While addiction manifests itself physically and mentally, we often define it as a spiritual condition. Likewise, many believe that recovery necessitates spiritual practice. Our sense of self and overall worldview play a major role in our addictive thinking; therefore, self-exploration and the development of greater insight will greatly benefit us in recovery.
At New England Recovery and Wellness, we offer clients the chance to develop these tools through many recovery tracks. Among our primary tracks is 12-Step Immersion, covering spirituality in the broad sense as outlined by programs such as AA. The Alpha Series, while not technically religious, looks at spirituality through the lens of biblical teachings. We also have the Buddhist Psychology track, for those interested in a spiritual path based on ancient teachings of virtue, mindfulness, and better understanding of our own minds and behaviors.
One major theme of Buddhist Psychology concerns observation of the mind and heart, allowing us to learn more about how we usually address our negative thoughts and feelings. Upon understanding this, we learn to become more empowered and responsible. In the process we awaken spiritually and learn to embrace a more authentic sense of self that will enhance our gratitude of life and attach a deeper meaning to our sobriety. Anyone can make use of these teachings, regardless of whether they give themselves fully to the practice of Buddhism.
To better understand Buddhism and its potential role in addiction treatment, it helps to focus on the central teachings of the Theravada tradition—the Four Noble Truths. Allow us, then, to provide a brief overview of each truth and how it relates to addiction and sobriety. If you feel that the ideas set forth below may complement your own spiritual beliefs, then you may wish to consider Buddhist Psychology as your possible track to recovery.
The First Noble Truth
Known as dukkha, the First Noble Truth asks that we acknowledge the imperfection of existence. We generally refer to this as the truth of suffering. While many things in life create comfort and happiness, they do not last forever; the law of impermanence means that we will inevitably face periods of difficulty and sorrow. We will face loss, whether of material things or even people. Illness and other misfortunes will occasionally fall upon us. Even our mental and emotional states are marked with impermanence, sometimes changing without any clear external cause.
Addiction creates its own forms of suffering. Depending upon our drug of choice, using may result in mental and emotional instability, causing our state of mind to become even more impermanent than usual. What many refer to as the “monkey mind”—the feeling that our thoughts are ceaselessly overlapping each other noisily and creating discomfort without our minds—will often become amplified during states of intoxication. At other times, our substance use may appear to calm this mental suffering; however, the causes of our suffering still exist.
This demonstrates the futility of denial. In our Buddhist Psychology track, clients learn to accept the First Noble Truth, recognizing that resistance to suffering only prolongs it. This is a vital concept, and one that relates strongly to the Second Truth—the truth of craving.
The Second Noble Truth
Translated roughly as “arising” or “coming together,” samudhaya notes that suffering does not occur in a vacuum. It coincides with another troublesome sensation known as tanhā, or thirst. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we know that life results in suffering. We therefore seek escape, craving pleasure to overcome the pain. In the case of those who struggle with chemical dependence, this takes the form of self-medicating.
All human beings form attachments in this way, albeit to varying degrees. Addicts benefit from easily identifiable—and therefore treatable—symptoms. Others, however, alleviate their craving for escape in different ways. They might lose themselves in work, or disappear into unhealthy relationships. Addicts engage in these behaviors as well, especially in recovery when we seek to fill the void left by addiction.
Clients learn in our Buddhist Psychology track that the opposite of tanhā is non-attachment. If we seek to overcome our constant search for pleasure, our endless need to escape pain or discomfort, we must learn to embrace impermanence rather than resist it. Due to impermanence, no source of escape will last forever. We become locked in a cycle, constantly needing more. As our escapism fails to produce the desired results for any significant length of time, our sense of craving only intensifies.
Non-attachment therefore serves two purposes. First, we learn that suffering does not last forever. Our negative thoughts and feelings will give way to inner peace once we recognize they do not define us. At the same time, we must also learn the impermanence of pleasure. Pain and discomfort will arise again, sometimes without warning. Our Buddhist Psychology track teaches clients to accept this, and confront pain in a healthy manner rather than seeking to escape it through gratification that will only prove fleeting in the end.
