Tara Brach speaks on Healing Addiction: De-conditioning the Hungry Ghosts

Tara Brach speaks on Healing Addiction: De-conditioning the Hungry Ghosts

[music] Namaste and welcome. Growing up, my mom was actively drinking until
I was about sixteen and then got very involved with recovery, with AA, became very active
in… she was Executive Director of the National Council of Alcoholism for many years in the
region that we lived in and… So I grew up with a lot of involvement and
stories with the world of addiction. And of course, also all the AA jokes in the
world came across our dinner table. And one of them was that a man goes into a
bar, he orders a drink, the drink is served, he pushes it aside, he orders another drink,
bartender gives it to him and he drinks it and the bar tender says, “What gives?”
and he goes, “Ah well, I go to AA meetings, and they regularly say it is the first drink
that leads to trouble.” Got thousands of those. But, anyway, the point being that I know I
am not alone, that most everyone I know struggles with their own version of addiction and has
somebody near by, if not themselves, who is really, really struggling. And so we know… we know how addiction catches
our life and confines our life and creates a tremendous amount of pain. And the habits, the harmful habits, that are
really the most difficult, we feel like they are out of control and we feel we should be
able to control them. So there is not only the sense that it is
out of control. It is like “I…”, “It shouldn’t be
like that, I should be able to control it.” And yet, you know, whether it is anger or
over-eating or obsession or perfectionism and striving or whatever our version is, we
hear about the Buddhist middle way, you know, not being extreme in any direction, and it
is not easy when it is us, struggling with our particular really difficult habit. I remember when I first saw this cartoon of
a… a dog sleeping and it was having a dream and the… the caption was: “Zen dog dreaming
of a mid… medium sized bone”. Not in the human realm. So in Buddhist cosmology – And I have always
found this really interesting – one of the psychic domains that is described is the domain
of the hungry ghosts. And the way they are depicted is these scrawny
little necks and this huge belly, and the idea being that we have these really very
powerful desires – we are riddled with desire – but never really able to satisfy ourselves. And this is really one of the archetypal patterns
of suffering, that we, in some way, move through life with a sense that something is missing,
you know, that it is not okay how it is right now. It can take a feeling of restlessness or can
go all the way to the extreme of craving for something that is not here, but there is a
sense that it is around the corner, that the next moment, we hope, will contain what this
moment does not, there is not a sense of real enough, contentment, it is not like we get
to really arrive and be here. So it is a matter of degree. And our exploration tonight – you can hear
what it is going to be – we are going to explore addiction and the different levels
of craving. And again it can just be an uneasiness, something
is missing, “got to get to the next thing” all the way to grasping on to what we want
to a full-blown addiction. And one of the things that has been most…
that I have been seeing over and over again is that as we wake up on the spiritual path,
they are still there just the most obvious ones aren’t… aren’t, you know, in…
in living color but the more subtle ones are completely activated. So we might not be addicted to opiates but
we might still be addicted to perfectionism or to proving ourselves or to our specialness
or importance or being right or pleasing people. But whatever it is, even if it sounds not
so bad, it still hooks us and stops us from really living from a deeper sense of presence
and love. So. the Zen poet Ryokan says: “If you want
to find the meaning stop chasing after so many things.” So, our reflection tonight will be on how
the practices of mindful presence and self-compassion can help get to the very roots of the grasping
and the addiction and bring some healing. And even from this point on, you might begin
considering where you feel like this is relevant in your life. And again, could be just addictive pattern
of thinking, a way of obsessing, to a very… to a more a behavioral kind of way of being
in the world that really causes injury. It could be anything. When I was in college, I started doing yoga
and meditation when I was a junior. And I remember after six months or so I came
across this phrase that how you live today is how you live your life. And I just phew… So I started… So I went: Okay, today, so what is today like? And, you know, I started looking more closely,
it was around the period of exams and so I had realized “Okay, so I am just hung over
from a night of drinking coffee and try… because I really wanted to ace this exam…
and I was kind of kicking myself that day for having had… cafeteria, they now and
then had these ice-cream spreads where you could just get any flavor of ice-cream with
any topping and as many rounds as you wanted, and of course I had over done it, so I was
