Module 1C

#1 WHAT IS IT? What is happening to me?

1C: The War within Self

“Someday he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it.”

Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 152.

A person has the self as a friend when he has conquered himself,
But if he rejects his own reality the self will war against him.

Bhagavad Gita 6.5-6

“I do not understand what I do. What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Romans 7:1

As he is not able to give up grasping and negative emotions, it is not clear to him which way is right and which way is wrong—so he suffers indecision. Although he does not necessarily undergo physical pain, he undergoes psychological suffering—the pain of not being able to grasp what he desires. The craving for sensation dominates him and he is divided within himself.”

Tarthang Tulku, Gesture of Balance.

“There is nothing more addictive than the notion that there is a reward lurking out there—and it’s a maybe.”

primatologist Robert Sapolsky


When we divide the world into what we like and do not like—my pleasure and my pain— we divide our Selves into the “I” that wants and the “I” that does not want. When the I wants and does not want the same experience, the War within Self begins. We can then see that the popular image of the addict as driven blindly by an uncontrollable urge to continue is only one half of the story: the addict is also driven blindly by the urge to stop; both rule simultaneously with equal power because both “I”s feed each other, need each other. Any direct attempt to escape the cycle of wanting and not-wanting is still part of the cycle. The War cannot be won or lost; it must be transcended.


1A Disease? Choice? Sin? 1B Self & Self-Image 1C The War Within Self
DISEASE: A spiritual illness that manifests in two ways: a mental obsession for the first drink and a physical phenomenon of craving that inevitably develops after taking the first drink. DELUSION: Addiction is a distortion of memory that assigns a permanent identity to an impermanent stream of desires. DUALITY: A pathological inner struggle which traps a person indefinitely in repeating cycles of wanting to quit drinking (Never Again!) and wanting to continue. (I’ll quit tomorrow!)

Few know more about the painful ambivalence of choice than someone in a full-blown addiction, and nowhere can you see indecisiveness reach such tragicomic proportions. One moment you watch an alcoholic pouring booze down the sink in a sincere attempt at sobriety, only to find him at the liquor store a few hours later. Then, the morning after. Convinced that he will never drink again, the whole world immediately opens up to him. Looking back to only yesterday he is astonished that anything could have taken hold of his life in such a manner. But later that same day he will be in the liquor store again, absent-mindedly forgetting the steely resolve that had been such a part of him just a few hours earlier. And this cycle can go on indefinitely. Ask an aging alcoholic whether he has ever tried to quit and the answer may surprise you: “Every day of my life.” Nowhere in human experience does the Sisyphean task of reliving personal history come more clearly into focus.

As we move into Originate & Evaluate, our FOUR BASIC QUESTIONS take on a personal urgency not seen in our other approaches. In asking What is Happening to Me? it is from our own life experience that we draw our “definition” of addiction—not from the opinions of others, or the reformulated opinions of others. By now we know that it matters little whether or not we are an addict—we have experienced compromised choice on some level, and are motivated to ask questions and then question the answers. We are on a journey back to the source of Self. As a singular thought to bring an end to all other thoughts, we find one renewable question, one existential statement that describe the essence of our Journey. It is in Unlocking the Zen Koan, that we find the template that we are looking for, in a koan called “Pacifying the Mind”:

“I have looked for my mind, but cannot find it.”

The following modified version is suggested as a distilled program of discovery:

“I have looked for my addiction, but cannot find it.”

