Thursday, March 26, 2009

On Addiction and Boredom

Exhibit A: Ben Sanderson (played by Nicolas Cage), a compulsive alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas (Mike Figgis, 1995).

Exhibit B: Dan Mahowny (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), a compulsive gambler in Owning Mahowny (Richard Kwietniowski, 2003).

Addiction is primarily about the need for self-forgetfulness and absorption.

Whether it be addiction to work, addiction to smoking, addiction to the internet, addiction to pornography, this need is fundamentally because of boredom, the default state of a normal, sane human being. Addiction to substances (nicotine, drugs) can also lead to physical dependency, but it is very interesting to note that withdrawal symptoms exist for psychological addictions (compulsive behavior patterns) as much as for physiological addictions (substance abuse). And once addicted, due to various processes in the brain (which involve dopamine, and are well documented), the state of boredom is reached much more easily.

From a dialogue in Owning Mahowny:
Psychologist: How would you rate the thrill you got from gambling, on a scale of one to 100?

Dan Mahowny: Um... hundred.

Psychologist: And what about the biggest thrill you've ever had outside of gambling?

Dan Mahowny: Twenty.
What is this thing called boredom? Boredom is fundamentally because of "my" alienation and separation from the physical world of the senses and of people.

I have the highest sympathy for addicts, as they are people like us, but who have been unable to keep their boredom under control, and who have been unable to find meaning in an occupation, or to resign themselves to a sedate life of occupation. Due to various influences, they start on a path of self-destruction. They get stuck with their addictions which harm them as well as others, whereas well-adjusted people manage to find occupations which add value to their lives and others.

The disease of boredom, and of the need for absorption is global, it is not restricted to just social misfits and addicts.

While psychiatry, family and community, and ordinary self-help attempt to correct boredom and alienation through engagement and socially useful occupations, spirituality offers a more radical solution. However, the fundamental flaw in spirituality is that from a state of alienation ("I exist and am lonely") it seeks an illusory union with everything ("I am all that is", "Love"), or an illusory dissociation from everything ("I am God", "It's all a dream"), and not annihilation ("I am this conscious flesh and blood body").

All these attempted solutions (insofar as they try to defeat boredom) - engagement, oneness, dissociation, or annihilation - are difficult to varying degrees. The status quo is easier than all these. But even amongst these attempted solutions, annihilation is in a different league altogether.

Only annihilation seems to be the one which is of no use to "me", while others keep "me" alive (as a seeker, or as a dissociated Witness or Being, or as a Presence). And hence, to find someone who says "yes" to psychical suicide is almost impossible to find.


Pankaj said...

if annihilation is truly sought, how is a living annihilation of "me" better than simply killing oneself? it seems like a mind game, while the fundamental desire to preserve oneself remains.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Pankaj,

Free-Fallin' said...

a very nice and informative would be nice to read some more on these subjects in your blog.