The Third Noble Truth
Anyone seeking parallels between our Buddhist Psychology track and our 12-Step track may notice that dukkha and samudhaya essentially represent two halves of Step One. We are powerless to change the existence of suffering. Our resistance of suffering causes our lives to become unmanageable. This brings us to nirodha, the Third Noble Truth, which tells us that attachment to craving can indeed be overcome. We may relate this to the hope expressed in Step Two; both the 12 Steps and nirodha promise peace of mind, relief from the insanity of repetitive craving.
In Buddhism, we achieve cessation of suffering and craving by achieving nirvana. The 12 Steps refer to the ultimate goal as a spiritual awakening; likewise, nirvana is the state we enter upon reaching bodhi, which literally translates to “awakening.” Buddha means “The Awakened One,” and the ultimate goal of Buddhism is to awaken ourselves to the Four Noble Truths. Our Buddhist Psychology track operates on a similar principle, allowing clients to enhance their understanding of spirituality and recovery by assisting them in their search for a deeper understanding of their thoughts and behaviors—both in and out of active addiction.
We might make one more comparison between our Buddhist Psychology track and the 12 Steps. Once AA and NA members reach Step Three, they make the decision to follow a course of action that will ultimately lead to their spiritual awakening. In similar fashion, the Third Noble Truth only tells us that relief is a possibility. To achieve awakening and relief from suffering, we must embark on a journey that will require time and practice. We learn the basic components of this practice in the Fourth Noble Truth.
The Fourth Noble Truth
Referred to as magga in Pali or marga in Sanskrit, the Fourth Noble Truth consists of a series of practices. Collectively known as the Eightfold Path, these practices allow us to achieve a greater level of discipline in the areas of morals, insight and meditation. To benefit from the teachings of the Eightfold Path, we must embrace the following practices:
- Understanding/Right View – Knowledge of suffering and impermanence, as well as the laws of cause and effect known as karma
- Intention/Right Resolve – Renunciation of attachment to the sources of our craving, and resolve to live with compassion and humility
- Communication/Community/Right Speech – Honesty, kindness of speech and harmonious interactions with others
- Action/Engagement/Right Conduct – Nonviolence and restraint from harmful acts such as stealing or sexual misconduct
- Service/Right Livelihood – Using our time and energy to pursue acts of generosity, embracing (to the best of our ability) a career that allows for such acts
- Energy/Right Effort – Learning to focus our mindset on the principles described above while guarding our minds from thoughts of malicious intent
- Right Mindfulness – Embracing the wisdom of living in the present, maintaining awareness of our thoughts and actions without behaving unconsciously or unskillfully
- Concentration/Right Samadhi – Developing the ability to focus on one thought, intention or action at a time, such as we do when observing our breath through meditation
Our Buddhist Psychology track will help clients to begin working these practices into their program of recovery. By the time they leave treatment, the client should know how to continue this practice on their own if they so choose. Some may choose to live the rest of their lives by the teachings of the Eightfold Path. Others may focus only on the disciplines most meaningful to them. Either way, we will provide them with the necessary tools to get started on their path to spiritual awakening.
Many staples of mental health and addiction treatment apply to our Buddhist Psychology track. The principles of Buddhism align well with the practices of positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis and self-development; therefore, while our Buddhist Psychology track may emphasize the spiritual side of recovery, it still falls in line with our basic clinical program of dual diagnosis care. Furthermore, our many holistic therapy options such as meditation and massage therapy will put clients in tune with their sense of present-moment awareness, allowing them to better develop the necessary frame of mind to follow the Eightfold Path.
We offer many pathways to recovery; our Buddhist Psychology track is simply one of the many unique approaches we allow clients to utilize in seeking a new way of life. To learn more about our Buddhist Psychology track or our general program features, contact us today for further information.