By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan

After reading this post about possible origins of addiction, I got to contemplating.

If addiction is not approached solely as a disease—but as the author, Johann Hari, suggests a lack of connection to community—could its origins possibly be linked to our thought patterns? I write this with a compassionate, inquisitive heart: no judgment, but a desire to better untangle how we can fall into isolation and its many side affects.

I have been touched by family members and friends who struggle with addiction, have seen the isolation they find themselves in, and I know intimately the struggle that comes with chronic stress and worry.

In my studies with Yoga North during our section on yoga philosophy there is a map outlining how our thoughts can cause afflictions. These “afflictions” are called the Kleshas. I think possibly the Kelshas can shed light on how one finds themselves in the throws of addictions, or any kind of suffering that leads us away form our true nature.

While drugs and alcohol are what we often recognize as classic addictions, there are also many other ways we can become addicted, or attached to life as we want it to be instead of accepting life on life’s terms, which can lead to anxiety, depression, chronic worry or stress.

The Kleshas consist of five movements away from community—from oneness—into isolation.

Once we begin to move in this downward trend it is an easier space to make decisions out of that do not support our optimal health. We can map these movements through a daily or regular meditation practice.

The first Klesha we encounter is Avidya—ignorance, or wrong knowledge. In this affliction we lack awareness of the current truth. We believe a story that is no longer true, perhaps never was true because of our lack of awareness. Or perhaps was once true but the reality of our lives changed and we haven’t caught up to the truth.

Truth changes and we best stay current with it. Carl Jung said something like, “What was true at breakfast becomes suspicious at lunch and a lies by dinner.” He illustrates in this paraphrased quote how important it is to stay present to the moment at hand.

Our second affliction is Asmita, our ego.

We all have one and we need it to survive. It is when it becomes out of balance with our true nature, our oneness, that it causes suffering for us. We so identify with ourselves and our image we forget our brilliance, our divine nature. We identify with “I am…”

The third klesha we encounter is called Raja, attachment to pleasure, to our likes, to that which supports my image of myself. “I like this, and this and this…” So we are building on the wrong story, into what we believe we are, and further limiting ourselves by our likes.

The fourth Klesha is Devesha, aversion, things we actively avoid, repulsion to pain. Dislikes crop up here—aversion to that which does not support my image of myself. “I do not like this and this and this…” Not only do we define ourselves by our likes but also by our dislikes narrowing ourselves and our image of ourselves even further.

Finally the fifth Klesha to lead us deeper into suffering is Abhinivesha, a clinging to life, or avoidance of death.

Our ultimate fear is presented here.

We are so attached to our image of ourselves that we fear to lose the body we are born into. Forgetting that we are bigger than this body, this image of ourselves with our likes and dislikes hedging us inward into our small sense of self with a lower case “s,” instead of expansive and outward into our largest sense of Self with a capitol “S,” where we experience a sense of oneness and community.

I like visuals. And gratefully so does my teacher, Molly McManus at Yoga North who took the time to create this image of the Kleshas.

She shows us this movement from connection, oneness, to separation, by imagining it like an upside down triangle.


When we are in connection with ourselves, others, in harmony with God and our divinity, in community we live at the widest part of the triangle, above it.

Gradually as we get moored by our wrong thinking we move toward more limits and isolation until we find ourselves at the narrowest tip of the triangle. We move from community to isolation. Unless of course, unless, we remember.

So how do we keep ourselves from falling into isolation with wrong thinking? How do we remember?

Here are four experiments suggested by my two teachers, Ann Maxwell and Molly McManus:

Experiment 1: Think of your likes and dislikes and begin to note them (meditation practice helps here, but so does making a list). Notice how when you say I like that and that and that it begins to limit you from experiencing what is before you. Then begin to notice your dislikes and see how it limits you even further.

You might catch yourself saying, I like coffee, but not tea. Now a whole world of tea is out of your reach. Or you might hear yourself note I would never wear that. These are simple things. Gradually however, our encounter of our likes and dislikes, create boxes for us until we have made ourselves fit into such a small, complex box our very wholeness is fragmented.

What to do about this? Try playing with this fun experiment and practice liking your dislikes and disliking your likes. See if it lessens your attachment to your image of yourself. Notice if you find joy in trying things that you were once limiting yourself from having because you committed to not liking that but liking this.

Experiment 2: We all have needs and wants and can react quite readily to them. But when they run us and no longer create joy it may be time to try and take a pause.

Begin to notice your needs or wants happening—often it arrives like a I must have that kind of response. Experiment with what it may be like to delay that want. Notice if in the delay a spaciousness arises within you.

By relinquishing this attachment does a lightness arrive within you? If the story you tell yourself is I need my coffee in the morning, maybe pause and ask yourself, do I? Could I go without it? What might I try instead? How does relinquishing my need for coffee create space for something different? Do I feel lighter?

