The Addiction We All Share.

This blog post has been wanting to write itself for some time.  Today appears to be the day.

We’re all addicted to something.  If we all understood that, the world would be a slightly more compassionate place.  Instead we have an unspoken addiction grading system and we judge each other for where we are on that scale.  Heroin addiction and drug addiction is generally at the top, followed by alcohol, followed by the other Bad Ones: food, gambling, smoking, sex and then come the more (supposedly) benign addictions: work, gym, shopping, status, to be thought well of, to appear to be good…

But there is an addiction that most of us have that has the ability to completely paralyse us or lead us into making unhappy decisions and really suffering, mentally.

It’s the addiction to certainty.

We want to know what’s going to happen.  We want to be assured that things are going to be okay in the future, be that ten mins or ten years, and so we start trying to manipulate the world in order to make it turn up in a way that we would like.  Well, we’re on a hiding to nothing.  As always, I speak from experience and I suspect you have plenty of evidence in your own life to back this up and yet STILL we fall into the trap.

My name’s Kim and I’m a Control Freak.  Yep, it’s true.  I’m someone who wants certainty and I want to know how things will turn out.  I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with planning, we need to make plans in order to live our human lives.  The danger comes when we get emotionally invested in needing a plan to turn out in a certain way, because then the blinkers come on.  I feel it in my own body.  If I want something to turn out a certain way and it feels as though it might not, I can feel my body tightening up, creating stress.  My mind starts tightening up, too.  I start to home in on how I can make it happen and then the imagination joins the story by telling me how bloody dreadful it would be if the thing, whatever it is, doesn’t happen in a certain way, and that makes me more fearful and so I contract further, creating more stress – and on and on and on.

I am resisting using an example, but sod it, here goes.  I am in a very lovely new relationship with someone who is straightforward, has me in stitches, sexy (very), easy, incredibly kind, self-assured, generous, independent, honest and trustworthy.  I know, I know – I’ve struck gold!

But here’s the issue that showed itself to me today, as I was meditating.  Yep, you guessed it. I want certainty.  And, bizarrely, I don’t want certainty as to how it’s going to turn out and if we’ll ride off into the sunset together.  I’m more than happy to see how that unfolds and to just enjoy the ride.  Weirdly I am obsessed (at the time of typing) with knowing when we’re going to see each other again.  We don’t have anything in the diary.  In fairness, he has suggested a date but I have asked if another is available and today I realise how much I WANT there to be something in the diary.   More than one date, actually, as I know we won’t get to see each other over Christmas and New Year, so I want as much of him as possible NOW.  I want TWO dates in the diary.  (I am chuckling to myself as I spot my own bonkersness).

This is totally insane (yes, and very human but for the moment I’m interested in the insanity bit).  Thank God for meditation, because I saw it very clearly this morning.   I am wanting things to turn out in a certain way.  I am craving certainty and it simply does not exist in any way shape or form.  Never has, never will.  None of us know what’s coming next.  Not really.  We plan and shape and connive and plot but we’ve also all been on the receiving end of that Bolt Out Of The Blue which throws all our plans to the wall and renders them meaningless (death, illness, redundancy, divorce, winning the lottery – whatever).  And the peculiar thing is that when I realised that I can’t possibly know what’s going to turn up (in ANY event) and that there is just nothing certain to be counted on, I felt a huge sense of relief and liberation.  Another softening, another surrendering, another letting go.

The reality is that R is extremely busy (there’s another possible addiction right there) and that he, to date, always finds time for me and actually goes out of his way to find time for me.  I don’t need to know right now, at this moment, when the next date will be. But of course, I wanted to know NOW and all that does is create inner discord which in turn leads to stress which I think we all now know is a killer.

It’s not just this example, though.  It’s all those times when we really want things to turn out a certain way.  Check it out today.  See how many times you are assuming that things will turn out a certain way and see how many times that ISN’T the case and then notice the difference between things not turning out a certain way that you’re NOT that bothered about in the first place, and things not turning out that you have invested some of yourself in, emotionally or otherwise.  No milk for your cup of tea this morning?  Annoying but not the end of the world.  Dream house sale fallen through?  Aaaaaggh, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.  And yet at their heart they are the same thing – change – and by its very nature change speaks to uncertainty.  The amount of pain that we go through correlates to the emotional investment we’ve made in an outcome.

