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'Pain Is Part of the Experience of Being Alive'

04/30/2015 11:16 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015
Drugs Over Dinner

On April 8, 2015, celebrated singer Krishna Das and Drugs Over Dinner Co-Founder Angel Grant discussed addiction, suffering and compassion.

Angel:
For the last year, I've been gathering content for our new site DrugsOverDinner.org. In much of the information, I'm hearing that there's a connection between early emotional wounding and later-in life-addiction. You and I both have extensive drug use in our past. What are your thoughts on this?

Krishna:
The stories we replay in our minds about our lives are so painful. That's what drives some people to drugs. The stories are painful, and they just keep playing, and we keep reacting and reinforcing them.

People don't know how to deal with consciousness. We're programmed to believe that the only thing real is what we think and believe. Our culture doesn't teach that there's an alternative to living in our heads, so we're stuck in these thoughts and they torture us. People who've been hurt so much that they can't stand it anymore have to find something to do. Otherwise, it's like sitting in a fire. It's completely understandable that people struggle with addiction.

Angel:
It would also be helpful if, in our culture, we were taught from an early age that pain is part of the experience of being alive. Modeled for us instead are ways to hide pain, run, pretend, compartmentalize, distract...

Krishna:
Or dull ourselves to it. We dull ourselves to everything.

Angel:
Yes, instead of saying, "Hey, this thing pain is part of life and you don't have to escape it. You can be with it, and here's how." That's an unheard of practice for most people.

Krishna:
Because everybody's taught that happiness depends on getting things -- relationships, jobs, cars, money -- things that come from outside ourselves.

Nobody can ultimately get what they need from the outside. We aren't taught that it's inside of us.

Angel:
Twelve Steps wasn't my jam when I tried it a couple of decades ago, but finding deeply supportive community -- who accepted me without shame or judgment -- that was a life changer for me.

Krishna:
Satsang -- spiritual community -- is so important, because you're surrounding yourself, at least for periods of time, with people who are making the same type of efforts, who want the same thing.

Every effort you make to interrupt and change your habits of thought and behavior is huge because it's completely against the flow that we were born into. The flow is out through the senses, through the thoughts. Everybody around us -- relatives, teachers, enemies, friends, the President, everybody in the world -- is flowing out through their senses. 

To turn that around and move in to awareness -- it ain't easy. 

Angel:
Glimpses of pure awareness, while incredibly fleeting, propel me to keep living in a conscious way.

Krishna:
It's a process of going in and out, in and out. You get a hit of awareness -- whether from spiritual practice or something else -- and something opens up. But your own habits of thought close you down. The more hits you get, though, the less attached to negative thinking you'll be.

Almost everything we do -- all the self-improving -- what is our motivation?

Angel:
Self-loathing. We believe if we fix something on the outside, it will solve the way we feel inside, but the good feelings never last when our motivation is self-hatred.

Krishna:
Yes. We should try to avoid that.

Angel:
About 10 years ago, at my first 10-day silent-meditation retreat, I made an appointment with the teacher. I don't remember my question, but her response was, "Were you a general in your past life? That voice in your head! Sheesh. Where is all this self-hatred coming from?"

Krishna:
(Laughing) Our parents felt that way about themselves, their parents felt that way about themselves. Everybody in our lineage felt the same self-loathing. So what do you expect from us? 

Angel:
KD, what would you say to people who, in this moment, are fighting with addiction and feel like they're losing?

Krishna:
I have tremendous respect for people dealing with addictions. You have to be very patient with yourself and process your stuff, including the self-loathing you have for being addicted. No question -- you have to dedicate your life to developing good habits of thought. And action. Good habits support more good habits. Our negative habits are huge, but you have to keep planting seeds of good habits, of not going down that hole of the addicted behavior.

There's a practice where you repeat, "May all beings be safe, just like I want to be safe. May all beings be happy, just like I want to be happy."

You're extending compassion outward. This practice replaces the way we usually think, like, "I can't stand myself anymore -- I'm going to go do something. I'm going to a movie. Or I'm going to go out and get laid or get stoned."

It replaces that.

Angel:
Why do we dislike ourselves so much -- why is that inner voice so harsh?

Krishna:
Our culture is based on original sin, which means we're no good from the time we're born. That has partially led to the problems we have. Until we can change our view about what life is and who we are, it's difficult to eliminate negative habits that cause us pain, which only arose because we didn't want to be in pain in the first place. 

Angel:
To experience the sense of connection we talked about, you and I do spiritual practice, and these practices train our attention. Would you suggest that people struggling with addiction do the same?

Krishna:
Of course. A practice like meditation is very useful for dealing with addiction. Chanting, asana -- these practices can slow you down. Even if you're doing it for all the wrong reasons, it still has an effect. When we do a spiritual practice, it temporarily, to some degree, moves us in the right direction. 

What people will experience during the course of these things is really up to what seeds they've already planted -- their own karmas.

Angel:
And how ripe they are.

Krishna:
Exactly. The whole process is really a ripening process. When we do these practices, we're turning toward the sunlight within us, which ripens everything. 

Angel:
When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, some people said he was selfish. That's what people say when accidental overdoses happen. I get frustrated, because that view disregards a root problem. There's no compassion in it.

Krishna:
As if people who aren't addicted aren't selfish. Theirs may not be as self-destructive, but they're just as selfish. They're not opening their hearts or serving humanity from a selfless place. They're just stuffing their faces and buying more things. That's just as selfish and stupid. They just don't have the thing going on in their brain chemistry that makes them want to destroy themselves in that way. 

Angel:
In Dr. Gabor Mate's book "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts," he says that, from the time we're in the womb, through the first four or so years of our lives, our brain circuitry forms based on how we're nurtured. The architecture of our brain actually depends on how well we're nurtured! Nurturing means emotional presence with a child (versus just physical presence) and compassionate physical touch. When you don't receive enough, your brain develops differently than people who do. For one, you won't get a solid supply of brain chemicals that make you feel like life is generally okay. There's always this undercurrent of not okay-ness, so you seek ways to feel okay.

When I met Gabor, the first question I asked was: For those whose brain circuitry got shafted, what's the antidote?

He said, "Compassion."

Krishna:
Yes. Compassion means you're not dwelling on your own stuff, regurgitating it, re-chewing it, which is what everybody does. 

Maharaj-ji (Neem Karoli Baba) said: How do you find God? Serve others. How do you raise kundalini? Feed others.

Because you stop spinning in self-obsessive thinking. 

And as Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If everybody did that, the whole world would be completely different immediately.

This post is part of a series in a partnership between The Huffington Post and Drugs Over Dinner in conjunction with the launch of the latter's new website, www.drugsoverdinner.org. DOD provides the tools and the inspiration to gather those that you care about, to break bread, and have a compassionate conversation about the role of drugs in our culture. To see all the posts in the series, read here.

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Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.