The journey into addiction can be seen as a type of experiment, it is like visiting a dangerous country. We’re hiking in the badlands. But this is not an experiment that ‘no good can come out of’; all experience is valid after all, and all experience, however destructive, can be transmuted into wisdom. Moreover, addiction is a fundamental part of all of our lives, whether we recognize this or not. We can learn an awful lot from the experience of being addicted, if we ‘own up to it’! The experience of addiction is a very good introduction to a fundamental principle in life which we can call the ‘psychological entropy slope’. To understand what psychological entropy is all about is incredibly beneficial, if not downright essential, and this is the potential ‘learning value’ of the experiment, this is the ‘plus’ side. The ‘down-side’ is that the experiment is also incredibly risky, as we have already said, and the risk is that we will lose ourselves entirely. What happens is that when we enter the realm of addiction we lose the integrity (or ‘wholeness’) which is necessary to get out again. In fact, when it comes right down to it this is what addiction is all about, losing integrity. This is the crux of the matter:
We can enter an addiction freely but we cannot come out as easily as we entered, because in order to get out we need to be free, and addiction is an experiment in losing freedom.
So, if we take heroin addiction as an example we can say (by way of a very crude explanation) that when you started off you were ‘a whole person’, all you needed to live life was ‘yourself’. Afterwards, however, you can no longer cut it alone – it has to be ‘you + a sufficient supply of gear’ before you can do anything. ‘Yourself on your own’ is no longer enough, ‘yourself on your own’ is a disaster…
In order to truly understand the ‘dangerousness’ of the experiment we need to look more closely at the bipolar concept of ‘psychological entropy versus integrity’. Psychological entropy is a sort of decay, or degeneration, of sincerity. Zero entropy is utter sincerity, where there is no game, no secret agenda, no self-deception. There are no escape clauses, no qualifying ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. This is the state of being able to trust your own integrity, i.e. if you say something you know that you mean it. Maximum entropy is on the other hand complete insincerity – it is where you are playing a game, deceiving yourself and others at the same time. On the surface it is one thing, but in reality it is something else. This can also be called ‘the state of psychological unconsciousness’.
We can apply this concept to the experiment of losing freedom through becoming addicted. To start off with my integrity is relatively intact (it isn’t as intact as all that but to some extent it is) and this basically means that I can trust myself. If I have intentions then those intentions are (generally speaking, at least) honest and out in the open – they actually mean something. After I have gone down the entropy slope enough then entropy sets in with a vengeance – what I say and think no longer actually means anything any more, because my sincerity has no depth to it. And of course, sincerity with no depth is not sincerity at all, it is self-deception! So, what we are saying is this: when I become addicted (to anything at all) my original integrity is lost – psychological entropy rots my sincerity, everything becomes a sham, and there are no such things as ‘honest intentions’ anymore. All that matters is ‘servicing the addiction’, and this motivation has to be kept under cover.
I might have had (at one point) the original intention to come back out of the addiction, and back to myself, but after a while this intention turns into just another ploy in the game of self-deception. Once this is understood, it becomes plain that what we’re talking about here is one hell of a ‘down-side’ – playing with fire would be putting it mildly; addiction is the worst enemy imaginable because the enemy is yourself (or rather the enemy is ‘the process of yourself becoming your own enemy without you knowing it’). Because psychological entropy actually is the dark force of unconsciousness, nothing is in the open anymore, and so nothing is honest, not even (especially not even) our so-called attempts to escape unconsciousness. The dilemma is not unfamiliar, really. It is like being an undercover drugs-squad agent who has to mix with genuine users and spend lots of time with them. He or she has to talk the talk, and walk the walk. Of course, the danger is that the original agenda gets lost along the way and. The original integrity of purpose is completely lost and it is then the official identity of ‘being undercover agent’ that is the pretence, rather than the identity of being a drug user. A ‘switch-over’ occurs where we become what we were pretending to be.
Now, the undercover drugs-squad story is only a metaphor, and it only holds good up to a point, like all metaphors. The difference is that the original ‘I’ (i.e. who we truly are, outside of the game) doesn’t have a narrow ‘agenda’ or ‘purpose’ or ‘identity’ which it is possible to forget about. It has no agenda, but it does have freedom. Freedom is different from any purpose that we might come up with, no matter how lofty, inasmuch as freedom means that we are not defined by any purpose. We’re free from purposes, not ‘free to enact them’. When we are free to pursue our purposes or goals, but not free to walk away from them, then this is what J.G. Bennett calls negative freedom.
