The Pain Game: The Game of Pain


This is dedicated to increasing our capacity to be in a conscious conversation concerning pain itself, perhaps even to cultivate some curiosity about pain.  By reading what follows you will be developing a capacity to engage in a dialogue concerning one of the most important topics you will ever have to deal with.  Some things cannot be approached head on and pain is definitely one of these strange topics that must be approached indirectly.

A game begins when something is considered to be more important than something else. This is the birth of a value.  There are obviously many, many games to play; many ways of re-valuating life, but to be in a game is to agree to the valuation of what is more important than what, it is an agreement to live in a certain way and constitutes a way of life.  Nietzsche is still trying to tell us that all our highest values will ultimately devaluate themselves.  He calls this the re-valuation of all values.  The death of God is his example of the failure of our highest value thus far to inspire life to overcome itself.  We do not worship (believe in, value highly) god and thus god dies of lack, of want of attention, we starved god to death by failing to believe.  In the beginning the word was God.  Now ‘god’ is just a word.  The original (long forgotten) meaning of our word ‘god’ is “to call or invoke” (see for reference.)  It was that by which we gave our word.  Giving our word really doesn’t mean all that much to us any more.  Talk has become cheapened.  We no longer believe in the creative power of our own words.  Now we use our words to explain rather than create.  The world is already created, we just need good explanations.

To believe is to invest energy in a word.  That which makes these investments is our self, or our will or our self will.  To will is to invest with value.  For the most part the will is a bad investor.  We obviously invest ourselves in words we don’t enjoy being invested in.  Then we pretend we didn’t make the investment, while we spend our time worrying about our portfolios.   I attribute high value to this word ‘belief’ and consider the game of believing to be of immense importance and well worth studying. Our word ‘believe’ is one of my favorite words. Its root meaning is “to care, to desire or to love,” it has the same root as two other high value words words: one is ‘love’ the other is ‘libido’.  We libidinize what we love.  To believe is to invest with the energy of importance.  We libidinize sex of course, but we also libidinize food and relationship and everything that we care for and about.  It is easy to see what we are invested in because it is that which stands out for us.  Everything that ex-ists exists (stands out) because we are invested in it.  That which matters, materializes because we are invested in it.  When I was drinking; alcohol and places to drink it and time to drink it, and money to buy it, and people to drink it with, things like this stood out for me.  Now I occasionally notice the beer cooler at the bodega and it is kind of like noticing “Oh, they are still making that stuff.”  I am no longer invested in the substance alcohol, though I never get tired of studying the ‘ism’.

As an under earner I play a different game and get a different set of things to stand-out for me: like ‘things I can’t afford’ or ‘reasons why I worry about money’.

We inherited most of our games just from being in our family and culture and time.  About these inherited games we are not conscious of our participation in the valuation process.  It just seems to be better to be smart than to be stupid, better to be successful than to fail.  We so deeply inherited these valuations that we can hardly get at them as constructs.  They appear to be true.  The science/art of phenomenology seeks to drill down into the games of life to reveal these (seeming) bedrock values.  The game of deconstruction seeks to play with these valuations until we become aware that we are the magical power beneath the rocks.

Deconstruction begins by identifying these value dualities (like ‘rich and poor’ or ‘fat and thin’) and speaks of the preferred value as the dominant one. A deconstructor could say that in the pleasure principle–pleasure dominates pain.  The process of deconstruction would begin by inverting the current valuation by considering the possibility that pleasure is not all that much better, pain can be shone to have some hidden benefits and it might even turn out that pain is in fact the superior value of the pair.  The process of deconstruction would end up re-defining pleasure as a special instance of pain, as a peculiar form of suffering.

Since life is ultimately devoid of meaning (almost) any dualistic structure can be deconstructed. In our time many profound structures are being consciously deconstructed: things like gender structures or racial structures or religious and economic structures are beginning to give way to the still mysterious process of deconstruction. This is often unsettling for the people still participating in the game (still believing in the valuation) but it is no longer obviously true that men are superior to women or that Caucasians are superior to African Americans and most of us now share the valuation that these are good developments.