kicking myself for that. Simultaneously wanting to lose weight, simultaneously
obsessing about, you know, not simultaneously, but obsessing about a relationship where I
wanted more intimacy and… The point is: I was really getting the hungry
ghost syndrome, that how much of that day was tugged around by wanting something more
and different. I was also reading “Be Here Now” by Ram
Das. It wasn’t fitting together. So this was me chasing after too many things. Like really getting a hit of that… that
hungry ghost grasping. So with habits, as we begin to look at them
– and we are a bundle of habits and… and some of them are healthy and some are not
– and there is a kind of bad news good news thing which is: Our habits of the day really
do affect our experience. So if our habit is to be judging other people
or condemning our self or constantly worrying or constantly fantasizing and day-dreaming,
that is going to affect how we experience the day. And if that is the way we are doing today,
it is likely we are going to do tomorrow that way. Okay? that is the bad news. The good news: It is neuroplasticity. It is what we are finding out, more and more,
is that how we pay attention dramatically affects both the structure and the function
of our brain and our mind and our heart how… how we live. And that, in any moment, like right now, you
can have a certain kind of thought going through and if you pay attention, you witness that
thought and go “Wait a minute! That thought is just creating separation between
me and somebody!” in that very moment you can say goodbye to the thought. You can step out. Now if it has a lot of energy to it, it will
pull you back in, but you get more and more with this capacity to be aware of what is
going on. That is the power of meditation. So meditation directly can de-condition the
habit of grasping, the hungry ghost syndrome. But I want to make clear that meditation does
not get rid of desire. You know, there is probably the biggest misunderstanding
that I run into about Buddhism is that we are trying to vanquish desire. When I was in high school, I had a world religion
class and when we rated the religion that attracted us, Buddhism was at the bottom of
my list. The reason: oh, because I thought it was anti-desire
and I was this I had this wholesome hedonistic teenage thing of “Hey, let’s have pleasure!”
which it wasn’t saying not to. So here is really the message: that we wouldn’t
be here if it weren’t for desire. This universe wouldn’t exist if it weren’t
for attraction for things coming together, wanting to live, wanting to flourish. Desire is not a problem. In fact, the… the word desire comes from
the Latin desiderare and that means “away from your star”. It is the longing that comes up when we sense
in some way we are separate from what we love, we are separate from that energy and awareness
and love that is really our source. And so desire kind of… draws us back to
it. And in a very human way, the desires that
we have that are wholesome and natural to survive and flourish — desire to be fed
and be nourished, desire to have a wholesome esteem, desire to bond, to connect, with others
— all good. The challenge is that when our basic needs
are not met, and to the degree they are not met – our basic needs for safety, for healthy
bonding, for healthy sense of our value – when they are not met, desire contracts, gets very
fixated and very riveted, and it gets riveted on substitutes. You know, we might want love but we will go
for soothing our self with food. Just an example. So this is what happens. And you can see it in, you know, what… we
are… we are trying to get a reward, some relief, some something. And you can see it in the… I thought this was really interesting… how
this primitive reward system is activated in fruit flies when their basic needs are
denied. And here is how it goes… This is from the Washington Post some years
back. The male fruit flies deprived of sex may turn
to alcohol as a source of pleasure, from the magazine Science. It says males in two different groups were
compared and one… in one group the males were repeatedly rejected by the virgins who
they met that they were making advances towards. And then both groups of males were allowed
to choose between two food options, plain food mash and then a food laced with alcohol. The sexually satisfied males didn’t go for
the alcohol. The ones that were rejected: They went right
for it. So what you get from that is… make this…
bring that around here… Is we are rigged to… When we have unmet needs, we are rigged to
try and satisfy them some other way. We go for something else, we go for substitutes. It is part of the way our system is wired. And it is this contracting of desire and fixating
that causes suffering. Now the way I like the most… I think the most powerful way it is expressed
is through Sri Nisargadatta, one of the teachers no longer alive who I love, he says, “Desire
is devotion to the infinite, the eternal heart of being. And therefore… therefore it is not desire
that is wrong, but only its narrowness and smallness.” So we are going to be looking at contracted
desire, which turns into grasping and addiction. And its bas… It has a whole thought process that goes with
