by Jeff Martens
Closing the Door
Houdini was the world’s greatest escape artist. To get free publicity on his world tour he would go to jails in different cities where he was putting on a show and he would challenge the local police department to lock him up in their highest security cell. He would then attempt to escape from that jail cell. All the press would be there and take pictures and marvel at his ability to escape, for he never failed. Before Houdini went into the jail cell he would be searched for any lock picking devices and nothing was ever found, then they would deposit him behind locked bars and leave him alone and in a few short moments he would then emerge free from the cell.
What nobody knew was that once Houdini was in the cell he would take off his belt and pull some lock-picking tools out from a secret compartment. Because he was a master locksmith, he had never encountered a lock that he could not pick open.
On one world tour a particular police precinct – some say it was in the British Isles while others say it was a German city — heard of Houdini’s challenge and invited the escape artist to come pay them a visit. They had just finished developing and installing a brand new type of lock on their jail cells which was said to be impossible to pick, and the captain there laid down a public challenge for Houdini to do his best. The event approached with much fanfare, and on the day of the challenge a great crowd had gathered to see the famous magician try to escape from the inescapable cell. Many experts had claimed that the new lock was impervious to false opening. The press was on hand with photographers and reporters all clamoring to get an interview. The local police searched Houdini thoroughly and led him toward the maximum-security cell, reporters and photographers in tow. The Captain himself ushered Houdini inside the cell, flashbulbs popping as he closed the door and faced the cameras. And then they all walked away leaving Houdini alone in this top security cell, the new lock the only barrier between himself and victorious freedom.
Your Jail Cell
Consider for a moment if there is someone in your life who is giving you some trouble. Maybe someone or some regular event in your life that fairly often seems to give you some difficulty. This person or this situation that gives you trouble, for a moment consider that you may have stopped viewing this person or situation as they truly are a long, long time ago. And each time you give attention to this person or situation right now, you only see the part they are playing for you. This person or event has become a mere placeholder playing a role. As in a role in a script. Long ago you stopped seeing this placeholder as they are and you just see the role-playing now. The role of the person and the role that you yourself take in relation to the situation. When you encounter this placeholder, the resulting event allows you to feel a certain way that is very familiar, very pronounced and very reliable.
Now this experience is so much of a placeholder for you that all you have to do is think of that person or event and instantly you will feel it. It is an instant physiological response, or more accurately you will feel yourself reacting. It is all habitual and automatic. So you will feel the symptoms of the situation, or you will have the slightest contact with the person or you see a picture of them or get an email or phone message or whatever it might be and you will literally have a somatic reaction. And the real reason that you get this reaction is because you are addicted to perceiving this person or situation in a very familiar way. Soon you may begin to rely on this placeholder and the role they play almost as your dealer, a way of satisfying your addiction in a very familiar way. That is what that physiological response is. When you have that feeling of dread or agitation in the pit of your stomach, when you have that rush of blood into your face, or you have that quickening of your pulse, or you have that sweating and agitation, these are signs of a physiological addiction. If you were to see these symptoms in a heroin addict, you’d think “Oh, yes, of course, they are addicted, that poor sap.” These are the signs of addiction indicating that there is a cellular drug-like reaction occurring in your body. The most powerful pharmacy in the universe is between your two ears. And this person or situation plays a role for you to jumpstart that reaction and give you your fix.
Now it may sound really odd to say that we would be addicted to something that we are so averse to and that we may claim so vehemently that we do not want, however the proof is in the reaction itself. If you have a physiological reaction there is an addiction. You are manufacturing certain peptide chains in the hypothalamus that are pumped into your bloodstream which are associated with this person or situation. And as you have grown and gotten older the cells in yur body have developed more receptor sites for these particular peptide chains. Your cells want those peptide chains. They NEED them. And these cells then depend on YOU to manufacture the situation where these molecules of emotion can be delivered. So you just need the external placeholder to get the party started, something or someone to play that external role which places you into your now-familiar role. Eventually when you get really good at this, you don’t need to have any contact whatsoever with this person or situation, all you have to do is think of them and ‘poof’ you get your fix.
Thinking of any addict, whether it is someone addicted to alcohol or drugs or food or television, it doesn’t really matter – we are all addicts – but thinking of a more traditional addict, what happens when they travel or go out of their hometown? What do you think is the first thing that a gambler, someone who is addicted to horse racing, does upon reaching a new destination? What is one of the first things they do? They look for where the local racetrack is. It’s not just that these people are addicted only to gambling back home or the drug dealer in their own town. They’ll seek out where to get there fix in this new town. After we get really good at making one person a placeholder for our addictions we start to look around for other opportunities, we start to farm out for franchises. Maybe this new person can also play this role for me and I can get double the bang for my buck. And so it is the same for you, you will start to look for more opportunities to get your fix because that is what addicts do, right? Whatever you are getting begins to not be enough and you start to need more of it.
When you get extremely good at this process though you will not need any other person or external event at all, you will just manufacture it right where you are. You will just slide into a habitual unconscious inner focus and boom, there you are.
But it will never be enough.
What do you think would happen if you had a gambling addict and you put him in a casino and gave him unlimited cash? What do you think would happen to a drug addict if you put him in a hospital pharmacy and gave him free reign. What do you think would happen? There have been studies done like this with mice and rats and pellet machines dispensing pellets that were loaded with sugar and fat. What do you think happens to the weight of those mice and rats? They will eat themselves to obesity and a very early death.
Sooner or later though, at a certain point every addict gets to a point where they are in trouble. “Uh-oh,” the addict notices, “things are not going exactly the way I want.” The rest of their life begins to crumble and fall apart. They think they can manage it, they think there is no problem, they think that they got it under control. It’s other people that fall apart, not me. Other people can’t handle it, but I can handle it. Listen to any addict talk and you will hear that dialogue. Maybe it already sounds familiar to you if you are honest.
At this point the addict starts to become more of a victim, trapped and caged by their addiction. Maybe they even realize this but it is later in the game and extremely hard now because they are in the grip of a full-blown addiction. And a lot of the cells in the body now will have a lot of receptor sites for the peptide chains associated with your addiction: victimization, tyranny, frustration, anger, fear, worry, doubt, judgment and criticism, arrogance, inferiority. You will have multiple receptor sites for these molecules of emotion. And all of these cells inside the body will be going “Gimme gimme gimme gimme!” They want THEIRS, they want that fix. They NEED it physiologically. This is not an energetic theoretical craving, they want their fix and they want it NOW. This is the very definition of painful addiction, an unquenchable craving. And rather than running that gauntlet and going deeper into the pain you will just manufacture a situation externally or internally to give yourself a hit, if only to put the pain off for a few weeks, days or hours. You will seek them out and literally create or instigate a situation to try and satisfy your lust for that particular craving.
While all of this is going on what do you think is happening to the rest of your life? While you are so focused on this relationship or situation how are things going? What is happening to your relationship, your job, your family situations? You’re never there. Because the addict is always thinking of their next fix. Your family members, your partners, the people in your life, they will sense that you are not there. Think also for a moment of the placeholder. Let’s say it is a person. You don’t see that individual as a person anymore. You have dehumanized them. They are now a pellet-dispensing machine. You have robbed them of their humanity. They aren’t even real to you anymore. This dehumanization allows you to use them and do whatever you want to them in your mind. It gives you permission to ignore them, dismiss them, abuse them, withhold from them. And if you are like most people, instead of recognizing the true source of all this misery you will blame the other for bringing all this pain to you.
You will now have a deep groove in your perception, an energetic and physiological samskara, a habit. In neurological terms the glial cells in your brain have migrated to form a superhighway this familiar cascade of neurochemical stimulants.
So let’s recapitulate: You are an addict. You see things in your life as placeholders to fill an addiction. You have turned a human life, perhaps even your own, into a pellet-dispensing machine. You are not present to the relationships that are important to you and spend a huge amount of energy on some external focus as the source of your troubles. As a result you have very little time or energy devoted to the things that really matter to you. And when your cells are crying out for it, you just manufacture the appropriate chemicals by just thinking of or worrying about the person or situation that has become a poster-child for your addiction. And when the mental conjuring alone does not work, you will seek out this placeholder as your dealer or look for a new dealer if the old one is not available. Everywhere you look you will see this person or this situation. Everything they do will be evidence to you that they are the same old jerk. And your addiction will be self-validating, self-evident and feel absolutely justified.
In yogic terms this is maya: delusion, confusion, illusion; springing from avidya: ignorance, not knowing who is seeing. This is a perversion of your ability to create and focus. Luckily it is not correct, not real. You are demonstrating an amazing ability to fixate on a certain perception, this ability is just being used incorrectly, that’s all. With a little discipline and focus you can get through this, you can shed the chains of your own addiction. But you better want the freedom more than you want the pain. This is not as obvious a choice as it may sound.
This is where the correct use of willpower is needed because you will want to automatically default towards making that placeholder play its role for you by calling it up in your mind, thinking about it, worrying about it, fretting and obsessing over it. You will have to have some discipline and self-control. The first step is to notice the emotional swell that is the early warning system, the siren-call of your addiction. Do not react. The next step is to realize that you are making this person or situation your master. If you give away your peace of mind to them, they win and you lose. Third, you look at the situation you are judging or reacting to and you wonder, “OK, what do I need to feel from this?” If you ask this question sincerely you will be blessed with correct perception. “Oh wow, I needed to feel like a victim/ a superior person/ guilty/ unworthy,” etc. Then ask yourself: Is this REALLY what I want to feel right now?
If the answer is “No”, then you may start to ask “What can I learn from this?” “What is this telling me about me?” You start to reclaim your power and take control back, you begin to come out of playing with victimhood and giving your power away.
