A Nation of Addicts

08/30/2009 01:06 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why does it seem that everyone we know is taking antidepressants or some other substance to suppress emotional pain? Why are we numbing ourselves, and why is it accepted as normal? What is the common denominator here?

A slow but steady detour away from the independent values that made our country great two hundred years ago has landed us in a nation of addicts: land of the numb, mind-controlled, programmed masses. As a people, we have lost our consciousness, and with it a tremendous amount of wisdom. We have confused what is considered desirable with what is life-generating. We have lost touch with our true emotions -- that voice within which speaks for inner balance and self-knowledge. Too many of us sleepwalk through life following a set of social norms that can only lead to ruin: physical, mental, and emotional.

The hard fact is that just about everyone is an addict today because a sinister social conditioning has quietly snuck its way into "normal" living: the consumption of foods unfit for the human body. These foods are profoundly harmful and highly addictive. That's right: the most insidious addiction today is not to recreational drugs, but to grains, sweeteners, food additives, and preservatives (including hormones and antibiotics, just for starters) in the mainstream diet. Addiction, therefore, is a problem for every human being who isn't highly aware of what he or she consumes.

But here's the gem: the cause and cure of addiction hinge on the same all-important factor -- consciousness. We can understand addiction as a loss of consciousness. In today's diet-lifestyle, it poisons the biochemistry of the blood and ravages the intestine, cells, and tissues. Yet, we keep eating and living according to the customs that have been programmed into us by the so-called authorities, the market, the media, and the influence of our peers. We have become little better than a nation of addicts.

When our inner voice knows better and rises up to question the status quo, to resist the whole program, we are quickly labeled "depressed" or "chemically imbalanced" and written a prescription. In the meantime, the dictates of our culture urge us to silence our distress with "comfort foods," alcohol, drugs, and other mind-numbing diversions. After all these millennia of medical achievements, we have missed the obvious universal law of nature: when there is pain, it is a call for change, not a call for suppression!

Social norms dictate not only how we should live, but also how we should feel. We are taught to avoid "negative" emotions and embrace only the "positive" ones -- and we do so routinely, without even knowing it. These repressed emotions are the harbingers of addiction.

All the spiritual leaders and great minds of history -- including the Buddha, Christ, Socrates, and Jung -- emphasized the importance of awareness. And contemporary teachers like Eckhart Tolle have made the concept more familiar to people today. However, there remains a great chasm between the desire to practice consciousness and the actual application of it. For most people, living in the present is so hard to do. Nonetheless, it is the single most essential tool of personal liberation available to us.

Any set of social expectations that fails to honor a person's spirit and allow for its honest expression is an agent of repression, and is therefore antithetical to life. The emotions of pain, anger, and fear arise to tell us to pay attention. They come to us as friends, to pull our hand away from the flame. In heeding rather than repressing them, we can let them go, and also let go of our addictions. Soon, we can bring awareness to any situation with a penetrating power of discernment. We can see through the clutter of social expectation and ask ourselves: "Is that a social conditioning or a life-generating truth?"

We are a nation of addicts because too many widely accepted norms are destructive to our bodies, minds, and spirits. Our authority figures perpetuate the madness by creating more drugs for more illnesses and building more infrastructures to keep the vicious cycle alive. Frittering away personal power, we get ever more lost in the quagmire, blind to the road signs of our emotions. Addiction feels like a normal life experience rather than an aberration of nature. The modern ethos is to pacify feelings with all that glitters and sells. "Don't feel this," our culture whispers in our psyches. "You don't need to feel sad. Here, take this instead. Have a donut and a latte. There, there. Now, isn't that better?"

The cure for depression and countless physical ailments may be far simpler than we ever realized. It is time we (a) correct our biochemical imbalances through cleansing, and (b) expose destructive social norms for what they are and cultivate the power of conscious choice. It's time we wake up to what we are really made of -- as fully empowered human beings who know our own authentic needs and desires, not mindless automatons of an addiction-fueled society.

We all want to lead great lives, but a life of worldly achievement is only possible through a healthy, balanced, and beautiful inner life. Let us feel deeply and allow our emotions to nourish our personal growth through smart, life-enhancing choices.