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Yoga teaches us that all addictions are rooted in the mind. We know that the mind is full of waves- thought waves– and when a thought wave manifests, it projects into the mind something that is external. We pursue this externality because we believe- wrongly- that our thoughts are ourselves. When we make this mistake we are infact identifying with the thoughts and we become more attached to them. Once this attachment is established the thoughts begin to repeat themselves in our minds.

We need to detach ourselves from our thoughts. As long as we are attached, we believe that we are at the mercy of our thought patterns and that they are “us”. But when we detach ourselves from the mind, and our thoughts, then we are able to dwell on our true self on that existence or that consciousness that is real. When thoughts arise, if we do not identify with them, we remain content with ourselves. The thoughts have no energy and they subside. Therefore the first tool in healing an addictive pattern of behaviour is detachment. Through detachment we can free ourselves from repeating patterns of thought that cause suffering; we understand that it is our thoughts that cause our suffering. Generally, we think our suffering is caused by someone or something external to ourselves, but the truth is that we create our own suffering by entertaining certain thoughts in our mind. I am making it sound very easy. However the problem arises when we become trapped in our negative thought patterns. It is these negative thought patters that create addiction.

Many people suffer from addiction because mind is, by nature, addictive. What does this mean? It means that if we think about something one time, then we will very likely think about it a second time, and if we think about it a second time, we will probably think about it a third time and then a fourth and fifth, and soon we are caught in a groove of repetitive thinking. This is exactly how the mind works it develops a habit and then holds on to it. The mind is only a bundle of habits. The way to remove these habits is to replace them. We replace the negative thought habits with positive thought habits. Think of a smoker who has difficulty losing his smoking habit. He manages to overcome it because he replaces the cigarettes with chewing gum. This method works for many people. Similarly, when a negative thought arises stop for a moment and replace it with a positive thought.

Addictions are negative habits and negative mind patterns. They arise because many people feel they have to do something every time they feel empty or stressed about a situation. They might reach for a drink, a cigarette, or chocolate bar. It is a nervous response. The response becomes habitual and once this happens, reaching for the drink or cigarette or chocolate bar turns into an addictions.

The mind loves to repeat itself, and we must endeavour to stay detached from repetitive thoughts so that grooves they create do not become deep. We must not allow agitations, which are first negligible, grow in the mind, because if we do, they will increase in intensity and frequency. For example, someone may say something to us that is unkind. We must not dwell on the comment. If we do so, the intensity and frequency of the thought will increase and we begin to think of the person as our enemy. We become angry and resentful, not because of the comment itself, but because we thought about it too much and allowed it to built out of proportion. We repeat the same pattern over and over again even thought it may not be beneficial. We need to observe the mind constantly to ensure a difficult experience such as an insult does not leave too deep an impression in the mind. Allow only good thoughts and impressions to stay calm in the mind. The mind is extremely powerful but can only focus on one thing at a time, one thought at a time. It is very important to understand this. To keep our minds so focussed on positive thoughts that there is no space for negative thought or habit to enter.

Part 2 of this article from Yoga Life will be posted next week.