirable.” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 74.12b-13

What does it mean to be in control? Today’s meditation quotes an addict in response to the question of what an addiction is: losing the freedom to abstain. Addiction should not be confused with habit. Habit is a positive process to how live through which we can optimize our time, and ensure efficient goal directed behavior. In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg writes:

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain requires less room, which makes for a smaller head, which makes childbirth easier and therefore causes fewer infant and mother deaths. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually, airplanes and video games.”

I can’t speak to the science of head size, but brain efficiency makes sense. Consider a solider, athlete or ninja. They train in order to react on instinct. Their habits allow them to be less distracted. To focus on the task at hand. These are good habits. However, there are those bad habits which the brain seeks to ramp down. The mindless distractions.

A wonderful website called “My Morning Routine” highlights the habits of motivated people as they start they day. Most excercise, have a cup of coffee and set their goals for the day. They might only allow the morning as a time to check their email. As one who uses email like a life line I find myself checking email throughout the day, personal or work related. Checking email is something today’s meditation points out can be an addiction. For me, I think it is. My desire to be on top of everything, and anything, is obvious. Surely my poor time management, and organizational flaws, puts me on high alert, looking for that communication which reminds me of something forgotten. 

If I were more focused on the important things would I still have this email addiction?

Last semester was one of the most difficult philosophy classes I ever attended. Our subject matter was what is a self. We looked at thinkers in Hinduism, Buddhism and Phenomenology to guide us. The semester started well, but about midway I fell into some old routines. I began watching too much television. I began to manage my personal activities poorly. Tasks around the house sat unattended. When my work load began to change my stress level increased. I began reading less, got behind and by the time my final paper was due business travel had crept in. One could argue that fell into some bad habits, but I believe those bad habits, at their core, are due to addictions. The addiction in question is the television.

Here is how it works. I come home from work, and I sit down to enjoy some mindless or educational viewing. My wife comes home after me and she wants to catch up. So I sit with her. We go to bed and the television is playing as we go to sleep. When I’m camping my mind has a hard time transitioning to the silence.

If I can break this addiction I would have more time to study, read recreationally and finish the tasks around the house.  Then I would not be burdened by the want and need to pursue those more noble goals.

This semester was going to be one of no graduate school. Seeing how I performed with an increased work load, and knowing 2017 to be a year when my three big projects would see completion, I decided to not force graduate school. Once again hiking does funny things to me. Taking time to clear out the corruption while I was in Colorado, I realized my want to forego a semester was my courage vanishing. I was letting the addictions of the past semester corrupt my thinking. So I re-registered.

In reviewing my own behavior, it’s not the one addiction that necessarily concerns me, but rather the one that feeds future addictions. A good habit can give us freedom. A bad habit can lead to addiction. 

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