it. When we have not gotten our needs met and
we are going for substitutes, we live with what is called if-only mind — If-only I
could have such-and-such, that would do it. Then I would feel good. Then I would feel happy. And most of us have if-only mind operating
through the day. If there is any hungry ghost stuff going on,
it is because something in us thinks… like maybe… I thought back in college “Iwell, f only
I had that extra bowl of ice-cream”, “well, If only I lost that ten pounds!”, “If
only this guy really was willing to be more intimate!”, “If only I aced the exam!” There is something in us that feels like that
is going to do it! And we mobilize around that. And… and this is where the delusion is. We anticipate that when something good happens,
it is going to make us happier than it actually makes us, and when something bad happens,
it is going to make us unhappier. And research has shown that lottery winners,
after certain amount of months, end up no happier than non-winners. And paraplegics usually become as content
as people who can walk, okay? And it is because we have a happiness set-point
– most of us – and we might have spikes up and spikes down but we kind of come back,
unless we meditate which actually changes your set-point. So what we do is we have if-only on certain
substitutes, we all have some of them. So I will just review a few and you can kind
of sense for yourself, because I am going to ask as we go on in the talk for you to
reflect a bit on how to shift from that substitute-gratification, the hungry ghost pursuit, to really turning
towards your star, okay? There is culturally accepted substitute-gratifications;
so if we didn’t feel loved or if we didn’t feel, you know, we got approval or whatever,
we got criticized a lot we can get fixated on… it might be accumulating some wealth,
or having physical beauty, or social status, or competing and winning a lot, power, fame. I remember years ago seeing this little cartoon
that described a man talking to God and he was saying, “God, how long is a million
years for you?” He goes “Oh, it’s just like second.” He goes, “Ah. How much is a million Dollars to you?” He says, “Just like a penny.” He says, “God, can I have one of your pennies?” And then God goes, “Sure, just a second.” It is that grasping, you know. Substitute-gratification. When women are depressed, they eat or shop. When men are depressed, they attack another
country. And it is not always that gendered, excuse
me if you take it wrong. But the most pervasive… One of the most pervasive unmet needs where
we can see the substitute going is… is really the need to feel good about ourselves — to
feel like we are worthwhile. I always think of that dog on the psychiatrist
couch it is saying, “You know, it is always good dog this and good dog that. But is it ever great dog?” You know. And it is true that either we have… either
there is the substitute is because we feel like we are really falling short or we just
feel like we are never enough. Either way, it is the hungry ghost because
we then go about getting very hooked on over-working, always trying to prove ourselves and improve
ourselves. Usually one of the substitutes is rushing
and trying to check things off the list. I… I know this one really well, I feel like I
have developed a… a mastery in this one, so I can speak to it. But it is usually perceived as socially acceptable
— the busy person that is trying very hard to get things done and achieve. Now some of the substitute-gratifications
that we have and many of us have them also we just keep them quieter, are… they are
considered not condoned, not acceptable because you can see the harm in them. You can just see right away that addiction
to substances, eating too much sugar, drinking too much alcohol, smoking to much pot, taking
opiates — whatever it is – we can see the harm of it. So… And then of course gambling, sex addiction,
aggression, violence…you know we can see the harm. So that genre – still unmet needs, it is
just usually they are more primitive unmet needs in some way — more of a deep kind
of wounding, and it can combine with a genetic tendency and create a biological addiction. But either way – whether it is the condoned
kind of substitute-gratifications that most of us get away with and don’t think about
too much, or the ones that are frowned upon, either way there is unmet needs, it is a contracted
and fixated kind of desire and, as long as we’re pursuing it, as long as we are doing
the hungry ghost thing, we can’t free ourselves in a deep way. So let’s look a little bit closer at how
we change habits. Because those are all habits. If you think of the anatomy of a habit, like
the… how… the dynamic of it. We get a cue: okay, so there is a thought
saying, “Oh I have got to have something sweet to eat right now!”. That’s the craving. And then we do a routine to satisfy it. We go down to the refrigerator and get, you
know, so… a few scoops of Ben and Jerry’s, or whatever it is. And then there is the reward, the temporary
feelings of pleasure. And that feeds the cue again so that the next
time we hear that voice, we do the same thing. So it just loops and loops and loops. That is… that is the basic anatomy of a…