Yet we still believe that pleasure is more important than pain. 

Only as the pleasure principle is deconstructed will we begin to realize how much we have suffered from it, and what our pursuit of pleasure has been concealing from us.

I am committed to the deconstruction of the pleasure principle.

(Originally Posted March 3, 2013) 


pain (n.) from PIE *kwei- “to pay, atone, compensate”.

If, as Alcoholics Anonymous tells us, pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth, still we must admit we are loathe to touch the stone.  It is all about pain.

We are so much in pain and in so much pain that we simply cannot distinguish the pain itself, like fish in so much water.  What do you mean “water”?  What do you mean “pain”?

Yet just as the water brought forth the fish and sustains the fish, without requiring that the fish know anything of all this, we are born out of pain and into pain and we are sustained by pain without even being able to grasp that which has always been holding us.

We are in pain like the fish is in water.


If the fish were seeking to get out of the water, the way we seek to get out of pain, we would think that nature had certainly gone awry.

Pain is our deus absconditus, our hidden God, concealed by our very certainty that god is good and pain is bad.

“I will multiply your pain in childbirth, in great pain will you bring forth your children.”  God the mother, feminine pain.

“Accursed be the soil because of you!  Painfully will you get your food from it as long as you live.”  God the father, masculine pain.

This is certainly not “good news” but it is at the virtual beginning, the genesis, of the Good Book.

I have heard it said that we are no longer sinners—now we have issues, now suffering is a mistake, and if our children suffer we ask ourselves what we have done wrong.  We can change the names: for Nietzsche it was ressentiment which accounted for the desire to deaden a tormenting secret pain by seeking a cause. “I suffer, someone must be to blame.”  Still he said, “As deeply as we look into life, we look into suffering.”   And even Sigmund Freud, father of the pleasure principle, (who was compelled to stop reading Nietzsche,) was forced to admit that psychoanalysis proves it that we are all miserable sinners.   Freud’s errant disciple, Carl Jung, said, “All neurosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

So far, what goes without saying is that our fundamental orientation towards pain is antipathetic, we just want to get away from it, unless of course it promises a greater gain.  We are clearly on the pleasure principle: minimize pain, maximize pleasure.

It doesn’t even occur to us to accept the pain and deconstruct the principle.

The thing that is going to make the difference is a transformed relationship to pain.

If it is true that pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth then the point must become to touch the stone.  What could be simpler.  Every day, in every way the stone is there to be touched.  And I suspect each of us can validate that our proudest or most transformative moments are related to situations and times when we stopped running away from some pain.  This touchstone must surely be the proverbial corner stone that nobody sees as valuable—petrified, petrifying pain.  Let’s go get stoned!

Does anyone know that the root meaning of ‘pain’ is payment?  So according to the pleasure principle we are designed to avoid or defer payment.

pain (n.)  from PIE *kwei- “to pay, atone, compensate”.

Does anyone know that one of the root meanings of ‘pain’ is atonement?  So according to the pleasure principle we are designed to avoid or defer at-one-ment. Our Amygdalas operate on the pleasure principle.  Buy now, enjoy now—pay (atone) later, medicate now, meditate later.

So we sell our souls for a cookie, or a beer or a mindless television show.  We sell our souls, one day at a time, for internet porn or romantic fantasies and a promise to do better tomorrow.  We don’t even sell them; we just don’t even notice them.  When it comes to the spiritual marketplace we are bad traders and horrible investors.  We are children exchanging anything for the bigger package or the smaller price or the immediate payback or the lesser pain. And we might as well admit it—we cannot help ourselves.  Yet the joke or the paradox is that at the same time we actually think we are in control and hence must be constantly dissatisfied with our performance.  We are absolutely sure we could have done better and perhaps we will next time.

So my constant point is to get our eyes on this phenomenon of avoiding pain.   