One of the benefits of my meditation and mindfulness practice is that I am becoming much more flexible around change and so loosening my grip (but not entirely, I’m a work in progress) on my need for certainty.  I love the quote that’s attributed to the Dalai Lama (what isn’t these days?) that says:  ‘Sometimes, not getting your own way is a fabulous stroke of luck’.  Those of you who have been journeying with me over the last year will remember how much I wanted Ireland to work out… So it’s worth remembering, too, all those things that we were certain we wanted that we’re actually really bloody glad DIDN’T happen, on reflection.

Yes, my name’s Kim and I’m a Control Freak But Nowhere Near As Bad As I Used To Be.  And that’s good enough – in the words of the AA Big Book, it’s about progress, not perfection.  R will get in touch in HIS own sweet time.  To date, he always has (but nothing’s certain!).  In the meantime, I can womble on with my day unfettered by the stress and contraction of needing certainty.

Halle flipping lujah.


The morality of food

I love this.  Mostly because it blurs the lines of traditional thinking and I’m a big fan of anything that creates curiosity and challenges any linear views  we may have of the world.  Plants are sentient species too!

In Zen, when we decide that we will formally be recognised as Buddhist, we take the precepts* (listed down the page).  The first of which is to refrain from taking life.   Any teacher worth their salt, and mine is (check out Daizan Roshi), will tell you that we take the precepts with the kind intention of keeping them, but also with the kind realisation that we’re likely to break them.  It’s not about sticking rigidly to rules and making yet ANOTHER stick with which to beat ourselves, it’s about holding an intention to be mindful in these regards and to do what feels to be the right thing.

Notice I use the verb ‘feel’ rather than ‘think’.

One of the gifts of a regular meditation and mindfulness practice is that we become more attuned to how our bodies feel moment by moment.  The body, 9 times out of 10, is a much more trustworthy barometer of The Right Next Action, than the slippery, justifying, argumentative, self serving thinking mind when it comes to ethical or moral decisions/choices, especially ethical or moral decisions that have some sort of potential pay off for us.  I’m not saying that the thinking mind isn’t useful, it is, we just need to know its place and stop placing the massive emphasis we do on it, culturally, in the West.

Trusting how we feel rather than what we think is a lifetime practice.  Sometimes my body is shouting and screaming at me not to go down a certain road, normally I feel it in my gut, but I zone it out and ignore it because the thinking mind has taken hold and is dangling all sorts of imaginary carrots (fantasy, desire, romanticism, looking ‘good’, appearing ‘spiritual’ etc) and I get lost in what I think rather than what I feel.  Welcome to the human race, Kim!  So any practice is an ongoing shift away from the incredibly compelling thinking mind and moving to a trust in the feeling body.  As I said, it takes a lifetime.

(I’ll post in a few days about what to do if you struggle to feel ANYTHING within, that was true for me, too, and still can be).

Back to plants.  We take the precepts knowing that we’ll likely break them.  A reminder of the first precept: to refrain from taking life.  As Daizan would say (I’m paraphrasing):

If we eat meat, we are ending life
If we eat fish, we are ending life
If we eat vegetables, we are ending the life of the plant
If we eat only nuts and seeds, we inhibit the ability of the plant that they were taken from to produce new life, thereby ending potential life
If we eat only fruit and vegetables that have fallen to the ground, we end the life of micro organisms that live on the fallen vegetation or any food stuffs for that matter
If we eat only a very narrow and specific diet, then we end up not giving our own bodies the nutrients they need, and so we end our own lives, over time.

So at any point on the scale, life is being taken, the thinking mind may start to say that one sort of life holds greater meaning than another.  Really? But that’s for another time…   Is this taking of life a reason to be sad?  I suppose it could be.