Can you begin to understand how finding a calm centered mind, and thoughts without likes and dislikes may benefit our mental health? Can you begin to understand that finding ways we may not allow our thoughts to have a charge to them positive or negative could lead us away from suffering?

From affliction? From wrong thinking?

Can we try to neutralize our thoughts and respond to what is? Can we notice that pleasant thoughts and painful thoughts both cause suffering? Pleasant ones because once the pleasantness is gone we long for it again.

Can we accept life on life’s terms?

Be present to what is instead of wishing for what could be or was?

When we are so deep into isolation it is far easier to make decisions that close us off from health, from others, from ourselves even. At the narrowest tip of the triangle, our barometer for making choices that keep our mind expansive and free and light-filled becomes clouded and dulled by the layers of stories we have placed upon ourselves—unless, unless we remember.

Our body literally begins to close in on itself.

We can see the body folding in on itself when someone is in a state of depression, isolation, illness, anxiety, or addiction: the arms rotate in, the palms face downward, the knees and hips and chest cave toward the center and the person’s gaze and neck turn downward into themselves and away from others, even from the gaze of the sun’s warmth.

Experiment 3: Find a somayoga class or a movement class that allows you to meditate and move with your physical body. As I learn to teach and practice SomaYoga, I realize that movement is one way out of the self-isolation and suffering we find ourselves in when we sink to Abhinivesha; and a way back to remember our higher selves, our wholeness, our oneness with others climbing the spiritual mountain together in the heart of compassion.

SomaYoga connects us back into our consciousness, our breath, our body, and mind and spirit, allowing us to see that we are not—our thoughts that lead us away from our true self and others. We are not even our habits that cause us chronic pain. We are brilliant and beautiful and whole, and our bodies and brain can work together to remember how to release our chronic tension and our habits for better health and wholeness.

When we are in the expansiveness of our thinking our decisions are in greater harmony with our health and our somas reflect this and our physical bodies exhibit this in our posture standing taller and with greater ease and freedom.

Restated another way by the great meditation teacher, Eknath Easwaran:

“In order to climb the Himalayas within us, we have to train ourselves, little by little, day by day. Sir Edmund Hillary, who climbed Mount Everest for the first time, did not just stand at the bottom, take one leap, and land on top. He practiced climbing for a long time to learn all the required skills; and for you and me to climb the spiritual mountain, we, too, have to strengthen our muscles over a long, long period of time. Most of us get our training experience in the heart of the family. In mountain climbing, you tie yourself to others with ropes and when somebody slips you haul him up and save him. Similarly, in living with family or friends, if somebody slips you do not say, ‘Aha! Served him right!’ You pull him up. And when you slip, she pulls you up. It is a loving exchange. So there is greater safety when people live together and help one another.”

Linking us back to community. When we live in community it is harder to fall all the way down to the tip of the triangle, to hide our pain, to self destruct.

Experiment 4: The last experiment I leave you with is a simple meditation mantra taught to me by Maxwell and McManus and also by Gracia Gimse McKinley called “Neti, neti, neti.”

“Neti means ‘not that.’ It symbolizes: I am not that thought, I am not that thought thinking I am not that thought, I am not that thought at all.”

You can use this in meditation when your mind wanders but also during your day when you encounter an inharmonious thought. It is a reminder not to believe everything you think.

Ahhh, such beauty to remember not to believe every thought we think. But instead to slowly grow our awareness and our witness stance. To notice how our thoughts can create our reality so to take heed and remember.

It seems staying connected to community, to one another, and loving ourselves with soft whispers that caress us instead of shut us down is important to stay whole and open and free of chronic suffering and possibly from addiction or the negative self talk that can possibly lead to addiction.

I truly realize at a deep level that to cultivate peace and actively release the pattern of worry that too often can run me, is a grace I can grow by studying the Kleshas, and practicing the above experiments when I find myself going into that downward spiral. This awareness and practices allow me to stay in a more expansive posture and expression of my soma.

I wonder if the study of the Kleshas can shed similar light on addiction?

The study of the Kleshas reveal to me, that being stuck on convictions and beliefs leads us deeper into suffering and into afflictions, and away from being able to say yes to the fullness of life.

Life is full breath and movement, and movement involves paying attention to the currents, to the threads of thoughts that we can unravel to weave the masterpiece of our exquisite life. These become a tapestry of colors and sorrows and joy that together if we are not caught in the waves of them, create the intricacies of a human, and a human connected and in love with other humans leading a full life.

This connection with the large sense of Self and others keeps us joyous and in love with all that is, and supports us continually making decisions and growth that say yes to life; and ever present moment by moment to the sweetness of life.


Photo: (source)

Editor: Dana Gornall



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