of a habit. Okay. You get a cue, you do an activity, you get
a reward, and it feeds the cue. There are three primary experiences of suffering
that through Buddhist psychology and Western psychology you can see that comes when you
are in that looping, in a hungry ghost looping. Okay. One of them is the obvious one which is: the
fix is very temporary, and you never really get satisfaction for the real need. It just doesn’t work. It is like drinking salt water. Except for in AA they say that one drink makes
you feel like a new person then the new person has to have another drink, you know, it is
like that. So if you are if-only, if your hungry ghost
is going for, let’s say, feeling good enough. You want to really feel worthy, and your way
to do it is to just achieve, you know. That sets off, you know, hard work and the
reward is, when you achieve something you feel the burst of, “Hey I matter! I am important!” and that is, then, that
feeds the cue again if that is your looping. It gets really interesting if you start asking
yourself: Well, when would I ever finally be enough? What would have… How many achievements? How many people would have to really think
the world of me to ever really be enough? And what we find out is that it can never
work. It is just like that. We are eternally looping. Always looping. So that is one level of suffering, is that
you can never satisfy the deep need. Second level of suffering is what we call
the second arrow. So, if the first arrow is that you are caught
in a looping, grasping after something, you are doing the hungry ghost syndrome, the second
arrow is that the hungry ghost doesn’t like itself. Self-aversion. And that shame, that self-aversion, keeps
on fueling the looping more than any other factor. The more we hate ourselves for the way we
eat, or the way we judge people, or the way we strive, or the way we are selfish, or the
way we lose our temper with our children, the more we hate ourselves for it the… actually
what that does is it creates more of an unmet need and more fuel to go ahead and try to
soothe ourselves. Does that make sense? Okay. The shaming and judgment is the next level
of the suffering. And it is a really deep one. I can say personally I have never seen anyone
heal an addiction without addressing shame in a very profound way. I have never seen anyone heal an addiction
through hating themselves into better behavior. Third suffering: And that is that in the moments
that we are in the hungry ghost looping we are not present. So we miss out on a lot of life. And I think when I work with… historically
I worked with myself and the… and the grief of that and with others it… it brings up
deep sadness to sense how many moments of our life are we on our way somewhere else,
are we thinking it should be different, I need something more. And whether it is the more obvious I need
to have, you know, that… that food to make me feel better or the more subtle “I need
to get this done before I can relax,” how many moments are we postponing this life on
our way to the finish line? So we are not present. When we are in that trance of something is
missing, we don’t take in Spring. We don’t really take in the smells and the
colors and the feeling of new life. We are just not here for it. Or take in the child, the gleam in a child’s
eye. You know, we don’t take in the realness
when we are with each other. We just aren’t there for it. We are on our way. So these are the three sufferings: that we
can’t really satisfy the root, the real root, the longing, the feeling of really being
one with our star; that we are down on ourselves and at war with ourselves; and that we are
not here for the very experience that we are most longing for. So maybe we will pause for a moment together. And let’s just take – I have been speaking
a lot… Let’s take a moment to check in. Invite yourself right here. You might take a few full breaths. And, as you scan your life – and you can
begin with today because as we have been exploring how we live today is how we live our life
– you might sense: Well, what are my top substitute-gratifications? You know, what are they? Is it overwork? That I’m just kind of attached to getting
more done, proving more, doing more? Is it to money? Or is it to a certain kind of status? Is it more of a kind of substance addiction
to food? or alcohol? or… what is it? For some it may be an addiction that is more
thinking addiction: an obsession. It might be the addiction to fantasizing or
worrying. It might be the addiction to judging. Notice the ones that you sense are part of
how you live the day and choose one. Choose one place where you can sense the hungry
ghost, the part of you that is… that is trying to get something more, trying to meet
a need. One that you sense limits your life, that
gets in the way of presence, that turns you on yourself. And see if you can just look through the eyes
of a very kind witness. Just inquire a little bit and sense: How does
the… How does the looping work on this one for
you? What kind of thoughts are going on? What is the cue? What gets you going? What are your if-only thoughts? Is there a physical unease going on that gets
you going? Smells? Craving? What is the activity that is seeking a reward? Maybe you are obsessing, and the obsessing