We are doing it all the time.  We avoid the painful conversations, the very ones that would make a difference. We avoid the unpleasant sensations, who among us can endure an entire evening without a snack?  We no longer even eat our vegetables first, we go straight for dessert.  We are no longer under parental guidance and neither are our children.

And yet we can no more avoid the pain than the fish can avoid the water.

(Originally Posted March 12, 2013)

A New Fragment on Spiritual Dis-ease

Oh my poor friend John.  He is in dismay about his disease.  Nosooner had he admitted to being an alcoholic than his sex addiction jumped up and amplified itself until he had to admit he was like them (the sex addicts) too.  He is fit to be tied about how everything is getting worse.  And forget about his gambling issues, the food/sugar factor and the fear of appearing stupid.  What is a fellow supposed to do with such a pleonasma of dis-eases?

Health is the amount of disease we can transform: holistic health becomes a function of holistic disease. In the realm of the spirit, everything is always connected to its opposite.

We would like to fit our disease into the existing models of good science and common sense but the essence of our disease is not a well behaved phenomenon.  Spiritual disease is essentially excessive and inherently transgressive.  It exceeds our psycho-physical, mind/body, dualistic models of life and it transgresses all our simplistic codes of rational behavior and moral ideals.  In its cunning, baffling and powerful way, our disease will actually use our fixation on ideals to create pathways that lead us deeper and deeper into insanity, like an anorexic’s pursuit of her ideal weight or a love addicts pursuit of the perfect relationship.  In light of this we might be able to hear Nietzsche’s proposal that morality itself might turn out to be the danger of dangers, and that ultimately all our highest values must devaluate themselves.  Our disease is profoundly a-rational, and we are officially looking to be restored to sanity.

Spiritual dis-ease is a hydra! It has many necks with many faces—but it has only one source: resentment!  What could this mean?

“Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more (of us) than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” ~ Bill Wilson

“Resentment is the narcotic we cannot help desiring to deaden pain of any kind.” ~ Nietzsche

Pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth.  Why are we not lining up to touch the stone?

“with (us), whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit.” ~ Bill Wilson

“For that man be delivered from resentment: that is the bridge to the highest hope for me, and a rainbow after long storms.” ~ Nietzsche

What did this man Nietzsche know about resentment that he made it definitive of humanity so far, and virtually defined his misunderstood ‘overman’ as who we could become if we got beyond our resentfulness?

“The desire (of resentment) is to deaden a tormenting secret pain and to drive it out of consciousness, at least for the moment, and for that one requires an affect, as savage an affect as possible, and in order to excite that–any pretext at all.”

“We tear open our oldest wounds, we bleed from long healed scars, we make evil doers out of our friends, wives, children and whoever else stands closest to us…I suffer—someone must be to blame!” ~ Nietzsche

The philosophers tell us our disease is an expression of freedom.

When Kierkegaard wrote his masterwork on spiritual disease, The Sickness Unto Death,he declared that the disease was universal and that we simply couldn’t heal without the aid of a higher power.  I don’t know if we can stand to hear such talk.  We want to get better.  Most of us certainly cannot hear him when, after describing the disease psychologically in terms of despair, he goes on to repeat his analysis again in more rigorously spiritual terms, using the word ‘sin’.  We just cannot get our ears or our minds around such talk.  We can hardly get our eyes to look at the words.  We have deemed the words archaic and old fashioned.  Perhaps we could simply re-deem the word ‘sin’ by returning it to its rootedness in the the verb ‘to be’ where it is especially related to the way of being considered ‘soothful’ i.e. truthful.  Sin is a way of being.

sin (n.) Old English synn “moral wrongdoing, offense against God, misdeed,” from Proto-Germanic *sundjo (cf. Old Saxon sundia, Old Frisian sende, Middle Dutch sonde, GermanSünde “sin, transgression, trespass, offense”), probably ultimately “true” (cf. Gothicsonjis, Old Norse sannr “true”), from PIE *es-ont-, prp. of root *es- “to be” (see is).

