The philosophical dimension of this concept focuses on the recognition that nothing has value in and of itself. Everything is composite, and everything is impermanent or transient. Everything undergoes a process of change, most easily evidenced in our own human lives.
We are not today the person we were physically, emotionally or psychologically, five or ten or twenty years ago. Why? Because the notion of “self” is a delusion. “We” are really nothing more than a composite or amalgam of systems and conditions. The “self” that we cherished when we were twelve no longer exists. Therefore, we can say that it had no essential value, since it was actually nothing more than an idea we had.
Because things have no essential value, our desires and attachments cause us great pain when we encounter something we dislike or lose something we treasure.
The understanding of the reality of change aids in establishing the spiritual life. We know that our senses can be deceived as in optical illusions. As a result, we develop deep feelings of hatred, fear, greed, sadness, and prejudice — essentially our basic egoism.
We cling to those things which we think benefits or preserves our egos, and repel or attempt to avoid those things we perceive as causing pain. Consequently we give rise to a deep desire to continue our lives (Becoming), and a condition known as “suffering” or “dissatisfaction”.
Throughout human history, we have gone to great lengths to attempt to avoid pain. And our cursory perceptions of human behaviours have, on many occasions, misled us to make assumptions that frequently created more pain and suffering in our worlds.
There was a time, not long ago, when our medical community diagnosed women displaying any number of common emotional or physical symptoms, ranging from nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, even “a tendency to cause trouble,” with “hysteria” (cf: The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria”, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, Maines, Rachel P. (1998). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press).
Since the middle of the twentieth century, we’ve thankfully seen a decline in the diagnoses of “hysteria”, and today it is no longer recognised as a valid medical disorder (although the use of vibrators are still, happily, acceptable for their other emotional and physical benefits!)
Another condition that has been terribly misunderstood, and which we, as a culture have used to cause even greater suffering, is the condition of addiction.
I’ve not only worked for much of the past nineteen years with those struggling to break free from addiction, but actually suffered from addiction myself for many years, following my being savagely raped, beaten and left to die, when I was twenty; after surviving six years of sexual abuse by clergy, as a young seminarian, in the years that preceded the rape.
Johann Hari, in his book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, provides an engrossing narrative and hard-won insight from around the world as humankind continues to grapple with the life-and-death challenges of drug use and addiction.
The video below, adapted from Hari’s New York Times best-selling book, explains all the complex ways addiction works, including the misconceptions that still exist, and the harmful approach most of mainstream society — especially the traditional recovery movements — still take.
It tries to answer some of the pertinent questions that most of us probably don’t know (and don’t want to know), including: Why did the drug war start, and why does it continue? Why can some people use drugs without any problems, while others can’t? What really causes addiction? What happens if you choose a radically different approach? And what can we do to create a healthier world?
I think that if we’re going to build an intentional spiritual community, or an effective movement aimed at transforming people’s lives, the ideas presented in this video, the book and the research upon which it is based, must be seriously considered and discussed.