is trying to figure something out so you can have some more certainty? Judging and trying to control, get a sense
of control maybe? Food to soothe, to have a hit of pleasure? See if you can, from that witnessing place,
just acknowledge, with kindness, the suffering. Does this looping… does this hungry ghost
pursuit ever bring satisfaction, really? What is your way of relating to yourself when
you are caught in it? When you’re, in some way, going after food,
or drugs, or approval, or achieving, or a fantasy? And can you sense the suffering of missed moments? Where you weren’t really living in the fullness
of your heart and presence and your being? you weren’t available. In a very simple way, from this place of open-hearted
witnessing, just sense whatever your prayer is for yourself right now, whatever you wish
for your own being. This is really the first step of de-conditioning
the pursuit of substitute-gratifications, of waking up out of the hungry ghost. This is bringing a full attention to: Okay,
so how did I live this day? How is this looping going on today? And to begin to recognize with… with our
wisdom mind that the pursuit of our hungry ghost actually blocks us from the source of
happiness, that blocks us from hereness, from being present. If you would like to open your eyes, please
do. Some years ago at an MIT conference was addiction
researchers and scientists looking at, you know, the intricacies of the human brain and
one of the participants in the conference was William Moyers — that is Bill Moyers’s
son — who is very well known for his work in the field of addictions and his own very
poignant struggle. And he gave a… he gave a talk there that,
you know, I have seen some of the transcripts. I wanted to share a bit of it with you, because
I find it so powerful. He said, “I have an illness with origins
in the brain, but I also suffer with the other component of this illness. I was born with what I like to call “a hole
in my soul,” a pain that came from the sense that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t
deserving enough, that you weren’t paying attention to me all the time, that probably
meant that you probably didn’t like me enough.” Okay, so the conference room becomes completely
quiet because they have been hearing from scientists all day. He said, “For us addicts, recovery is more
than just taking a pill or getting a shot. Recovery is also about the spirit, about dealing
with that hole in the soul.” So, this is really right at the core of the
hungry ghost, is this sense that at that kind of deep, deep level that we are disconnected
from… from basic goodness, from a sense of basic connectedness with others, this hole
in the soul. And then we go off pursuing substitutes that
can’t possibly begin to touch it, we find they don’t work. But here is what is important to know: is
that whichever way that you get snagged, it is a flag of waylaid desire. That wherever your flag… that energy, if
you can stay with the energy, you can come back home, you can start coming back to your
star. But you have to learn to stay with it with
mindfulness and with self-compassion. So we are going to look at how we can do that. How can we take these flags of desire – and
we each have them, I haven’t run into anybody that doesn’t have some version of hungry
ghost on some level, we all are chasing after things — so how do we take, you know, some
of the places we are chasing that are most confining our life and say, “Okay, this
is a flag of kind of a twisted desire but at the root this longing to be with my star,
this longing to come home to the light and the awareness, the love and connectedness
that is here.” So, how do we come back to that? What I would like to do as a way of describing,
you know, how we can bring mindfulness and… and compassion to kind of un-layer, to de-condition,
going after the substitutes — I thought I would share with you a little bit of some
of the work that… I… I spent a number of years when I was still
an active psychotherapist doing groups that were blending together meditation and psychotherapy. And it was a really… It is a powerful thing because I came to the
realization… I had looked a lot into addiction as part
of my dissertation work, doing my doctorate, and one of the things I learned in my dissertation
was: Yes, meditation works. And for any longevity in terms of being able
to change habits you have to have a relational field that supports, it doesn’t work alone. These addictions are really, really tenacious
and we need to wake up together around them. So I did a number of different groups where
we worked on… And just brought together mindfulness and
compassion. And I thought I would give you a kind of…
a little bit of a sample of how they would work because they… you can translate it
and take the pieces and work with yourself in these ways, but it is really important
to then plug it into then working with others around it. In one of the groups, I remember one of the
first person… people to share… a woman who described that since she was a teen, she
had been overweight. And she was fine and moderate throughout the
day, even sometimes through dinner, but every single night she would end up eating way way