Perhaps the reader will look for their anger and not be able to find it—any manifestation of Self can be pacified in this manner because all manifestations of Self exist within a constantly moving stream of choices. Since the beginning of these Modules we have been “Pacifying the Addiction” by constantly questioning, “Where is the addiction?” We found that Body is not the addiction; Mind is not the addiction; Spirit is not the addiction. When we suggested that only an interdependent composite of all three is the addiction, we then found ourselves looking for the conditions under which that composite, as a causal agent, would be expressed. We were not able to find any self-existing entity that we can point to and say: “that is an alcoholic”; “that is an alcoholic recovered.” We were not able to find any inherently existing entity and say: “that is a Self.” You cannot simply borrow some else’s word and decide that addiction does not have enduring existence; but when you look for your addiction and cannot find it, the very process of looking dissolves the addiction and makes such a decision unnecessary. We must take the journey of self-discovery in order to understand that the journey was not necessary. And our travel itinerary now includes a mature, developed map with seven road signs to light our path:

The Momentum of Choice
Core characteristic Aspect of Addiction explained Module covered
observational distortion knowledge deficit (can’t see what’s happening) scattered
weakens resolve power deficit (barely able to begin) scattered
proliferates phenomenon of craving 2B
contains multiple causes & effects can’t engage directly 4A
is automatic mental blank spot 4C
leaves imprints mental obsession 2C
adapts to causes & conditions mutable nature scattered


POINT OF DEPARTURE: We live in a vibrant, complex world of sensations. Our moment to moment perceptions reflect reality closely enough for us to function reasonably well as conscious creatures. Our ability to remember these perceptions gives us great skill in negotiating and controlling the world in which we live. But because we are part of the world that we observe, the same memory that gives continuity to our perceptions of the World also gives continuity to the parade of perceptions that we have about our Selves. As we grow and learn these accumulating memories gain momentum until a “Self-Image” emerges that appears to become stable over time. That becomes “us.” As a tool our Self-Image allows us to operate even more efficiently in the World: it dresses up in a particular style of clothing, takes on a name, a personality, and goes out into the world to mingle with all the other Self-Images. In times of strength it remains open, flexible, and accessible; in times of vulnerability it walls us off from the world. If we consider the Self-Image as nothing more or less than a light jacket that we wear or discard as the emotional weather changes, then we cause ourselves and others few difficulties.

Our ability to remember ourselves comes with an unanticipated consequence: the continuity provided by memory allows us to forget that our Self-Image has no independent existence apart from the stream of disconnected, contradictory perceptions of Self that created it—(and that our addiction has no independent existence apart from the stream of disconnected, contradictory self-centered desires that created it.) We begin to think that the continuous, consistent picture that we fashion of ourselves through memory is more real than who we are at any given moment. Representation replaces reality. But what we remember about ourselves is not who we are now but an echo of who we once were. Our nostalgic self-portrait eventually conflicts with what we actually do and think on a daily basis. Hypocrisy becomes as crucial to our daily survival as eating and breathing.

As the gap between who we are—the Factual Self, and who we picture ourselves to be—the Self-Image, widens we become divided within and find ourselves making choices that are at odds with our imagined intentions. The more our uncertainty mounts the more we need to cling to the notion of a stable, immutable Self that keeps everything running smoothly. We crave order and we do not care whether we find it in reality or illusion. Since we cannot see our Factual Selves directly, we promote our Self-Image to a regal position that needs constant homage and obedience, giving it a power and an importance significantly beyond any temporary value it may have in our struggle to survive. It takes effort to maintain our self-portraits, effort that could be used to better effect elsewhere. We constantly preen and polish appearances while the real needs of our Body-Mind and the world it lives in are ignored. We pursue fame, wealth, power, and happiness while our minds ossify, our bodies get fatter, and the planet we stand on sickens from the grimy fallout of our self-centered choices.

Though we all stand witness to the impermanence of the World, we still arrange our personal identities in secure little patterns and cling to them so desperately that we derail when anything rattles our preciuosly constructed cages. As intermittently self-conscious creatures we are part of the changing World that we observe, and too often we fail to see that the observer is just as impermanent as the observed: we are one person at work, another person with our family, yet another in our private moments. Even when we see that who we are is in constant flux, we stingily hold back a piece of ourselves as somehow different and unchanging—the real, authentic “us.” We assume that same stability in others and become outraged when we find out that our long-time spouse or best friend is not the person we thought they were. We mistakenly believe in the existence of a continuous Self that outlasts causes and conditions, and cling to that illusion no matter how much suffering it causes.

