He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fair Questions: Why Give Up All Addictions?

Yesterday, I was speaking with one of my coworkers, and she was disappointed that I was no longer playing Words With Friends, a popular word game very similar to Scrabble which is available on mobile devices from the Google Play store.  I explained that I had gotten rid of it permanently from the device because I had been trying to remove all addictions from my life.  And in truth, I was addicted to playing Words With Friends.  I was compelled to check it frequently for my opponent's moves, and I would check it when I should have been doing other things (i.e. work, homework, working out) instead. 

I was addicted to the game because I find problem-solving deeply rewarding, so playing against a few challenging opponents or finding the biggest possible score opportunities in less challenging games was quite psychologically gratifying.  There is nothing wrong with this sort of thing when it is done in moderation.  When it becomes a habit and a compulsion, it is time to take a cold hard look at the behavior and evaluate its utility.

Aside from the practical issues of avoiding the waste of time which should be spent more productively, when we form habits we are choosing to shape our future selves.  Habits are what carry us through our daily lives; and they carry us through the trials and tribulations of life.  Our habits are the foundation of our character; we are our best selves when we choose the best habits and our worst selves when we choose the worst habits.  As a result, I am very conscientious about which habits I choose to pick up and which habits I choose to relinquish.  I strive to retain my best habits and let go of my worst habits.  In the place of my bad habits, I seek to build new habits which lead me to be a better person.

Was playing Words With Friends leading me to be a better person?  No.  So it was time to let it go and spend that time previously devoted to it in inspirational and spiritual reading which does help make me a better person.  I have been reading from the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, excerpts from the Upanishads, and an anthology of the Pali cannon of Buddhism instead of playing a game.

The benefit of removing an addiction isn't merely the opportunity to increase in virtue, but also to grow in freedom.  We are not very free when we can only choose what the ego compels us to do.  The ego only gives us the option of doing what we like and avoiding what we dislike.  In conquering our addictions, we gain the ability to do what we dislike and avoid what we like; we build up the freedom to choose our actions based on something other than our childish whims and base desires, which is the freedom that gives us the space to reach heroic virtue through truly selfless acts of sacrifice for the benefit of others.

Shedding our addictions is the process of removing the burdens which chain us to the lives of quiet desperation in which we so often feel trapped by our own inclinations.

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