too many sweets. And she said she had tried everything, you
know, she had tried meditation, didn’t… budge it. She had been in and out of OA. She had tried all those different therapies,
she said a lot of dead ends. Different people in the group had their own
versions. I don’t remember, exactly, too many others
in that group. I remember one person was struggling with
alcohol. One person work addiction that was… was
creating… his wife wanted to divorce him for it, somebody dealing with jealousy, some
with codependence, that… the whole range, okay. So we began. The first step was she… she just was describing
this food addiction, basically, that she had had most of her life and the shame she felt
for being so out of control and how it was worse for her because her body showed it. It was like she was walking around the world
and everybody could see that she was out of control. But then we went around the group and other
people, when they were sharing their… the habits that they were caught in, let her know
that their shame was pretty deep too and didn’t matter that everybody couldn’t see it right
away. Their self-hatred and aversion for the ways
their habits were affecting their life, was really gripping them. So, it was very helpful for everybody to hear
from each other how, whenever we are stuck, not only are we struck, but we also hate ourselves
for being stuck. There is some sense of personal weakness and
badness. And just to hear other people felt that too
made it less personal. It lightens it up. That is the power of a group. If we are living with… in our own bubble
of addiction, we will not realize that. It is why the Twelve-Step Groups work so well. But we will go back to that. So we explored how to begin to let meditation
hold that shame. And our closing meditation was… before that
I had shared a phrase I love from the teacher Punjaji which is: “Love is always loving
you.” Love is always loving you. And what I asked them to do in that meditation
was to get in touch with where they felt out of control and sense the feeling of shame
about it, and then go to the place in them where there was the highest wisdom and sense:
What is the message that this shame place most needs? If you could say one message, one message
from your high self to offer to the place of shame, what would help you the most? And for… for this woman, “Love is always
loving you” was the message. Others had different messages. You know, some… some just said: “Forgive
yourself” One person: “It is just not your fault, you are doing the best you can.” Things like that. So, I’m just going to pause here and say
that was the first step was to acknowledge the shame and then find some way, from a larger
part of our being, to be with the shame. Because again, you can’t heal addiction,
or grasping, or the hungry ghost if you hate the hungry ghost. Okay. We are all together at this phase, right? Yeah, okay. So their assignment was to not try to change
the habit but, as we did a little bit, witness it — you know, a… a benign friendly witness. Certainly try to make wise choices but, to
the degree they felt the shame, in some way offer… get in the habit of offering that
message that… that most could help that shame-place relax some. And for some they came back next week and
said “I offered the message, but really what helped the most was remember the whole
group of us were doing this. It just made it not so much my thing.” That was part one. I don’t remember how many weeks we took
on what, I am just giving you the basic elements because in your own work, finding a way to
forgive yourself, to know you are really doing the best you can, it doesn’t mean you can’t
do better but you are trying as hard as you can right now, to remove the layer of blame
is to begin to work with the deeper needs. The second part was that they came back and
they started noticing they could witness better because they weren’t so busy blaming themselves. They could watch the looping that I described
better, so they started getting more clear on their cues. Anybody that has done deep work with habit
knows: You have to identify the triggers. You have to kind of see “Oh okay, this is
what is getting me going right now” so you can be more alert, so you can choose different
ways to do things. So they started to sense that, and we went
into our next mindfulness enquiry which was: Okay, when you are wanting whatever it is
– the fix – what are you really wanting to experience? This is the second mindfulness question. Okay? The first is: How do you work with the shame? The second is: What is it you are really wanting? And this is the question that goes from: okay,
you are going for the substitute-gratification, but what is this sense of “being away from
your star”? What is it you are really wanting? So we did a practice again – and you might
just close your eyes just to hear the kind of… get the feeling of the practice and
we are going to do it again more fully in a few minutes – but they did the practice
which was: When you are like that hungry ghost going after something, what is it you want
to experience? And often the first layer is: “Well, I am
feeling angst and craving and uneasy and I just want relief.” Yeah, but what is that like? And this is what, for the woman that I have