Primal Origin of Addiction

POINT OF ARRIVAL: In the same manner that memory gives continuity to any stream of mental images, memory also gives continuity to any stream of desires we have about those images. As we enjoy our Naturally given preferences, pleasurable memories accumulate momentum until a “Central Preference” emerges that appears to become stable over time. That becomes “our thing.” It is that one remembered pleasure that we come back to over and over, that one comforting image that stays constant when so much around us changes. If we are temperate and judicious it can add depth to our lives and become a treasured source of strength. We begin to get into trouble when remembered experiences with our Central Preference take on a power and importance beyond the experiences themselves.

For many of us this is where the journey ends. If, however, we now begin to depend on our Central Preference to the exclusion of other aspects of our lives, or if we have chosen something that can be potentially harmful, we begin to suffer harsh consequences from our constant indulgence. Blind to what awaits us, the more we hurt the more we need to cling to that one thing that had previously never let us down. Memories of what it once was for us become more real than the experience of what it is for us now. At a certain point our Central Preference hijacks the job of our Self-Image and is no longer just “our thing”—it becomes “us.” We do not have to acknowledge this verbally or intellectually; we simply need to have found something that makes us feel “more us” than “us.” Once this level of identification is complete, to give up our Central Preference would be an act of Self-annihilation—and that we cannot allow.

We pursue the delusion that we can have pleasure without pain for as long as possible, but eventually we hurt too much and reach a moment of decision: we try to stop. Sometimes we resist successfully; other times we just give in. Now it gets tricky: memory gives continuity to both our pleasure and our pain, to the Self who wants to continue and the Self that wants to quit. As we continually vacillate between surrendering to our desire and swearing off forever, our internal battle escalates. Indecisiveness reaches tragicomic proportions. When the gap between the Self who wants to continue and the Self that wants to quit becomes large enough, we lose our ability to choose consistently: the person who makes the decision is no longer the same person who has to live with the decision. We are addicted, trapped in a prison of our own making.


The War against Self is the most cunning baffling and powerful of all challenges that mankind has faced. It is the war lurking beneath so many other wars that respectable people have declared but never won: poverty, hunger, crime, terror—and countless permutations of man’s inhumanity to man. It is a malignant fire that, under normal circumstances, never stops burning—smoldering anytime we have difficulty making a simple decision, and raging brightly when self-sabotage becomes lethal, or even when we are bulldozing through someone else’s life without thinking about the other side. Most often its surfaces at times when we are just annoyed at being us.

The War on Self is a timeless war that a human being unknowingly declares against themselves, a struggle that pits their behavior against their best intentions. When we look within we may have difficulty finding evidence of a formal declaration of hostility. We have camouflaged our internal conflict with a thin veneer of happiness, and misdirected our attention towards our numerous battles against our fellow man. But if we honestly follow our psychic pain back to its origin, we are continuously hoisted upon our own petard of culpability. The War against Self is waged by Self on the Self. Under normal circumstances, Self cannot see Self, but addiction provides the extraordinary circumstances that make the darkness visible.

The good news: The War on Self is a war that has been won over and over again throughout human history. It is a war that is won by learning what to surrender and what to fight for, what to hold onto and what to let go of. The strategies and tactics employed by spiritual warriors have never been properly applied to those of us who are surrender to ourselves to an addiction—until now. Perhaps it is the conceit of this author that makes such a claim. By “properly applied” I mean in a systematic way by someone who knows, someone who has sacrificed everything for that knowledge. Anyone who is not an addict can confirm its authenticity from the outside, but cannot witness to a truth that they have not themselves observed, experienced. End the battle within it will never occur to you to wage war without. Stop hurting your Self and you will start helping others.

Congratulations! YOU ARE FINISHED STAGE I, LEVELS A, B, & C: What is It?


START AT THE BEGINNING OF Stage II: 1. What Causes It?

CONTINUE CURRENT LEVEL TO Stage II: 4. How Did I Get Into This Situation?

© 2012 Michael V. Cossette

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