Today we are no longer sinners, today we have ‘issues’.

“This is how it is, spiritually understood, with us human beings.  We have a suspicion about ourselves; we gradually become conscious that we are not sober.” What did this man Kierkegaard know about spirit that allowed him to say this in 1850, in a piece titled,On Becoming Sober?

We debate about the ‘disease concept’, insisting on making the whole thing acceptable in terms of natural science.  Nowadays one quotes ‘brain science’ like the very oracle itself.  Brain science says there is no free will.  Brain science says….well, what does brain science not say?  ‘Neuro-‘ has become a prefix.  Now we have neuro-philosophy and neuro-epistemology alongside neuroscience and, believe it or not there is even a powerful lobby for neuro-phenomenology.  I’m sure someone has already coined the neologism neuro-politics.  What can not be usurped with a prefix and a hyphen?

But what is a self respecting addict to do?  Neuroscience has said there is no such thing as addiction even as it multiplies the symptoms and strains to write a DSM-V to determine which symptoms are officially fundable and prescribable.  Spiritual disease, if there is such a thing, will have to be articulated in terms of the neural-correlate of consciousness, a very hard problem for the neuro-philosophers and neuroscientists.  After all, physically, there are really only neurons firing.  Addiction is probably like the color red or the sound of a trumpet, a subjective something or other that doesn’t really exist, like a sunset or a symphony, or a nightmare.

But my friend John cannot help going to massage parlors and eating sugar and worrying about going to hell for his behavior.  He really loves his wife but does not have the nerve to tell her what he does because it will prove he doesn’t love her.  No happy ending there.

(Originally Posted March 19, 2013)

Extremes Meet

Extremes meet: good and bad, good and evil, mind and body, past and future–extremes meet and repel each other or turn into each other, they either polarize into opposites or unify into complements or both oppose and complement.  It is Groundhogs Day all over and over, again and again, endless repetition, and eternal recurrence of the same.

In the realm of spirit, everything is always connected to its opposite: thin is never without fat, poor travels the same rails as wealth.

I think of poor Bill Wilson trying to get sober.   He can’t help himself from stealing bits of Lois’ meager income to buy bathtub gin and off he goes again, endless repetition.  An alcoholic in his cups is not a pretty sight and Bill’s sordid behavior would be hard to recognize as the prelude to one of the greatest lives of service since Jesus Christ.  Opposites necessarily arise together, generate each other, require and constitute each other and there is nothing we can do about it except to accept it.  Which for the most part is exactly what we don’t do and probably won’t do.  We are like the Pharisees in the bible who tried to get to heaven by obeying the law.  I call it looking for a one ended stick, i.e. trying to be only good ina good/bad paradigm, or only right in a right/wrong universe.  We have either/or minds trying to make sense of a both/and world.  Saint Paul’s words still haven’t sunk in, i.e. that reason just doesn’t work the way spirit does.  “The purpose of the law is not to obey it, but rather to demonstrate that we will not obey it.  The purpose of the law is to multiply the sense of sin.”  What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?  Well, what do philosophy and religion and psychology and neuroscience have to do with our disease?  Many people don’t like to listen to Paul because he is so enthusiastic, the original en-theos-iast.  Still, if Bill had not been such a miserable sinner none of us would have been able to identify with him.   It is his woundedness that inspires us to heal, his hopelessness actually grounds our highest hope.

As Nietzsche said, “Health is the amount of disease we can overcome.”

So far, officially, recovery has read only two books.  In recovery everything we know officially comes either from the Bible, especially the Gospel of James, or The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.  Most of us haven’t actually read either of these books,  but Bill devoured them and wrote what he digested into our program.  The day after his white light experience at Townes Hospital his inspirational friend Ebby, the one who had given Bill the spiritual take on alcoholism, and led him to the Oxford group, showed up at Townes with a copy of William James still famous book through which Bill was able to articulate his ‘hot flash’.  We owe everything, from our sobriety to our philosophy, to Ebby, who did not stay sober, to Ebby, whose resentments took him out again and again.

