The path, the journey
The path you will find here is one in which the usual theistic, Judeo-Christian approach to spiritual healing and Twelve Step work is translated into non-theistic terms.
It was then that I came to believe in a spiritual path upon which I too could recover. To my own self, I had become true. I wrote about this conversion experience in An Appeal for Pantheism.
The central purposes of this site are to:
- Chronicle my experiences with both addiction and recovery;
- Provide a creative outlet for my love of research and writing;
- Provide a resource for addiction treatment and recovery;
- Describe how I have approached the work of the Twelve Steps from a non-theistic perspective.
I hope that you will find something here that inspires you.
According to the World Health Organization, addiction is “a disorder of altered brain function brought on by the use of psychoactive substances.” Recent advances in neuroscience confirm the conclusion of the World Health Organization that addiction is as much a brain disease “as any other neurological or psychiatric illness.” These findings have fundamentally changed the way that addiction is viewed in the scientific and medical communities and will have a great impact on how treatment will be approached.
The Yin and Yang of Science, however, demand that dysfunction cannot truly be comprehended without an understanding of normal function. To this end, Part I of this essay reviews the normal structure and function of the human brain. Then in Part II, the neurological dysfunction of addiction is explained and supported by compelling scientific evidence. In the end, there should be no doubt that addiction is indeed a disease like any other and that it must be treated as such.
The midbrain connects the hindbrain to the forebrain. It is involved in auditory and visual responses and in motor function. The hindbrain extends from the spinal cord and is comprised of several structures including the walnut-shaped cerebellum which is situated at the base of the brain
The stalk-like brainstem forms the link between the spinal cord and the forebrain. It consists of the midbrain, the medulla oblongata, and the pons. Every nerve impulse that passes between the brain and spinal cord is transmitted through the brainstem. The brainstem contributes to the control of breathing, sleep, and circulation.
Discourse on human nature tends to focus on those natural characteristics which appear to distinguish humans from other forms of life. The general theme is usually anthropocentric and goes something like “that which makes us different is that which defines our humanity.” While comparing differences is informative in some contexts, it is an exercise that is too often undertaken as a means to demonstrate a special, preordained standing in nature for mankind and moral supremacy. In fact, the essence of human nature is not that which sets us apart from or above other forms of life, but those characteristics which we share in a common evolutionary history.
It is along this continuum that core human operational modules — such as survival, socialization, and the pursuit of happiness — have developed by natural selection. Thus, it is from the broad perspective of unity and inclusion that human nature is best described and from which an understanding of morality may be gained.
The Survival Instinct
An analysis of human nature must begin with the premise that all organisms strive to remain intact. This natural resistance to termination has long been recognized by luminaries in a variety of academic fields. The great philosopher, Benedict Spinoza, described the conatus sese conservandi (the striving for self-preservation) as constituting the very essence of all beings. The renowned psychologist, Sigmund Freud, famously recognized the existence of the life instinct, which he referred to as the Eros. And, most notably, Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection presupposes the preservation of life as the ultimate basis for differential reproduction and evolutionary progress. For the purpose of this discussion, the innate tendency to maintain one’s own physical existence shall be referred to as the survival instinct.
In common parlance, the word karma is often mistakenly used in a broad sense to describe the entire chain of moral cause and effect wherein similar actions produce similar results. This idea of moral causation was first espoused by the ancient Hindus of the Shramana movement in the 1st millennium BC. The principles are also found in Western society embedded in colloquialisms such as “what comes around, goes around”, and in Biblical scriptures such as “A person reaps what he sows.”
More specifically, however, karma is but a single element in the triad of moral causation. The literal Sanskrit translation of the word karma means action which includes actively thinking, speaking, and doing. In the Buddhist tradition, an action is considered significant from a karmic perspective if it includes the elements of intention and volition. The highly respected Tibetan teacher, Geshe Tashi Tsering, describes the role of intention in karma as follows:
“Intention is the most important of all mental events because it gives direction to the mind, determining whether we engage with virtuous, non-virtuous, or neutral objects. Just as iron is powerlessly drawn to a magnet, our minds are powerlessly drawn to the objects of our intentions
An intention is a mental action; it may be expressed through either physical or verbal actions. Thus action, or karma, is of two types: the action of intention and the intended action. The action of intention is the thought or impulse to engage in a physical or verbal act. The intended action is the physical or verbal expression of our intention.”
Therefore, karma — as the First Element of Moral Causation — is the intentional action which creates the potential for an attendant result. This potential is often referred to as a karmic seed. Just as a mango seed once planted will potentially bear mango fruit, so too will a karmic seed potentially bear fruit in the nature of the action from which it was sown. The karmic seed is the Second Element of Moral Causation, and is described by Geshe Tashi Tsering as follows: