One of the best books on addiction is 'In The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts' by Gabor Maté. The title comes from the Buddhist texts.
In Buddhist cosmology, one of the psychic domains that is described is the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. The hungry ghost figures are depicted with scrawny little necks and huge bellies — riddled with powerful desires they can never really satisfy.
I remember when I first came across the description of the 'Hungry Ghost' I was on retreat in a beautiful Buddhist monastery called Samye Ling in Scotland and one of the jobs that I had to do in the early morning time was to bring food to the river and leave the food for the hungry ghosts.
They definitely describe addiction to a T, with their scrawny necks and their fat bellies, that can never be filled. This is of course a wonderful interpretation of addiction, never enough, always wanting more.
I remember in my crazy insane days as an active alcoholic, there was never enough, I always had to have more, to the point of blackout or collapse. There’s never enough for the hungry ghosts, and they lead to the depths of despair in what AA describe as the "gates of Hell".
When I lived in Exeter in southern England in the 70s, I found myself begging for money on the streets. I will never forget the day that a smiling, long-haired, kind male hippy by the name of Sun Ray approached me and asked me if I was hungry. He brought me to an entry behind a row of shops where the bins were kept and he brought me to the bins of a Chinese takeaway. He opened the bin and brought out some chicken which he proceeded to eat and he said to me "look what people throw away, good chicken". He offered me some to eat and I had the presence of mind to politely reply, "no thanks, I'm not hungry".
Is this where my addiction had brought me, to begging on the streets and dining from a bin? How sad and how desperate had I become in my addiction. The hungry ghosts would continue to scream within me for more, more, more. During that moment of clarity, I was blessed with the insight to see what I had become.
Sad to say, but that moment of awareness didn’t last long as I was to continue to descend into the depths of depravity, to places that would make Halloween look like a picnic. A place that was filled with fear and self-loathing. A place where you were alone with your own madness, where the guests were, greed, fear, envy and paranoia.
There’s a saying that religion is for people who are frightened of hell and spirituality is for people who have been there.
Selfishness and self-centredness to the core, believing that I was cursed, helpless and hopeless, the poor me, me, me. Nobody wants me and I don’t want anybody as I resided in that dark place where addiction brings us, unable to see a way out of the darkness—my inner Halloween that never stopped.
In recovery, as I walk the streets of our city, I see the pain and suffering of our fellow citizens, begging on our city streets.
I always stop to give a few bob and ask my fellow-sufferers what happened and to touch their hands, making physical contact and letting them know that there is a way out. We have to be the hope during others’ despair and let those who are still suffering know that we are here for them. To let them know that we know that this is not the life that they wish to live in.
The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.— Alcoholics Anonymous Ireland (@AlcoholAnonIE) June 23, 2021
Contact Alcoholics Anonymous to learn more. https://t.co/eS2ePYCOwm
For me, I’m eternally grateful for a group of sober, recovering, alcoholics/addicts who were there for me. I knew deep inside that I was not alone. Good people who had been to the gates of hell and back again.
There’s a saying that religion is for people who are frightened of hell and spirituality is for people who have been there. Let us walk in the footsteps of kindness and compassion. The daddy of mindfulness in the west, Jon Kabat-Zinn says that mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention, to what’s happening right here right now in a non- judgemental way. He also says and I believe this to be true, that mindfulness breaks addiction.
So as we approach Halloween, let’s be mindful of the still suffering addict, who is residing in the realm of the hungry ghosts. Let’s be generous in our trick or treat and treat others with a good heart.