When we ‘doing things for a purpose’ then we reverse everything since we’re only free inasmuch as we’re working towards to the purpose. We can buy any colour car we like, as long as we buy a car! We’re not free to drop the underlying, all-determining agenda and this is what ‘psychological entropy’ is all about. This is also what the Tibetan teacher Sogyal Rinpoche calls ‘active laziness’, and what psychiatrist / psychotherapist M.Scott Peck calls ‘entropy,’ or, ‘laziness as the opposite of love’. Psychological entropy, therefore, is about ‘forgetting on purpose,’ and then ‘forgetting that you forgot’. It is about hiding from our own higher consciousness. It is about doing something, and then saying that we didn’t do it. It is about saying you are going to do something, whilst knowing the whole time that you are not, but not consciously owning up to that. So, whatever our intentions were, the trip we are on is about conveniently ducking out of these intentions whenever we want. This is the escape clause, being able at any time to forget the true self and the intentions of the true self.
THE LOSS OF THE ‘I’
This business is all about denial: inside all of us is a shifty little creature, the shifty little entity of psychological entropy which is reliable in only one respect – it can be relied upon to cop out whenever things get tough, or when it is called upon to face something that it doesn’t want to face. When we go down the psychological entropy slope our integrity, the authority of the ‘I’, is lost. Instead, the ultimate authority behind our lives is the authority of the pseudo-entity of psychic entropy, which has only one rule: “I reserve the right to duck out of anything, whenever I feel like it…”
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that this rule creates an unholy monster. It could be said that the only thing that is truly frightening – the only thing that we really ought to fear – is the ‘pseudo-freedom’ that we in the West call ‘psychological unconsciousness’, and which in the East is called samsara – the ocean of illusion which we get lost in, virtually forever. This is rightfully scary because once we caught up in the negative freedom of samsara everything we do on the basis of our deluded understanding simply draws us in deeper and deeper into the delusion. Instead of genuinely ‘escaping’, we just retreat further into denial. In our confusion, we think that illusion is freedom – we think that the power to manipulate reality whenever and however we like (so that we no longer know what the truth is) is freedom, when actually it is the complete opposite.
We manipulate reality so skilfully that we actually manage to hide from ourselves the fact that this is what we are doing; we lie to ourselves so well that we don’t even know that we are lying. This is like a person who is so good at arguing that they can prove any point – no matter what they do, they can always prove (to themselves at least!) that they are right. If we are only thinking about the short-term benefit, this seems like a great thing because it lets us have whatever we want, and avoid whatever we want to avoid. The long-term consequences, however, are clearly not so good. We end up cheating ourselves out of life itself, because winning at this ‘game in unreality’ means losing in reality. The unreal ‘I’ wins, but because the unreal ‘I’ doesn’t actually exist, there isn’t a winner at all. Ultimately speaking, in this game of cheat no one benefits, there is just the illusory idea of benefiting, the glittering ‘lure’, which leads us on to disaster.
The ability to manipulate meaning to suit the cause of ‘avoidance’ is what psychological entropy is all about, but this ability – needless to say – doesn’t make us happy. This type of ‘freedom’ leaves us with a bad taste in the mouth, because we have traded off what is real for the privilege of living in illusion, where the only genuine power we have is the power to deceive ourselves.
THE BAD ROAD
Addiction is only one particular example of the general idea which we are discussing. The principle is that the dim awareness of the loss of the ‘I’ demoralizes us more and more, so that we feel we might as well sell ourselves out even more. After a while, the knowledge that we no longer have the authority of the ‘I’ anymore tips us even further down the path of giving up. Because we learn, time and time again, that we cannot trust ourselves, that there is no real ‘I’ to trust, we start to experience self-loathing, guilt and despair, which drives us further into the arms of the other psychic pole, i.e. denial. Because it becomes too painful to face up to reality, we find ourselves driven to make the choice of copping out, the choice of unconsciousness. This is the ‘bad road’ that we walk down, not because we really want to, but because, once we have started, there seems to be no choice but to continue. This is what happened to Macbeth in Shakespeare’s tragedy – although a good man really, Macbeth had gone so far down ‘the bad road’ that he felt he had no choice but to carry on…