A memoria on substance abuse and clarity, written by R.R. Shakti, PhD.
This post is bound to be wildly unpopular.
...Because I have found that people, in general, don’t like to talk much about their addictions or substance abuse.
I know I didn’t.
Last year (November 2017) my husband decided to take a year off from drinking alcohol.
My first (internal) response was something like: “That’s great for you since you (obviously) have a problem; but don’t expect me to give up the "half a glass" (the reality was 2 glasses) of divine red nectar I imbibe most evenings...forget it! You’re on your own!”
My defensive retort was accompanied by a sudden stinging (and humbling) realization, like a spanking from the Universe.
I mean who was I fooling? My indignant loyalty to wine (over my husband) was a sure sign of delusion.
It was time for re-evaluation.
Allow me to take you deep into my past.
My sordid relationship with substances goes way back before, and much more interesting than, mom-wine at the end of the day.
I grew up in an upstanding, church-going (kinda hippyish) Christian household, where a subverted weed of addiction grew (quite literally) in the basement.
My dad liked to smoke. A lot.
I remember relighting the butts he left in the bathroom ashtray and relishing the strange—slightly queasy but super buzzy—sensation I got from just one puff.
In 1991, my homeschooled, bible-studying, “good choice” days came to a screeching halt when I descended upon the State University.
The very first weekend of my very first semester away from home, “The Doors” movie (remember the absolute wizardry of Val Kilmer!?) played on a huge outdoor screen in my campus quad and my eyes were widened.
It was Jim Morrison’s poetic depth that attracted me...and the mystical dance of the human experience, approached with new found inside-out and upside-down “clarity.”
From that time on, most of my boyfriends we’re (conveniently) holding.
To the tunes of Jane’s Addiction, Kate Bush, the Grateful Dead, et al., I experimented with uppers, downers, and hallucinogens. I was known to swallow something before asking what it was.
Life became a backdrop for out-of-mind experiences. Going to the city was a great time for cocaine. Camping was ideal for mushrooms. Most movies were complete with just a little bit of acid, and music always sounded better when I was high.
I tried it all, from ancient herbs to newfangled chemical cocktails. My favorite sensation: sinking into the oblivion of a purple opiate haze. There was an occasion, or maybe two, when I had to reach across the floor to make sure my friend was still breathing—or maybe that was my friend's hand touching me...
It's a little hazy: psychedelic memories.
Cigarettes burned almost constantly, and a tequila shot was best chased with whiskey.
I ate the cake and drank the drink and found myself time and again, in a magic bubble, dancing with a bunch of fantastical puppets and an elfin king who looked an awful lot like David Bowie.
Wait a minute, I might be getting things confused with one of my favorite childhood movies...
But anyway, it’s true. “Real life” had become an impossible labyrinth—sometimes fun, but mostly confusing, emotionally exhausting, kinda scary, and (looking back on it now) really dumb.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret those days one bit. I mean, “Drugs are bad M’KAY,” (and simply not worth the risk of addiction) but I learned so much from taking them...like how to truly sit in discomfort and where to find my abandoned mind.
It was as if I threw myself completely off-balance—in fact onto the very brink of insanity—on purpose; so that I would have to distinguish my center from the chaos...again and again.
Then I started practicing yoga.
Wait, that’s not right. Not quite yet.
...And I’m remembering now that it was Nature—Nature saved me first.
Because when we were out there, on our mushroom quest to reach the top of Pikes Peak by midnight, for instance...
...or when I wandered off into the woods drunk and alone.
I was never alone.
The winds, and trees, and moon were talking.
They were trying to remind me that I am one with All.
Within the hallucination was a sobering reckoning with Reality...a beckoning to come home to my innate wholeness.
So after I told that one guy I was leaving
...and after I threatened again
...and after I had no choice because I had no money, and I had no job, and he was in jail, and another friend had died (drunk and hit by a train)...
And I found my way home.
...Up on top of a mountain, hiking, rappelling, climbing, kayaking, ice climbing (hated that, btw), skiing, snowboarding, surfing, scuba...
At 10,200 feet—and sometimes in the Canyon lands—and sometimes in the Great Barrier Reef—I got an Associates Degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership.
Me. A degree!
I went from climbing the walls to climbing rock-walls.
Me. Rock climbing!
And that’s when I started practicing yoga.
I had landed a job with the Colorado Outward Bound School and those cool Course Instructor cats were downward-dogging by the river. They hand-stood in the canyons. They were tree-posing at 14,000 feet. It was as if they were striking these yoga postures to throw themselves completely off-balance—on purpose; so that they would have to distinguish their center...again and again. They seemed to know how to peacefully sit in discomfort and where to find their befriended minds.
I succumbed to peer pressure (everybody was doing it).
I took a deep breath. And then another. And then another. And then I remembered:
One with All.
Little by little, breathing interfered with my smoking.
Drunk yoga was no fun. Believe me, I tried.
My lifestyle just changed. It had to, if I wanted to keep living in this beautiful Reality.
They say: "Yoga heals" and "Nature heals."
And it's true. Yoga in Nature was my medicine; but only because it reminded me that the healer is within. It showed me that there is nothing—at all—wrong with me. There is no emotion, behavior, or personality trait that needs to be "self-medicated" by any outside substance. Love never fails; and that means Love for my whole and complete Self...truly, madly, deeply.