mentioned in the beginning, this was her process. She wanted… when she wanted sweets, she
wanted relief. She just felt this agitation in her. She just wanted it soothed. She said, “Oh well the relief, when I…
when I get that, then it is like I am spreading out again, I am more open, I am more alive,
I am more here!” So it is like ice-cubes melting. Once when she had the… she could just rela…
and then she was more “Aaah”. Well, then I went… I kept asking: What does that give you? If you get to feel the relief, and if you
spread out, and you feel more open? “Well, then I am more at home, then I feel
more alive, then I feel like I belong.” So I said, “Okay, so feel that right now.” And, “Oh yeah, just like a lot of aliveness,
a lot of space, a lot of ease, it’s like there is no boundaries.” She was feeling the expression of her star. She was coming home to her star. So with the whole group, I lead them, as I
am describing with you, through that exercise and this is part two: What are you really
desiring? And can you sense how it is right here if
you really keep checking. I call it tracing back desire. What is it you are really wanting? 43:37
Okay, so there… that was… the next practice. Then, finally, this is the last inquiry, and
you can consider this yourself. So you get triggered and, you know, you are
going into the activity of your obsessive thinking or the eating or the lashing out
or whatever it is that might bring you a reward of relief or whatever the reward is. if you plan ahead and you imagine that you
are triggered and instead you are going to have a pause and you are going to breathe
and get… get… get right here, feel some mindfulness, what alternative activity might
help to turn you to your star in those moments? What might give you what you want? The key with habit change is that you… you
need to know how to pause, notice what is going on, and in that pause, sense in a fresh
way: What really would bring me more towards my star? Now if you just for a moment just imagine
for this woman I want to kind of let you know what she came up with. And for her, this was her practice: that she
would have the thoughts about having sweets. She would say, “Okay, I might have them
or I might not have them but I am going to first do this process.” And she would breathe mindfully and just stay
put for about a minute. And she would tell herself, you know, she
was… she was feeling the sense of “I am a bad person, I shouldn’t be wanting sweets!”,
she would say, “Love is always loving you”, calm down the shame-part. And she… her activity that she substituted
before she would go pursue sweets was to send a loving email to someone dear to her. And then after that she would have something
she… that she knew she liked to read, and she would already have prepared for her some
fruits and berries or an apple or something. And if after… she went through those things
she still wanted to go downstairs, she would go downstairs and get sweets. And it worked about fifty percent of the time
for a few months. And then. for this woman, she rejoined OA
and it has continued to be able to keep the habit going of being more moderate. But interestingly for some of the people that
left the group, all of them experienced some freedom from… some freedom from their habits,
but it was the ones that got involved with either OA or some of our spiritual friends
groups, locally, or some other group, that were able to sustain the habit change over
time. So I want to say a few words about that and
then we are going to do a… a final meditation together. And that is that there is a reason it doesn’t
work to try to change our habits by ourselves. The real strong ones I am talking about. And there has been some very good research
done with AA. And what they found is that what works — it’s
essential to be able to identify the cues and to have a new activity to get a reward
– in other words rather than drinking the alcohol go to a meeting or, you know, substitute-activities
– but if what made the difference, that people could sustain the habit-change, was
a belief that they could do it, a belief that it was possible, and what gave them that belief,
that confidence, was being involved with other people. Some of them said that the belief took the
form of “I know a higher power has entered my life.” And I have seen the same thing with people
in meditation groups say, “Oh I now trust that I have a refuge right here, that this,
this awareness or presence right here.” You could change the language, but that belief,
that sense that “I know there is a capacity to turn towards the star, that there is a
presence and a love that’s here, I trust that that is growing” that belief is what
allows the new behavior to actually get integrated. We genuinely need others to help us, to remind
us. In fact, that is why when the Buddha shared
the Dharma originally twenty-five-hundred years ago, Sangha or community was key because
when one person was having a hard time somebody else could be more of a model for waking up. Then it flips. It cha…. We take turns. So with that in mind, we are going to do a
final little meditation together to close the class. We started with that sense of how we live
today really is how we are living our life. And to sense how much of that is shaped by
hungry ghost, by pursuing. Knowing that whatever we regularly practice
is strengthened. So, if we regularly practice going after sugar
or blaming other people or blaming ourselves — if that is our regular practice — if
it is perfectionism and sensing we are always falling short, then we are going to keep strengthening
those loops, those pathways. But the invitation here is that we can, in
any moment, notice that and choose to pause. Choose to bring a real tenderness to the parts
of us that are… are feeling ashamed, that love is always loving us, that there is a
tenderness that can hold us. We have the capacity to pause and to make
fresh choices. And there is a quality of grace in it that
it is not a self that is really getting out of a bad habit. It is awareness waking up. And this practice of mindfulness and compassion
makes us more available. So you might just take a moment to sense,
as you have been, the behavior you have perhaps identified. And just send a… a message, an energy, of
genuine forgiveness, understanding, care. The hungry ghost begins to lose its power
when it is met with compassion. And then just to feel your intention, next
time this arises, to pause, to deepen your attention a little and to sense what fresh
possibilities might be available. The poet Rumi writes: “This is how a human being can change. There is a little worm addicted to eating
grape leaves. Suddenly he wakes up, call it grace, whatever,
something wakes him. And he is no longer a little worm. He is the entire vineyard and the orchard
too, the fruit, the trunks, a growing wisdom and joy that doesn’t need to devour.” Thank you for your attention. Namaste.


  1. I appreciate the healing and wholeness that I am feeling in my mind, heart and body, now that I can sense my beloved. Best reward for the 62year old search.! Love to you Tara, from my heart.

  2. This is on my favorites list. I really needed to hear the message today. Thank you SO much for sharing your wisdom. It helps me tremendously.

  3. Excellent explanation of addiction. There is lots written on this subject, however, most leaves the sufferer labelled and feeling further condemned, which as you describe is on of the key issues in the cycle of addiction. I will listen again … Thank You

  4. I wonder if Tara see's the possible connections between the continual quest for Hope, is not the quest for Hope the same as the Hungry ghost's. A state if Addiction…. Hoping I'll be better, the urge that if I use I'll be all right …… Hungry Ghosts &, Hope, are a life time of Hunting, eliminating our Shame, or recognize it, embrace it ,and move on ward knowing that your doing the best you can.And what is the true reality behind this Addiction………. kevin J. Waters, adutalt child of addicted parenting, and a full blown addict in the life of recovery, where ever it my lead.

  5. This talk is such a gem. I am in recovery from addictions, and I work with people in recovery, and I have recommended this talk to my clients and listened to it myself more than a couple of times. It really gets to the heart of the matter.

  6. I've recommended this talk to so many. I'm still sober and this is still helping me to understand my hungry ghost(s). Tara is an angel.

  7. You can't go wrong with these Tara Brach talks,she speaks the truth.I come back to them again and again just to remind myself,especially in a world where so many people like to cover up their wounds and pretend that everything is OK.It is good to come here and be validated that your pain and experiences and griefs and fears are all very normal and to not feel these things is more harmful and corrosive thank to pretend otherwise.This is healing.Thank you Tara for these wonderful talks.They are such gifts to us all.

  8. I am psychogist in the Netherlands. And for myself (of course) and for others always searching for ways of healing. This talk is very helpful. Especially about finding this place/point of loving yourself with your shame, and about sharing – not being alone in one's struggle, and also about wondering what one is really longing for. In my practise I use Intuitive Reading. By doing this I found out that a person can feel more connected to what Tara calls one's own star – inner being. I am always a bit surprised that doing this makes really a difference besides the 'normal' psychological 'techniques, like Albert Ellis and Marshall Rosenberg. I think I can use this more consious now (being more aware of this shame part and wondering about real desire). I have never worked with groups although I thought about it many times. Perhaps I should consider this. Thanks very much!

  9. in part some of the guilt/shame comes from the man-made law(and associated stigmas). kind of hard to avoid shame when the law says technically "you broke the law by imbibing and are , as such, a criminal , deserving of a punishment". feeling like you should be punished in a scenario like this is as much external/cultural as internal/self. feeling like it was not a de-facto immersion into criminality&evil may take parts of the sting away…

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