This is what it is like: You encounter the situation, emotion swells, you feel lost and out of control. It is as if you are walking around with a rickety cage door in your hands, shaking it going “Let me out,let me out, let me out!” And you are not even in a cage, there are no bars around you, you are just shaking a flimsy cage door. And you, the ultimate locksmith, have given the key to that person or situation that you have made the placeholder for your addiction. You handed them the key through the cage door. “Here, take this key please and keep it? Now let me out, let me out! Oh I am so angry with you! You are not giving me the key!” As you are shaking the cage door shouting to be freed, keys are falling from your pockets and clothing and building into a pile around your feet. You are the source of all keys but you look at the one being held outside the flimsy cage door. “Let me out!”
This is a part of the whole addiction. You take that placeholder outside the cage door, you make them more powerful than you and then you go begging to them for the key, begging for your fix. We have to be careful that we do not make people and things placeholders in our life. That we don’t dehumanize people, and that we are present for the people that we really want to share our lives with. That we don’t rob ourselves of those moments by focusing on addictions, by reacting and manufacturing false situations, internally demonizing people and situations, making others wear black-villain hats in order to give ourselves our fix. This is what the masters mean when they talk about maya, which means delusion, confusion. You have created an illusory world, it is not real. Its power lies in the power you give it, how you choose to perceive it. The illusion has no power of its own. And when you withdraw your attention from it, it will crumble. All you have to do is let go of the little gate you are holding and it will clang to the ground and fall apart, it will break on the pile of keys that are scattered at your feet.
Now perhaps you are thinking that this does not apply to you? Anyone or anything that you have a physiological reaction to, you can sense it in your churning gut, you can feel the sweat, you can feel the anxiety, the worry, the strong emotion or the need to prove yourself right, these physiological reactions are signs of your own addiction. It does not matter if you mask these feelings or pretend to be spiritual or above such things. Your addictions will take a fairly low key or neutral event and make it life-or-death. We are not talking about truly dangerous situations that you absolutely need to leave right now for your own true survival… You may even have already left the person or the circumstances are no longer here in this moment but you keep bringing it up. The slightest little contact sets this addiction off, a reaction that is all out of proportion and you lose your focus, you forget what is really important in your life.
Losing perspective is a tell-tale sign of your addiction. You spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the situation, arguing inside or outside, formulating responses and strategies. In fact you so much energy focusing on seeing the worst and most negative in your situation that you forget entirely what it is that you were really seeking. This misuse of your attention to worry and see the worst is worshipping and praying for what you don’t want. You have created a false idol and are kneeling at its feet. You are wasting your life pissing away your attention on what you do not want.
You have to want a new feeling in your life, a new experience. And your wanting of this new experience has to be stronger than your addiction to the old experience you supposedly don’t want. You have to be willing to stop worshipping your particular placeholder with your attention at 3AM, while you are eating dinner, while you are with someone else. You have to be willing to let go of the addiction, you have to want something else more. It will take a while but your body will begin to respond to your new focus. The glial cells in your brain will withdraw and migrate to a different thought pattern, the receptor sites on your newly dividing and multiplying cells will develop alternative receptor sites, it just takes a little time so you have to be disciplined and stay focused.
After the crowd left Houdini alone in this top-level maximum security jail cell, he took out the tools from his belt. He reached through the bars and began to work on the lock. And he is picking away at the lock and it is a different lock, it feels different than any mechanism he had ever worked on in the world. He is a little bit baffled. And after five minutes, a time period where he had usually been free from all the other cells he was still furiously working at the lock. He loses track of time and begins to worry, feeling the stress. More minutes pass, maybe ten or even twenty and he starts to feel fatigued, his hands and shoulders cramping from the tedious work. Yet he continues working trying every tool he has with every trick he knows, trying to get this lock undone. Becoming more and more tense until finally in exhaustion, he collapses against the cell door.
And the door swings open. In all the excitement and fanfare of the press and the flashbulbs the captain had forgotten close it completely and engage the lock.
This is what your cage door is like.
When you feel stuck in those addicting situations you can’t escape them because you are not a prisoner. That is why the ”lock” feels different than any other lock. That’s why your usual problem-solving techniques do not work. Because there is not a problem in the first place, you are not a captive. You can pick at that lock forever, in the end it doesn’t matter because it is already open. You are already free. All of your strategizing, your placeholding, your dehumanizing, your judgments, our checking out, none of it is helping because the lock is open and there is no cage behind you.
No one wants to be reduced to a pellet-dispensing machine, and this includes you. Your life and your body are not meant to be a vehicle for your addiction, they are a vehicle for your consciousness. All that is necessary is to reorient yourself toward what it is that you truly want. Notice when the storm of emotion swells and switch your focus and remember what you really want. It is a practice. Patanjali says this practice must be continuous, sustained, and cultivated skillfully over a long period of time. This is the only work that matters. It is the work that hides behind all the other work that you think is oh-so-important. What else are you going to do with your life, give in to your base and petty nature? Re-dedicate yourself over and over to a focus more worthy of your magnificence as a Divine Keyholder, and just when it seems hopeless Grace uplifts you and what is no longer desired is allowed to dissolve and melt away. And eventually you will stop shaking that ghost of a cage door and just drop the struggle. You will lean into the shadow of a cell door and fall through it. And you will laugh, truly laugh, at how solid you thought it once all was.