One morning, I was at my uncle’s for breakfast. I asked my ten year old cousin, “What do you understand by the word ‘addiction’?” The innocent child could respond with only two words “Cigarette” and “Alcohol”. On my way back I saw a group of young boys and girls mostly in their late teens, some in their early twenties, smoking. With the hangover of the morning incident still very fresh, I walked up to them and asked, “Friends, what do you think about addiction?” The response was similar and definitely ironic. Only that the language was more polished and flamboyant. “Alcoholism”; “Chain smoking”. ‘Drug abuse’ was an addition to the list. “Dope” screamed a fat guy in a forceful broken accent which I reckon was supposed to be black American. Out of great curiosity I asked them, “You yourselves tell me that these are all sources of addiction. Then why do you commit yourselves to the same?” I just couldn’t resist running away when I was told, “It’s SWAG bro! You too have a puff.” Later that day I ran into a man who I assumed to be somewhere in his early forties. Needless to say the same sequence of events followed. After a long advice on how I should stay away from such addictions he made a very interesting statement. “Addiction is an ‘obsession’ towards things like alcohol, narcotics and drugs.” I had a new word added to the discussion. I was satisfied with the response.
Though back home with other jobs in hand, I simply couldn’t let the thought go off. After gazing at the surprisingly beautiful ceiling for an hour and a half, I left the couch with three questions in my mind. What is obsession? What is addiction? Why does addiction always seem to relate and restrict it to alcoholism and narcotics? I was back on the couch in no time flipping the newspaper in an attempt to find something which could have been half as interesting as yet another Virat Kohli century. And soon I had one. The article was about a European lady who had resigned from her job to ‘devote’ more time exploring a recently launched mobile application. It went on to say that the lady uses the application for 18 hours a day. Ridiculous was my first response; Eureka the second. All of a sudden, I had an answer. “Isn’t this some kind of an addiction? Or obsession? Or something akin?” It had to be. I never came across any article stating ‘Man resigns job to drink 18 hours’. Something phenomenal was to take place in my mind.
With further contemplation on the topic along with studies and discussions, some really eye-catching facts occurred to me. Obsession and addiction are two adjacent checkpoints in the race to misery. But then, what is the starting point? A curiosity towards something may turn into a liking towards it. Liking when practised habitually gives rise to love. ‘Love’ is one of the most interesting words I have ever come across. Everyone has a different definition for love. Gautam Buddha stated one of the most beautiful descriptions of love.
According to Buddha, “If I like a flower I pluck it. If I love the flower I water it daily.”
Such is the nature of love. The greatest surprise is that no one really understands it even though explained. Romantic novels and movies have been personifying the concept of ‘immortal’ and ‘eternal’ love wherein a lover is ready to die himself at the loss of his beloved. A concept which continues to mesmerize young and old alike, a concept which leaves people in a state of awe, a concept which leads people to shed tears, a concept I could never understand, let alone withstand! A person has his whole society to deal with, interact with. Then why does an individual cling on to a single person or thing to find happiness? Movies have never been my first choice of entertainment. But a movie really inspired me to think about love. I heard the protagonist telling his beloved “how much he loved her and he was afraid to lose her.” Now the interesting bit. Love is supposed to be a pleasant state of mind, an emotion which is pacifying both to the person feeling it as well as to the people around him. If an emotion breeds fear in the mind, how can it be a healthy one?
So is it actually love which such a person experiences? Or is it something different? It is actually an attachment which breeds itself into greater levels giving rise to such a line of happenings. The saddest part about all this is that it is easily and negligently misquoted as love. Sometimes even ‘pure love’. Funny isn’t it?
This maniacal attachment misquoted as love wherein a person associates his happiness or in extreme cases even his existence with someone or something is the starting point of this walk down to misery. Along the path it multiplies and takes different forms.
A man walking down this path experiences some involuntary changes in himself. The attachment he carries for someone or something, without his knowledge turns into the state which is called obsession. His mind is preoccupied with his source of obsession. It becomes the centre of all his actions and thoughts. “A man obsessed is a man possessed”.