Only two books, but what a prodigious return on investment.  Almost never have so many owedso much to so few books which they still haven’t read.  We have certainly used them well.  As Bill was fond of saying,  AA is a kind of spiritual kindergarten.  We all, in my generation (baby boomers), remember from kindergarten that Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, and we still use our ABC’s without noticing, so well did we learn our lessons.  In recovery we return to our official books, Alcoholics Anonymous (unofficially called the Big Book for historical reasons pertaining to size) and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  These are our primers and we have digested them well and pass on the messages to each new sufferer.

But each new sufferer begins in kindergarten and none of us outgrow the need to relearn those first lessons and to keep them green.  Spiritual health seems to require the willingness to learn the same simple lesson anew each day, to begin each day in kindergarten.

It is a miracle that Bill succeeded in helping us learn a few simple things, simple things with the power to transform our lives over and over, one day at a time.  Today we say we have a simple program for complex people.  We are drawn to complexity, virtually addicted to it.  It is difficult for us to stay with things that are simple.  That everything requires its opposite in order to exist and that the opposites complement each other, despite the appearance of opposition, such things trouble and unsettle our linear minds.  In action our thinking drops them out.  Our minds are inherently decisive, i.e they seek to ‘cut-off’ (=de-cide) the alternative.  Just as the presupposition ofsobriety is drunkeness, the ground of anything is its opposite.  This may be fine for the philosophers and we may sort of know this, but we still want to have a ‘thin’ without ‘fat’ and ‘rich’ without ‘poor’.  We want one ended sticks.  We want to cut off the alternative.  We want to be saved without admitting to being sinners.  We have not yet grasped the value and importance of what William James considered a defining prelude to spiritual awakening, i.e. the experience of something being fundamentally wrong with me as I am constituted.  (This does not mean that something is wrong with us.)  We want a world where we can gamble without having to face the possibility of being a loser, and above all we want power that cancels powerlessness.  But in recovery, they don’t turn the lights on until we admit to holding the short end of the stick, i.e. until we accept and admit that we are powerless over some essential aspect of our lives.  The joke is that even if we begin with the short end, in the light of recovery we will discover that every stick has two ends, that if we get straightened out about which way is down, we will find we already know about which way is up and that powerlessness gives access to undreamed of possibilities.  We must overcome our addiction to clear and distinct ideas, to remain open to the truths that don’t fit, the truths that are too simple to be understood; the simple truths that we must learn to create for ourselves in order to gain access to the experiences they can generate.  Our programs are full of these simple sayings and it is probably a profoundly simple intuition that guides most groups to hang the slogan “Think, Think, Think” upside down.  Program sets many things on their head in the process ofstanding us on our feet.

We live in complex worlds but there is a genuine simplicity beneath all this complexity.  In recovery we are told we have a three-fold disease.  The Big Book tells us, “we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.  When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”  This is simplicity itself!  Where did they get this clarity of vision?  Our minds consider it to be information, something else to know about, something like the other nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety seven things we know.  It is important here to remind ourselves that we have a mental disease.  Our self-knowledge not only avails us nothing, it tranquilizes us, while availing us nothing.  Knowing we have a three-fold disease conceals the mystery of these three folds and their connection to the source of all mystery.  Knowing we have a three-fold disease obscures the possibility of actually unfolding these folds and returning to source.

