At the end of 2016 I experienced a slow grinding downfall into a place of entangled, dysfunctional darkness and suffering. It was not so much a process of suffering more and getting worse, but more like lifting a veil and recognizing what was already there.
I had moved out of a destructive house as a teenager and became independent, something I had grown up thinking was impossible- and many people around me thought impossible too. Then happened the shattering of this illusion, and the recognition that there was nothing inherent in the universe preventing me from attaining my autonomy. This was all it took to dedicate to liberating myself or die trying. I was completely fearless of death even before this, but now fearless of deep pain and suffering and the unknown, fearless in the face of desperate toxic people trying to tear me down. I became autonomous, I became the master of my own choices. The painter of the picture. This journey happened 2012-2015.
But here I was at the end of 2016, I was faced with computer addiction. I was witnessing myself make these choices again, and again, and again. I was ignoring my own desire for independence and a life worth living. I was realizing, I was powerless. For the first time in my entire life, it wasn’t some external force holding me back, it was within me. I had to admit I was powerless to recognize the reality of what was happening, before I could make any changes.
The more time I spent on the computer, sedated and unmoving, the less I wanted to do anything else. My brain rapidly deteriorated in function, I couldn’t think hardly at all. I was slow to respond. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. All the other possibilities were so undesirable they didn’t even enter my conscious mind. My physiological being was entirely undermined by staying on the computer.
It got so bad, eventually I couldn’t even go on the computer or internet anymore. So I surrendered to this experience, and over the course of three weeks was thrown into a haphazard kind of “meditation retreat”, where I did almost nothing. I walked around in circles, I sat around, I managed to eat some food that I barely needed to put any effort into. And I started playing this guitar, and I played the same very simple patterns over and over and over again. I was in a deep meditative descent into the inner workings of my own suffering. A maze.
A few months before this I’d, by “the grace of God” as a friend would say, happened upon the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. I’d read it through twice already. First I recognized immediately the idea that people have understood “hope” and “hopelessness” backwards. Hope is desperate clinging to a possible resolution in the future. You cling so hard until you convince yourself to believe, then it becomes faith. Allowing hope to die is a painful process, but it is a process of ego-death.
So I became hopeless.
Then I found this book on one of my roommate’s shelves, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I’d never heard of him or this book before. I read the very beginning, where he describes his awakening experience:
“I cannot live with myself.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me. The ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe”, I thought, “only one of them is real.”
It was the experience of these simple pieces of wisdom that stuck with me, and untangled suffering from pain, and ego from self or consciousness. I didn’t recognize this as it was happening, it was the first experience. And understanding these base truths about ego, and thus ego-death, I surrendered.
I said in my mind: “I am ready to die.”
Nothing happened. I was still wandering in purgatory.
Because of the strength of my underlying habits and the limitations of my environment, at one point I did get on the computer. I ended up online talking to my best friend, and really telling him that I didn’t want to be there and had considered I might have to “leave society” and become a monk to free myself from this addiction. Because you see, it’s an intrinsic part of me to gravitate towards liberation and self-determination and not let anything stand in my way.
My best friend didn’t understand this at all. He kept talking about moderation, or just minimizing computer use. He didn’t understand how imprisoned I was within myself- he was not trapped in this addiction, he had self-control. He was autonomous, I was deterministic.
For anyone dealing with addiction at this level, anything that breaks you out of the cage and changes something about the addiction, weakening its foundation, is useful and life-saving. Of course, there are some acts that seem to break you out of it, but eventually lead you right back into the addiction trap, or lead you to other traps. So there has to be some way to recognize this. Recognition of what is and how reality functions is essential to becoming autonomous.
And so I got really desperate in this state that my friend wasn’t understanding, and that I was on the computer again. And suddenly this little voice in my head said “I want to die”, and I hit this place that felt really solid, like the foundation of this entire experience. And I knew I was not suicidal and I never have been suicidal, so I recognized this was ego, it wanted to die. It was ready. And as soon as I touched this foundation- it felt like a physical experience internally- it dissolved away, into nothing. Because I recognized the voice of ego was not my own, I did not mistakenly think I was suicidal, and ego was allowed to die.
The point of this story is to show what is fundamentally necessary to leave an addiction, to escape this trap. Many people outside of this experience, even those who have dealt with their own addictions, might not understand the importance of admitting you are powerless. For some reason when an addict tries to admit this as a first step, they are barraged with complaints that they are “making excuses”. Which is weird, because they’re doing the opposite of making excuses by taking ownership of their experience.
It’s actually a profoundly important experience to be able to admit you are powerless. You are out of control. But even getting to this point takes essential steps, so let’s walk backwards. To admit you are powerless, you have to recognize you are powerless, and to recognize, what do you need? Another way of recognizing is seeing, so if you want to see something- you have to look at it. And if you don’t know it’s there, you will only see it if you start looking around. You don’t know what you’re searching for, so you have to look around and give yourself the opportunity to see things as they are.