Metaphor has always been my favourite figure of speech. And nature has always provided me with the best of them. Let’s recall a very common phenomenon everyone has observed. Post dusk if we light a bulb in an otherwise dark room, we observe that soon many flies and insects gather around it. They simply keep flying around it. Why does this happen? In a natural environment, insects and flies use the radiations emitted by the moon to find their way in the darkness. They attempt to do the same in an artificial dark environment as well. However, the bulb radiates light in all directions 360 degrees. The fly in an attempt to follow the light goes round and round the bulb. It is never able to figure the proper way and follows the light in a spiral which has no end. An obsessed man is just the same. The source of his obsession radiates and appeals to him from all directions. And as a clueless fly he follows this manic spiral which has no end.
Mind is always dynamic. It keeps on transforming. So are the thoughts borne by it. This maniacal behaviour transforms itself to a centric behaviour as well. For example an egomaniac is so obsessed with himself that he even exhibits an egocentric behaviour. He believes ‘he’ is the centre of everything.
While a maniac accepts his source of obsession as his King an addict is different in this context. He himself accepts slavery to his addiction. A fact which many fail to understand is that our minds are a part of us and not the other way round. Hence, it is we who should be channelizing our minds and not our minds controlling us. An addict miserably fails to understand this fact and falls prey to the unwanted attachments and desires his mind gives rise to. An addiction in my opinion is a physical inability of an individual to refrain oneself from something due to an extremely cohesive mental inclination towards it. It is important to understand that the mind gives rise to thoughts. These thoughts are then analysed by the intellect and then finally performed by the body. We see that the body forms the last part of the chain and its role is limited to carrying out the act decided and approved by two other forces. Hence the focus to avoid such an unpleasant situation should lie not in limiting the body from dealing with the source of addiction but in redirecting the mind away from the source onto more productive channels. This is also the reason why we see that a patient undergoing rehabilitation from alcohol gets back to his dipsomaniacal nature once back in the same old surroundings. He tries to believe the fact that his long drawn addiction would come to an end with this ‘last drink’. For him one drink is too many, but a thousand not enough.
Another difference between an obsessed man and an addict is that an obsessed person tries to find his obsession in everything where as an addict tries to find everything in his addiction. Irrespective of the fact who is deeper stuck in quicksand, it is wiser to understand that either is highly undesirable. So! What is the way out? Maybe a couple of more metaphors may help the cause.
I recently attended the wedding ceremony of my friend. The food offered was just too delicious. For a moment then, I felt it was among the best plates of food I ever had. I told few of my other friends that evening how good it was. Four months later, today is the day I actually think about it again. I find it to be really interesting. I found something to be so good, so attractive someday and I wasn’t even consciously aware about it the next day. So why do we cling on to things, acts and people when we potentially can let them go off. In this case, I also found that the maximum joy I experienced was when I was actually eating the food and not when telling about it to my friends.
Dedication ‘to’ the act and then Detachment ‘from’ the act is the mantra. This when followed meticulously not only avoids harmful attachments but also leads to happiness. I believe it is a very delicate statement. Detachment should not be misunderstood with an unwholesome approach towards the act. It simply means unnecessary clinging on to people and actions is where the genesis of the entire problem lies. Any action should be done with utmost dedication and sincerity towards it. Abstinence from the action is what actually completes it.
When I was a kid of twelve, I saw something which left a great impression in my mind. A bird in order to build her nest flew back and forth over a thousand times carrying small twigs in her beak. After hours and hours of such a dedicated effort the nest was built, built with great precision. She laid her eggs. The eggs hatched when they were ready. Again to feed her young ones she would actually fly back and forth countless times till they can do it by themselves. Once they were ready for their first flight, she would herself push them out of the nest. To take matters to next level, she would leave her nest and move on to another place.
Even a small bird can understand the concept so well. Can’t we humans do the same? Think about it…