“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” This quote comes from a rabbi’s sermon and was told to me. I don’t know the substance of the sermon, but I do have some ideas of my own.
This seems to me a pithy remark. It grabs the attention, and conveys meaning in a catchy phrase. As soon as the words are spoken and seem to echo redundantly, the message is clear. Yes! Focus, keep your eye on the ball and nose to the grindstone, don’t get distracted, keep on task--persevere.
Isn’t that the main thing relevant for anybody with an addictive habit? And doesn’t it apply to anything from video games to sex to alcohol, gambling or chocolate? For in addition to all else we could say about addictive patterns--and it’s been said--the addiction is a seducer and distractor: the lure of the substance acts like a magnet. The main thing, the task at hand, gets pushed aside when the addictive behavior beckons and takes hold. Time ceases to be an anchor to reality. The resolutions to “quit” fall by the wayside. The “I don’t care” side gathers strength until, lost in a momentary bubble, there is only timelessness and numbness. Ah, bliss.
It is a temporary state where time and pain cease to exist. What has been troubling, frustrating, frightening or saddening falls away and is replaced by an intense concentration on the addiction. While in the bubble, when troubles seem to melt, there remains a sense of calm, if reason and anxiety can be kept at bay.
So what’s the problem? That it IS only temporary, alas. When the binge or sexual encounter is over, the bubble bursts and the feelings that propelled the diversion in the first place not only return, but are magnified. Floods of guilt and remorse accompany promises NEVER to do this again. For a time, the main thing was the escape, but the escape ends with a thud and the voice that says, “You’re a loser,” takes over. Ouch. So begins the climb back onto the wagon, once again.
Breaking a repetitious cycle requires help. It requires another who can be accepting, nonjudgmental, and remind us of our humanness--and help us to keep the main thing the main thing.
When is Enough "Enough"
When my closet/garage/desk is so full I can't stuff another item in it?
When I practically can't move because I'm so bloated?
It is never enough when it comes to money--I simply can never have enough, and what is "enough" anyway?
An interesting experiment I discovered has to do with tolerating the yearning for more without satisfying that yearning. Wanting and not "giving in" to the wanting by buying or eating the thing wanted. It forces a moment to moment struggle to the surface. It is a struggle with the feeling of desire that can be captured in the words, "I must have...". If surrender to desire is forestalled, what remains? Emptiness?Void? Frustration? Maybe a feeling of okay-ness with watching the desire ebb and flow. With a child the emotions may be persecutory: "You don't love me" or "I never get to have what I want" or "You never get me anything". Children know how to sock it to their parents. How should we best respond to our own wish for more and our childrens'?
"But I need it." Ah, there's the rub: need not differentiated from greed. When is it need and when is it excess? When does emotional hunger overtake reason and the ability to tolerate and not fulfill desire fly out the window? When to indulge and when to hold the line, because some indulgence can be a good thing. We're not talking about deprivation here, but rather seeking to understand and deal with a desire that nags until fulfilled---to the detriment of a reasonable and moderate way of life. We're talking about obesity, hoarding, bingeing, compulsive drinking, shopping, spending and the like.
So...the experiment. Observing, tolerating the feeling that appears when desire is resisted. Be with that feeling. Choose not to act on it or satisfy it through behavior. Discover what it's like to experience the wanting. What comes to mind? Is it familiar, does it evoke memories of the past? Are there body sensations that arise?
Most likely many feelings, thoughts and sensations will arise. If they can be accepted they may have something to teach and new information about what is essential and what is not will become available. This information can be a stepping stone to greater knowledge and control of unwanted behaviors.