The discipline and practice that can inquire into these things and penetrate the foundations of our disease and our recovery is the one that has historically been the least interested in us: philosophy.  Philosophy is a still hidden resource for us, while we seem to be hidden from the philosophers.  They seem to be totally unaware that addiction is, in fact, the killer application for post-modern thought.  It was, rightly, to philosophy that Bill was guided when he needed to make sense of his profound personal awakening.  Philosophy didn’t get Bill sober, but it did give him the way to articulate his experience so that he could communicate it effectively to another drunk, which is what kept him sober.  It is ironic that he recognized William James more as a psychologist, like Carl Jung, than as a philosopher.  It is still philosophy that can speak across the disciplines of science and religion, psychology and spirituality.  Was it just a lucky stroke that Ebby provided Bill with one of the very few books that could have bridged the cultural divisions of his time and spoke with a voice that was both scientifically respectable and spiritually valid?  Was it accidental that, very much through William James, AA learned to speak a vocabulary of ‘will’ and ‘belief’ that appreciated the seniority of emotion to reason?

Coming into program we can hardly help taking these things for granted.  We simply learn to speak the jargon of recovery and we do experience the miracles.  We learn a new, more powerful way to communicate and too often assume, naively, that such power must indicate objective truth.  We are not scientists or philosophers or theologians.  Initially we were just a group of drunks who wanted to stay sober one day at a time.  We are like children on the first day of school, some innocently excited, some suspiciously terrified.  We can hardly be blamed for not appreciating the miracle of our own genealogy.  But there are miracles here aplenty, miracles which should be recognized and stories that should be told, so that recovery can come fully into its own and play the role it is capable of playing in accelerating the social and cultural transformation the world is currently undergoing.


I entered recovery on hearing the simple truth that I could not stop drinking on my own.  I don’t think I ever would have guessed this in a million years.  Every time I drank, I’d figure out how I would stop.  I had obviously learned some lesson that was now very clear to me and there was no way I would make that mistake again; and then of course, I’d make exactly that mistake and I’d drink.  It took another alcoholic and an ironically embarrassing situation to get me clear but once I heard the message from another drunk, I simply never had to drink again.  That was definitely a good thing because as soon as I got sober my other issues began to assert themselves.


I want to propose a somewhat philosophical examination of a few simple things, on the premise that such an examination will deepen our ability to participate in the healing our disease makes possible.

The topics I would most like to examine are:

  • The exact meaning and nature of our three-fold disease, focusing on its essence and its precise manner of existing.  Clearing up some profound and simple confusion about the notions of body, mind and spirit.
  • The exact meaning and nature of ‘resentment’, considered as the source of all forms of spiritual disease.
  • The future of recovery.
    • How can we leverage the lessons of AA to get the same kind of decisive result in areas of food, sex, relationship and money.
    • The re-spiritualization or re-enchantment of life.

Along this way I hope to introduce you to a few other books and a few other thinkers, all of whom I’m hoping and believing you will find interesting as personalities and fruitful as guides pointing out fascinating ways to observe your own life as you trudge along your road of happy destiny.

(Originally Posted March 29, 2013)

Mental Warming

“Truth is the kind of error without which a certain species of being could not exist.”- Nietzsche

“I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be.  When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it.”- Mark Twain                                                                                                                                  

 It is never too late to have had a wonderful childhood.

We don’t know we can change the past, but I bet if you were given the freedom to actually re-create your personal past newly, right now, you wouldn’t reinvent much of what you now think actually happened.  Whatever did actually happen is so gone it couldn’t possibly be retrieved.  What shows up are the icons we made, the images and interpretations, along with the emotions, that re-present what we think happened.  We look at those icons and we feel those feelings.  We are still unaware of the power we have to create the past and we are bewitched by our own, still current interpretations, which we experience over and over as the truth.

We have automated our sense of time and thereby frozen the fluid creative energy into solid thought forms, unmindful mental formations.  The word ‘automatic’ means self-willed (from autos “self” (see auto-)+ matos=“thinking, animated, willing,” from PIE *mn-to-, from root *men- “to think” (see mind (n.)).  We have frozen the infinitely fluid creative power of imagination into stable finite ice-cubes of knowledge, memories and emotional cues.  Today everything is known, everything is automated, we are automatons, i.e. extreme examples of self-will-run-riot.  We do not like to hear that we do not remember what happened; that we only remember our automated interpretations.  Our thoughts are automated, our memories are automated, our sensations and emotions are automated and our futural projections and anticipations are automated.  Our relationships are automated.  You say something that reminds me of something my father used to say and I create the experience I had when I was seven, or three but I now think you are the cause of my unwanted experience.  “We invariably find that at sometime in the past we made decisions, based on self that later placed us in a position to be hurt.”  My being hurt reminds you of the way your mother used to make you feel guilty and you get mad at me for spoiling your day.  Our relationships are stabilized, institutionalized resentments mirroring the conversations had by the people from whom we were introduced into language.