Or it could be your opportunity to give huge thanks and gratitude to whatever makes its way to you to be eaten.  Gratitude for the life that it is giving you, gratitude that we have choices in how to eat (if we do), gratitude to all the people involved in getting the food to you:
Who planted, cared for, harvested the food?
Who looked after the animals involved in your food, whether it’s meat or milk?
Can we be grateful for the sun shining, the rain falling, the earth turning – all of which are essential to our food production?
How many people and organisations were involved in getting the food to you?
How many families were fed on the back of the wages and profits made from the food?
Who built the roads, the vehicles, the aeroplanes, the shops that get our food to us?

You get my point, it’s a useful exercise in interconnectedness too!   The list goes on and on.

It might also mean that we take some responsibility for how our food is looked after before it reaches us and how it will look after us after we’ve eaten it, and those considerations might inform our buying decisions.  Some of us don’t have much choice in those regards but we all have a choice about using our intention and experiencing gratitude.

In Zen, we say that gratitude is the first step towards Enlightenment.  Regardless of your views on Enlightenment (it’s not what you think!) gratitude is a really worthwhile practice to undertake just for its own sake and being grateful for the life giving properties of our food and the sacrifices that are made to get it to us is an excellent way to start.

I love the video clip above with its sense of awe and celebration about the plants and slimes in our lives!  How amazing is this world we find ourselves in.

Thanks for listening 🙂

*The Buddhist Precepts as suggested by Zenways.

We are expected to refrain from:

  1. Taking life
  2. Stealing
  3. Lying
  4. Indulgence in abusive or inappropriate sexual behaviour
  5. Abuse of intoxicants
  6. Criticism of others
  7. Boasting of attainments and belittling others
  8. Being mean
  9. Harbouring anger
  10. Defaming one’s own or others’ teachers or spiritual paths


Pema Chodron – always on point….


In Tibetan there is a word that points to the root cause of aggression, the root cause also of craving. It points to a familiar experience that is at the root of all conflict, all cruelty, oppression, and greed. This word is shenpa. The usual translation is “attachment,” but this doesn’t adequately express the full meaning. I think of shenpa as “getting hooked.” Another definition, used by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, is the “charge”—the charge behind our thoughts and words and actions, the charge behind “like” and “don’t like.” Here’s an everyday example: Someone criticizes you. She criticizes your work or your appearance or your child. In moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste, a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel like this experience has been happening forever. That sticky feeling is shenpa. And it comes along with a very seductive urge to do something. Somebody says a harsh word and immediately you can feel a shift. There’s a tightening that rapidly spirals into mentally blaming this person, or wanting revenge or blaming yourself. Then you speak or act. The charge behind the tightening, behind the urge, behind the story line or action is shenpa.

You can actually feel shenpa happening. It’s a sensation that you can easily recognize. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. Someone looks at us in a certain way, or we hear a certain song, or walk into a certain room and boom. We’re hooked. It’s a quality of experience that’s not easy to describe but that everyone knows well.

Now, if you catch shenpa early enough, it’s very workable. You can acknowledge that it’s happening and abide with the experience of being triggered, the experience of urge, the experience of wanting to move. It’s like experiencing the yearning to scratch an itch, and generally we find it irresistible. Nevertheless, we can practice patience with that fidgety feeling and hold our seat.
(From Pema’s book, Practicing Peace in Times of War)

Thank you to Shambhala Publications for Heart Advice of the Week.

British Parliament Meditates…

The full story can be found here

There’s often suspicion when mindfulness is used in the corporate, military or political world.  But to my mind, anything that gives an individual the opportunity to see for themselves how they work, and to give them an insight into who they really are is great.  It’s by our own actions that things change and getting to know ourselves is the first step in changing our actions…..

The Buddha’s Fi…

The Buddha’s Five Remembrances – Thich Nhat Hanh’s version
(with thanks to Melissa Pilar for sharing this in the group ‘Zen’ on FB).

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health.
There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are the nature to change.
There is no way to escape
being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

What is Zen?

A description of Zen by my teacher, Daizan Roshi. He is a Master in both the Soto and Rinzai Zen traditions (and a thoroughly decent human being). The only Engishman to have studied Rinzai Zen in Japan under the tutelage of Shinzan Roshi.

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