Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gabor Maté on Addiction

A new edition of Gabor Maté's book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction is getting attention in the buddhoblogosphere because of its insightfulness on matters of addiction, using Buddhist constructs.

Here, words by the author as presented at the webspace:
I've written In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts because I see addiction as one of the most misunderstood phenomena in our society. People ― including many people who should know better, such as doctors and policy makers ― believe it to be a matter of individual choice or, at best, a medical disease. It is both simpler and more complex than that.

Addiction, or the capacity to become addicted, is very close to the core of the human experience. That is why almost anything can become addictive, from seemingly healthy activities such as eating or exercising to abusing drugs intended for healing. The issue is not the external target but our internal relationship to it. Addictions, for the most part, develop in a compulsive attempt to ease one’s pain or distress in the world. Given the amount of pain and dissatisfaction that human life engenders, many of us are driven to find solace in external things. The more we suffer, and the earlier in life we suffer, the more we are prone to become addicted.

The inner city drug addicts I work with are amongst the most abused and rejected people amongst us, but instead of compassion our society treats them with contempt. Instead of understanding and acceptance, we give them punishment and moral disapproval. In doing so, we fail to recognize our own deeply rooted problems and thereby forego an opportunity for healing not only for them, the extreme addicts, but also for ourselves as individuals and as a culture.
My book, in short, is an attempt to bring light to core issues shrouded in darkness. The many positive responses I’ve received encourage me to believe that I’ve succeeded in making a contribution toward that goal.
And, there is this which I snagged from William Harryman's Integral Options Cafe blog, in a post titled "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction - by Gabor Maté." One of the questions from a Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal interview:
Q. What does the book title In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts mean?

DR. GABOR MATÈ: It's a Buddhist phrase. In Buddhist Psychology, there are a number of realms that human beings cycle through. All of us. One is the Human Realm, which is our ordinary selves. The Hell Realm is that of unbearable rage, fear, terror, you know, these emotions that are difficult to handle. The Animal Realm is our instincts and our [hate] and our passions.

Now, the Hungry Ghost Realm, the creatures in it are depicted as people with large, empty bellies, small mouths, and scrawny, thin necks. They can never get enough satisfaction. They can never fill their bellies. They're always hungry, always empty, always seeking it from the outside. That speaks to a part of us that I have, and everybody in our society has, where we want satisfaction from the outside, where we're empty, where we want to be soothed by something in the short term. But we can never feel that, or fulfill that, insatiety from outside.

The addicts are in that realm all the time. Most of us are in that realm some of the time. And my point really is, is that there's no clear distinction between the identified addict and the rest of us. There's just a continuum on which we all may be found. They're on it because they suffered more than most of us.

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