We are waiting for a better tomorrow that will never come because we lack imagination with respect to time.  We think time is real and so whatever happened has to be real and all that is going to happen will of course be real and so we can’t even imagine an unreal future that is here now, and forget about the usefulness of an unreal past that never was: such things cannot make any real difference and so we don’t even imagine them. Given the icy condition of our circumstances and the frozen shapes of our knowledge, how can we imagine a future that is radically different and essentially impossible?

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”    “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  Alice in Wonderland.

Mostly we live in the ruins of the future; which is an extrapolation of the ruins of the past. As if the ice cubes could never melt.  Our disease infects our sense of time.  Hardly a one of us can get into the day, let alone the moment.  And this is so because we underestimate the role of imagination with respect to time.  Mostly we are still suffering some imagined event we truly believe happened sometime in the past.  We are already lost in an unreal past that never was; trying to avoid an unreal future that never will be.  And we don’t even notice that we are automated to invest the energy and time of the present moment to generate all this.  Things would go infinitely better if we just did nothing.  The Tao tells us that “When ‘nothing’ is done, nothing is left undone.”

We are really going to have to wake up and warm up, in order to be able to do ‘nothing’ and stop the incessant re-sensing of what never actually happened.

A propo of ‘in the realm of spirit, everything is always connected to its opposite.’

freeze (v.) Old English freosan “turn to ice” from Proto-Germanic *freus-, equivalent to PIE root *preus- “to freeze,” also “to burn” (cf. Sanskrit prustah “burnt,” Albanian prus “burning coals,” Latin pruna “a live coal”).  (cf put freeze in search line)


A Threefold Disease: Unfolding

Everyone in recovery knows that we have a three fold disease, yet…


It makes perfect sense to each of us that we should think about what we need to do.  We have immense respect for our intellect’s capacity to solve problems.  We want to use our knowledge and at least some of that now infinite supply of information available to us, to figure out how to get our lives to work.  We each have certain important areas of our lives where we actually know what to do and know that we can in fact do it.  We all know how to loose some weight or save some money or get organized.  We know how to not speak harshly, or start fights, we know we do not need to get into a rage over the driver who cut us off on the highway, or the person who cut ahead of us at the supermarket or the theatre.  In short we know what to do and know we can do it.  This is in fact why we get mad at ourselves when we don’t do that thing we committed ourselves to do, or when we did do the thing we promised ourselves we would never do again.


This is what I would like to look at today, the foundation for this clarity with which we get angry at ourselves for not doing what we know how to do, or feel guilty when we know we could have done better.


This anger or guilt would obviously make no sense if we didn’t know for sure that our minds are in charge of our bodies, so we can put that down as one of the deepest certainties of human beings, and a great source of misery to virtually every one of us.  We doubt many things but we do not doubt that we, and others, can do what we know how to do.  We do not doubt that knowledge is power. We think that the world we are thinking about is the same as the one we are walking around in, we know that the friend or spouse or stranger we are interacting with, actually is the way we know them to be.  I know my wife’s fears about her work and since I know this I don’t notice how I never take up the task of listening to her words, to take in the concerns she is seeking to share in this moment.

It often seems as though our minds are in charge of our bodies.  I think I will raise my right hand and up it goes, so obviously I’m in charge and ought to be upset with myself (or others) when I see that self control is not exercised by myself or them.

