Can Addiction Be Positive?

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please support us with a print or digital subscription!)

But it isn’t just intoxication, it’s a sense of and longing for union:

I unlock the Door from inside to myself
Step from room to room leading myself
Come to myself in myself in our Bed of Fire
Hear You astoundedly call Yourself by my name

The effect on Rumi psychologically — behaviorally and emotionally — are the focus here. Clearly, he has become addicted to spirituality in a profound way, and it transformed his entire life. A Sufi admirer, Sefik Can, in his “Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought,” shows how totally absorbed Rumi was in spiritual experience — including some moments of agony—seeing everything through a prism of total abandonment of all except spiritual pursuits.

Does such craving for spiritual experience have the usual downside of addiction?

Can it be overdone? Some spiritual teachers believe it can be distorted. A senior follower of the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Thich Naht Hahn commented, “We don’t meditate all day long; there’s too much work to do.” Yet Thich Naht Hahn does speak of “the deepest desire of the heart” and has, in his latest teachings, applied that desire to our relationship with God.

Rajmani Tigunait, a yoga philosopher and spiritual teacher similarly speaks of balance: Work within the community and in the wider society is the fruit of our meditation.

Perhaps it would best be stated: There is never too much or too fervent desire, but the expression of that desire can become unbalanced and disempowering. If useful teaching or other activity doesn’t issue from it, it doesn’t serve its highest function.

A final question to consider is whether spiritual longing is an experience open to everyone. Sometimes the question is worded, “Is there a God gene?” Are our brains “wired” for belief and for spiritual craving?

So far as I’m aware, there’s no such gene, but there evidently are areas in the brain that are activated when spirituality is experienced. I can’t say whether a need to believe and to worship is present in all people. I can only speak for myself. During years of agnosticism I never lost that longing. I’ve been able to satisfy it, not by religious belief in the sense of knowing what is true, but in opening myself to experience deep springs of joy from a variety of spiritual perspectives; that is, by situating myself in the nexus where all spiritual paths meet, while acknowledging that such a nexus may not exist. To put it another way, I affirm and worship a Great Mystery. I’ve not reached heights such as those Rumi attained, but I know the fullness that comes from worship, surrender and emptying oneself of selfish aims, however imperfect.


Is Workaholism Harmful?

Rule One: If work becomes a prolonged escape from painful realities, the addiction is hurtful. After a bereavement, for example, we can shut out our feelings with work. Long hours can be an effort to escape painful realities, leading to depression or apathy whenever we stop. But when grief is faced with full awareness, work can be therapeutic. Without the lost loved one, life may at first not seem worth living, but work can give life new purpose and help the bereaved person feel useful again.

Rule Two: Workaholism is hurtful if it causes us to neglect loved ones or other responsibilities. Marriage may fail, for example, when a professor’s wife decides she is a “book widow,” and a workaholic parent may inadequately nurture his or her children.

Rule Three: Workaholism can become hurtful if an employer takes advantage of it to overwork and underpay a dedicated employee. Such mistreated workers generally become disillusioned and may feel trapped and resentful.

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please support us with a print or digital subscription!)


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