Continued studies and practice fortified my experience of wholeness. But then I started graduate school. It was intense. I felt a little like Cinderella at the ball: in rapture for the moment, terrified that at midnight they would all find out that I didn't really belong.
I remember visiting the bar after class one day with a bunch of 3rd year students...already working on their doctoral dissertations.
They were 2 and "half a glass" in when I asked:
"How can you drink while you are writing?"
The most glamorous one replied:
"The real question, darling, is how could I write without drinking?"
Getting buzzed was like a creative right.
I bought it.
I started writing my own PhD work...enjoying the creative rite of a simple sip of wine.
Little by little, one glass here and there, turned into "half a glass" almost every night.
I made some stupid decisions while drinking...said some dumb things.
It wasn't debilitating, sure, but I certainly felt more tired than I needed to. Less free.
And then, that day, I faced that needling decision: to take a year off from the drink...
or to continue to pretend I was totally cool. But I already knew the answer—because I remembered—I am already home.
This evening I had a glass of wine—my first in over a year.
I might not drink another until next year. Then again, I might have one tomorrow...
But I truly don’t want a second drink right now (not even just “half a glass”)
...and that feels a lot like freedom. It feels like Love.
There are many, many factors that lead a person into addictive behaviors.
There are many healing tools that can bring a person back home to their wholeness.
If you struggle with addictions or substance abuse, please know you are not alone.
YOUR POWER IS WITHIN.
...but if there is a lot going on in there and you have forgotten where to find your center, help is on the way.
In Infinite Love,
R.R. Shakti, PhD.
On mindfulness and discomfort within the Shambhala Tradition, written by R.R. Shakti, PhD.
Recently Naropa University announced that Sakyong Miphan Rinpoche, leader of the global Shambhala community, has stepped down from his venerated role in response to allegations of sexual assault.
As many of you know, I am a graduate of Naropa University and the teachings I share from the Shambhala Tradition, including Mindfulness Meditation, Maitri, and Tonglen, have been passed down from a lineage of teachers through Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who brought the tradition to the West in the 1960s.
My direct teachers, including those at Naropa University and Pema Chödrön, have transmitted these practices with kindness, humor, humility, and grace.
...But Sakyong Miphan is not the first Tibetan Buddhist leader to cross the lines of ethical conduct. In fact his father, Chögyam Trungpa, was notorious for controversial behavior, alcoholism and sexual misconduct, in a time when women's voices went generally unheard—before the #MeToo movement opened the floodgates of accountability.
Since his death in 1987, people have been questioning the life and teachings of Trungpa with an understandable scrutiny. It is a considerable challenge to reconcile his transformational teachings on awakened living with the more savory aspects of his own lifestyle.
In a 2013 interview with Tricycle Magazine, Pema Chödrön speaks of her teacher:
"Trungpa Rinpoche was a provocative person. In Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism he says the job of the spiritual friend is to insult the student, and that’s the kind of guy he was. If things got too smooth, he’d create chaos. All I can say is that I needed that. I didn’t like being churned up and provoked, but it was what I needed. It showed me how I was stuck in habitual patterns..."
The Shambhala Tradition is based upon being absolutely truthful. Mindfulness is cutting through the bullshit of ego's habitual self-serving patterns. Maitri is courageously staring right into the heart of the shadow, and cultivating compassion within that conflict. It is making peace with the inevitable discomfort of being human.
I am uncomfortable.
The day before hearing the news of Sakyong Mipham, Drew reminded me of the recently released film documentary on the incredible story of Osho's renegade commune in 1980's Oregon. Six hours of footage in "Wild Wild Country" tells the story of how easily corrupted the human ego can be. Three days later another friend sent me this article on the "Dangers of Tantra". It is a commercialized warning of the dark magic that has been associated with Tantra's left hand path.
I close my eyes and remember stories of perversion within the Catholic Church—the insidious abuse of power. I recall the first time I learned of the Christian crusades and the millions of people brutally murdered in the name of Christ. I was a teenager. I was devastated.
It is deeply disturbing, heart-breaking, maddening--profoundly uncomfortable—to face the shadows of humanity: to realize that no matter how pure the intentions, anything on Earth can be manipulated and used for the glory and power of the ego.
The teachings of Jesus, Buddha, and the non-dual Tantrik texts tell a different story. They offer a message of unity, compassion, freedom from suffering, and LOVE.
That is where my heart is.
Pure light is without shadow. As soon as light makes contact with any matter, a shadow is cast. Darkness is not the absence of light. It is the obstruction of light.
For some, that obstruction is as simple as holding eyes closed.
But patience cannot be cultivated without trial.
Courage does not exist in the absence of fear.
Compassion is awakened within my own sadness.
As we cried together over the world's madness, Gretchen reminded me of this:
"It hurts so that we never forget why we are here"—to Love.
It is time to open our eyes...to get courageously honest...to face the shadows that accompany the human experience as uncomfortable and as painful as it may be. Together, we must cultivate compassion for ourselves, and compassion for each other, even within the conflict.
As Chödrön writes in The Places that Scare You: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
R.R. Shakti, PhD