We believe that knowledge is power and that knowing leads to doing.  This is so deeply and unconsciously embedded in our minds that it just doesn’t occur to us to question it–and yet moment by moment, in some of the most important concerns of our lives we demonstrate over and over that self knowledge avails us nothing.

Alcoholics have sort of known about this for years.  I used to figure out, every time I got drunk, what went wrong and would convince myself again and again, each time I had failed that now I was really in control–I felt it with certainty.  I never saw through this phenomenon until another drunk explained to me that this is the nature of powerlessness common to alcoholics.

The neuroscientists have actually discovered an area in the left hemisphere of the brain that they call the interpreter.  They can now, for example, give an instruction to the right hemisphere which it will carry out without the left hemisphere knowing the instruction was given.  “The left brain interpreter will nonetheless construct a contrived explanation for the action, unaware of the instruction the right brain had received.” “Although the concept of the left brain interpreter was initially based on experiments on patients with split brains, it has since been shown to apply to the everyday behavior of people at large.”  “the facile explanations provided by the left brain interpreter may also enhance the opinion of a person about themselves and produce strong biases which prevent the person from seeing themselves in the light of reality and repeating patterns of behavior which led to past failures.” (

So our minds are obviously designed to operate on the principle that they are in charge of our bodies and yet, just as obviously, our minds are not in charge of our bodies.  Our minds and our bodies are in completely different realms.  Something obviously is in charge, the body follows rigorous patterns, even immensely painful patterns of behavior that we consciously do not want to repeat and yet we do repeat them over and over.  These patterns are obviously automated and if you have been following this blog you can remember that the word auto-matic means “self willed,” and thus indicates our dis-ease at work.

This auto-mation also governs the mental process.  Not only are our minds not in charge of our bodies, they are not even in charge of themselves.  We are not consciously thinking our ‘happy’ thoughts.  We think things we do not want to think and imagine things we do not want to imagine and remember things we do not want to remember, this is the real content of our ‘mental dis-ease.’

What is actually in charge is our will.  We think and imagine and remember what is consistent with our will’s concerns.  Our behavior and our mental processes are in the service of our will.  They seem to be correlated to each other because they are both correlated to the same third force: our will.  We always do what we are willing to do;willing to think what we think (remember, imagine, etc.) and we don’t even notice this.  We are always willing to justify our resentful behavior and gather evidence for the truthfulness of our resentments.  Our minds are always willing to make up reasons, explanations and validations for what our wills will.

I am always interested when I hear a scientific validation of something my spiritual discipline has told me of for years.  I respect science and envision a converging of narratives among disciplines as things progress.  I do not expect anything to occur in the physical domain that does not obey all the laws of physics.  I am not, however, inspired to turn my will and my life over to the care of my local neuroscientist, nor to live in the constant delusion that my mind is in charge of my body and that I will gain satisfaction and happiness from this life if only I manage well.

I observe the repetitive behaviors in the physical domain, I assume neuronal patterns are at work.  I observe the same with my mental phenomena.  The same patterns of thought, of denial, the same images of failure etc. are repeated over and over.  I imagine it is all very scientific how this occurs.  I am glad to hear of neural plasticity.  I couldn’t really prove it for myself but I believe pretty much what one believes in these matters, in our time.

But now I remember that no amount of self knowledge relieved my pattern of drinking and, for me even more painfully, no amount of self-knowledge or understanding altered my compulsive under-earning.  Observing and admitting that I was ‘willing to under-earn’ clarified things for me and supported me in surrendering my will and my life over to the care of my higher power.  Of course, in order to observe this I have to wake up a bit and  admitting this still requires a humbling process, but then I witness my body behaving in ways that relieve me of my fear of economic insecurity and I enjoy the thoughts of being aided by a power greater than myself and I envision a world where we actually help each other wake up from our auto-matic state and free ourselves from our ‘mind forged manacles.’

My will is always surprised by well being, and yet it is always ready to take credit for having done such a good job.  The same lesson must be learned anew each day.