Observation in its purest form. This is also the purpose of meditation. You can say there are many purposes to meditation, but the simplest definition is to call it “pure observation”. Let go of thoughts, let go of actions, let go of letting go. Everything that happens, you sink into who you really are: the watcher watching what is happening. The human being becomes an extension, an experience becoming part of the story of the world.
In my suffering, there were deep entanglements of attachment, aversion, old stories of trauma, addiction, deterministic impressions, all overshadowing and obscuring this underlying reality of observation. In the next few days after ego-death, I was in a completely different state of being. I had burned a tunnel through this suffering, including the false floor of ego we often call rock bottom, and was resting on the true ground of Being, consciousness as it is.
I was starting to physiologically feel things very differently. Equanimity was my experience, often perceived as the inner peace that comes from the ability to see things as they are. Because seeing reality unedited is the pure form of acceptance. Acceptance is not attachment, or aversion. It is observation. I continued to observe, and move slowly, and do very little. The more you do or think or act on, the easier it is for noise to obscure your connection to conscious observation.
For most people that have dealt with addiction or old habits, it feels like a trap, it begins to feel as if nothing could possibly change. This was true for me too, but the good news is that the more it feels like a trap, the closer it pushes you to the gateway of liberation. If you can’t turn around and walk back on the path that led you to this addiction, you will inevitably keep going. See, addiction is not just attachment in the extreme- addiction is an entanglement of both attachment and aversion that keep you stuck in a loop.
When I was using the computer I would feel myself getting sick, intoxicated from binging too long. And yet the reason I used the computer was to relax, have fun, and eventually: to escape from pain and the hardship of real life (there’s a reason The Sims is the best selling game of all time.) So when the computer binging inevitably made me sick, I was becoming averse to it. A natural opportunity to exit. But I had built up such a habit of dealing with pain by using the computer, that the way I dealt with this sickness was to use the computer more. I became convinced that the problem was the solution (and this makes me more compassionate to politicians).
And so as an addiction sinks you deeper into a hole, it eventually becomes impossible to turn back. The only way out is through. You will become so averse to it that you won’t be able to continue on the way things are, because your deeper habit is to avoid pain, to avoid suffering. Eventually you end up making the choice to leave the addiction because it is causing so much pain, and suffering. Your desire to avoid suffering has brought you to willfully claim your suffering now, so you don’t have to continue suffering forever.
This is the turning point- to get here you have to recognize what is happening by observing. Usually, something wakes you up and you notice a key aspect of reality before consciously choosing to recognize. From this point forward, you can choose to continue observing and recognizing. Your body in its addicted state is made of reactions. Anything you look at will bring up a reaction. You have very little room here to choose actions. For now, if you keep observing, you will see the loop you are trapped in, and eventually the exit will be created.
The solution is always within the problem.
Now a person that has an authentic understanding of consciousness and this path, might recoil against the idea that there was ever a problem at all. But this isn’t contradictory to the statement, it is intrinsically part of it. To say “The solution is always within the problem” and “there is no problem” are part of the same truth. If you don’t understand, ask yourself what might lead you to say “there is no problem”.
That being said, there is another way of saying this same truth that may be even more all-encompassing of the nature of reality:
suffering is its own end.
Suffering is the closed lotus, enlightenment is the bloom of the lotus.
At first it appears a tragedy that some people suffer so much, and have been swept up by horrible things happening in their lives they didn’t “deserve”. Innocent people severely hurt by abusive, violent or ignorant individuals. Those who commit these actions of continuing suffering may be attempting to end their suffering, but in their unconsciousness, they never observe to recognize reality. All they do is pass on the suffering to someone else. A vicious chain reaction of violence and punishment leading to more violence and punishment.
But anything you encounter is an opportunity to recognize something happening in reality. I wouldn’t be here with this wisdom, I would not have experienced this ego-death and rapid path to transformation if I hadn’t lived the destructive, traumatizing childhood that I went through. That childhood led to my liberation initially, and to my computer addiction. These two paths were moving forward in parallel. And my desire for liberation lead me to free myself from computer addiction. And my computer addiction showed me the wisdom of what it means to be deterministic; unconscious. Powerless.
So I had started exactly where I was- the arrival point of these paths meeting each other at the crossroads: autonomy and determinism, liberation and powerlessness, conscious and unconscious. I started with this state of experience as it is, and from there, became liberated.
If you too want to be liberated and autonomous, right here and now is the best place to begin. So start where you are, I dare you to reclaim your powerlessness. Take a look around, and tell me what you see.