Here is a blog post that I wrote for the Zen Mind Body Life website, originally posted here:
Ending a relationship is a difficult challenge. Romantic relationships end for a variety of reasons. It is usually a result of not being able to meet each others needs, whether by choice or circumstance. The end of a relationship can be very painful. How do you keep your zen in the midst of that suffering?
To begin, I would like to outline what a process or behavioural addiction is and why it is considered as addictive as a chemical dependency. A process addiction is a compulsive, pathological pursuit of a natural reward such as gambling, gaming, sex, eating and shopping. It is overlooked, in part because it is a fairly new concept and also because, to date, the DSM does not include it due to there not being enough research to develop diagnostic criteria. However there has been enough research done to establish that “behavioral addictions arise from the same neural adaptations that induce drug addictions.” (1) To the brain, whether the stimulus is chemical or behavioural, the process and result is the same.
The addiction that I chose to do research on is the viewing of internet pornography. Pornography, whether one agrees that it is right or wrong, is used as a pleasurable activity by a great number of people (the vast majority being men).The activity of watching pornography on the internet may turn into a habit, where it is repeated unconsciously and becomes part of one’s daily or weekly life. When it turns into an addiction, a person will have ongoing involvement with pornography despite negative ramifications, such as relationship issues, financial strain, or physical or mental health problems. It becomes distressing to the person with the addiction and/or to the people around them. The person has a compulsion and has significant discomfort when they cannot view pornography. (2)
Rates of incidence for what may be defined as “addiction” are difficult to determine, however estimates range from 1.5 to 60%, where approximately 1 percent of the population find it clearly addictive and 60% of a sample of college aged males found it “problematic.” (Interestingly, as a side note, recent research has indicated that there is a tendency for religious people to believe they have a pornography addiction no matter how much or little they watch, or whether it negatively affects their lives. (3))
Internet Porn Addiction is specific to the modern way users access pornography. It is not a once monthly subscription to a static set of nude photographs of a limited number of women in a glossy magazine. It is the possibility of unlimited variations of women, men, skin color, age, sexual acts, fetishes, and type: from “soft” romantic interactions to direct sexual encounters devoid of any reality to consensual bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism to the most extreme atrocity of outright sexual abuse of children… and all this available any time of day or night. Gary Wilson, host of yourbrainonporn.com says “Surfing the net, especially for porn, incorporates all the activities that spike dopamine and keep the reward circuit buzzing: seeking and searching, sexy material, anticipation as each page loads, novelty on demand, and surprising and shocking visuals.” (5) The power of sexual variation is demonstrated in scientific studies of how the male mammal is wired to become aroused. In these studies with rams or rats, if novel and willing female partners are introduced to the males, the male animals will copulate with each new mate until the point of exhaustion. Internet Porn is the human version of this experiment. Wilson summarizes this in a Tedx talk: “With Internet porn, a guy can see more hot babes in ten minutes than his hunter-gatherer ancestors could in several lifetimes.”
Internet Porn Addiction is different than other process addictions in that it is widely available and for the most part free. It can also be easily accessible to children and is sought out at a very early age. Canadian researcher Simon Lajuenesse found that most boys seek out porn by age 10. (4) Because it is so widespread, in 2009, when Lajeunesse tried to study the effects of Internet Porn, he could not find any control groups for the subset of the population he was studying. That is, there were no college aged males that were not viewing it. (4) Today, there does exist a large group of non-porn users who could be used as a control group: ex-addicts. (5) Porn is the fastest growing industry in America and is worth 15 billion dollars - for every 40 movies made in Hollywood there are 11,000 movies made in the porn industry. (6) Internet porn is only going to become more available and widespread.
Problems specific to Pornography Addiction are: low libido, Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction, Delayed Erectile Dysfunction and Premature Ejaculation, and a generalized loss of social and sexual skills in real relationships. There is also a problem of under diagnosis due to social stigma. It is the root cause of the same mental and physical problems associated with addictions in general such as anxiety, depression, lethargy, isolation, withdrawl symptoms, eating and sleeping issues and obsession. However, if the addiction is kept in secrecy, or ignored due to denial, users who seek help to alleviate these symptoms are not able to address the real issue. (5)
Because this phenomenon is so new there are many therapists who know very little about it. Many were trained when soft, static magazines were what defined porn, and also before recent brain science which outlines how process addiction is equivalent to a chemical addiction. Many users find it difficult to find a therapist who understands the issues or they find that they must actually educate their therapists. (5)Gary Wilson’s YourBrainOnPorn.com has this as it’s catchy subtitle: “Evolution has not prepared your brain for today’s Internet porn” The problem of Internet Porn addiction is powerful and difficult to overcome because of the medium that delivers it. Wilson’s website strives to disseminate information, help pornography addicts conquer their addiction and provide a social forum where people can contribute and share their story. (5) It is a funny synchronicity that the same medium that so exponentially exacerbates Pornography Addiction also provides much needed support, education and healing.
(1)Behavioural Addiction Webspage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_addiction
(2) Habit vs. Addiction http://www.processaddictions.com/habit-verses-addiction/
(3 )Pornography Addiction http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography_addiction
(4) Tedtalk on Porn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSF82AwSDiU
(6) Dr. Phil Zimbardo’s Ted Talk: The demise of guys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMJgZ4s2E3w&feature=youtu.be
Why does evil and suffering exist, and what is their purpose? What are their opposites and how can they be used to alleviate client suffering?
To answer this I will have to explain what I believe life is, and how I think evil and suffering came to be. I think that life is a temporary ride where we enter into human form to experience what it is to be separate from the whole. In truth, we are never separate from the whole, but the illusion holds that we are. The reason, I think, that we choose to live as a human, seemingly separate from God or the infinite, is because in the oneness, where we were before we came here, we wondered who we were. We could not truly answer that question in a world of non-relativity. We might imagine, or guess who we were, but to truly know would be to experience it. And so, the universe, with it’s myriad of polarities, was born in an explosion of possibilities and relativities: hot, cold, near, far, big, small. And most importantly, love and fear. The root of evil and suffering is fear. Fear makes us hurt others, allows a rationale to subjugate them, and ultimately hurts ourselves. The opposite: love. I believe that while we are interned here on earth, we engage in various roles so that we can experience all of the polarities of life. Once we have become cold, then we can know what hot is. I once read a quote:
“Perfect love is to feeling what perfect white is to color. Many think that white is the absence of color. It is not. It is the inclusion of all color. White is every other color that exists combined. So, too, is love not the absence of emotion (hatred, anger, lust, jealousy, covertness), but the summation of all feeling. It is the sum total. The aggregate amount. the everything.” (Walsh)
So evil and suffering exist to inform us as to who we really are. It’s purpose is for in some sense, our education, but more accurately, our experience. We are here to taste every flavour of who we are and who we are not. When we have experienced it all, we will not just think we know who we are, we will know who we are.
How can a client use evil to transcend their suffering?
They may use their conscious faculties to consider what evil can help them do: allow them to choose a different choice instead of react or repeat the evil that has been done before. To create their perspective and meaning instead of follow their instinct or previous parents and leaders. Each of us must find meaning in suffering and injustice. We rail against or accept it’s existence, we experience sorrow, loss, fear, angst, disappointment and more. And then we can choose, if we wish, to become a better person for it. We might choose to live our lives in dedication to healing an evil that has hurt us personally. We can look to what transpires in the world and choose to be or not be what we see. Or we might simply be thankful for the lives that we have.
Why it is essential to establish the client’s concept of evil as a functioning value of his / her belief system?
To give hope. If evil is seen as a non-functioning value within a belief system, when it surfaces it terrorizes and disintegrates the belief system. Evil is a potent force: it’s existence puts into question the validity and order of life itself. Much suffering is caused by it, not only the existential angst that many have in the face of evil, but the fear or succumbing to evil of self, or the evil of others. Perhaps even worse, is the idea that the majority have which is, “nothing can be done about it.” This apathy is at the root of the world’s problems and I believe causes more problems than the more rare instances of true evil. This is the power of the idea of evil. To establish a concept of evil a functioning force within a belief system is integral to giving hope to a person.
And what might that look like? What purpose does evil have?
Evil is the opposite of good, of love, freedom, joy, responsibility, awareness, kindness, generosity… if we did not have evil how could we know what these virtuous qualities are? If there were no spectrum and only one constant state, would not the vast stretch of infinity be…. boring? This is not to belittle or trivialize evil. Satanistic cults do rape and murder and defile the bodies of little children, as do family members in the tragic mind-game of incest. Wars continue for profit, where most of the victims are civilians. Each of us let children die of thirst in a world with enough water and food to feed each of us. Human life is wrought with the nightmares that we created.
Here I will for your entertainment and to uplift our spirits include one of my favorite quotes from the raw, talented, blasphemous and enlightened comedian Bill Hicks. Maybe evil is just part of “the ride:”
And so evil, though it is horrible and wrong, painful and unjust, may be just, part of the journey. It is the time between rides that beckons and gives hope, and makes evil less so.
Lastly, part of the self-definition that evil provides gives us an opportunity. The opportunity is not only to define who we are in relation to what evil is, but to create a new vision of ourselves, to become better, to strive for more, to evolve. This is where choice comes into play. We can choose to move forward, be better, remember, accept, embrace the evil in our lives, and the evil that exists within each of us, and we can be better people.
Walsh, Donald Neal. (2005) The Complete Conversations With God. G.P. Putnam's Sons
Hicks, Bill. 1992. Dominion Theatre in London. Transcript retrieved on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgzQuE1pR1w