%When through intense ignorance
I wander in samsara (confusion)
On the luminous light path
Of dharmadhatu (true reality) wisdom%
I had to wrestle with the concept of Gluttony for some time before I got a grip on the genuine connotations of the word. My first step in understanding Gluttony was realizing that the fundamental difference between Greed and Gluttony as that Gluttony consumes while Greed accumulates. Only then was I able to see that its modern aspect is known as Addiction. I also realized that my difficulty in understanding what gluttony means in our times arises in part because what we now call addiction can only be practiced in our industrialized urbanized context that allows for unlimited access to the addictive substance of choice.
In a subsistence economy, even if the physical and psychological bent towards addiction exists, there are finite supplies available. Should an addict have to plant, tend, harvest, and refine their own opium for instance, eventually their supplies will run out and if they would like to have more, they have to start the cycle anew by growing the next crop of poppies. A Glutton in those circumstances is someone who feels driven to consume all possible sources of their addiction available regardless of how, when, or whether that substance could be replaced. A modern Addict on the other hand has essentially unlimited supplies, and can endlessly indulge their appetite, at least until they die of their disorder.
Erysichthon, whose names translates as Strife (erys) on Earth (chthon) is the archetypal Greek Glutton. He was cursed with an insatiable appetite after cutting down the sacred trees of the Goddess He first consumed all his own resources and then devoured all that he could beg, borrow, or steal. He was reduced to selling his daughter whom he disguised as her suitor’s ideal dream. Once the dowry payment was devoured, he would call her home in her true form. Only when this ability to deceive others failed, did his insatiable hunger turn inward and end up consuming his own body.
I found it intriguing that the Greeks saw the disease we call cancer as an aspect of Gluttony, especially as recent research indicates that one of the ways cancer cells fool the immune system is by covering themselves with endorphin receptors. Endorphins are our natural pain killers and the many highly addictive chemical variations on opiates, from oxycodon to heroin, all relieve pain by fitting into those receptors. Cancer cells are not only gluttons, devouring all available nutrients, but their endless demand for endorphins to disguise themselves so that our immune system does not recognize their destructiveness makes them addicts as well.
This need to disguise our true nature is the salient characteristic of Addiction. In seeking to delay his death, Erysichthon forced his daughter take the form most desired by her suitors, to give them the appearance of their deepest desire, but not the substance. It is not possible to maintain the deception as once he had consumed the dowry she brought him through her illusions, he called her home by shifting her back into her original form. Like cancer, Erysichthon the Addict only resorts to devouring himself when this deception has run its course and there are no other resources left.
Our ally in transmuting our addictions is Halcyon, the third Pleiadian Sister, whose name means ‘she who averts evil’. She appears as the eye-catching kingfisher bird, whose appearance portends the halcyon days when the seas are smooth and tranquil. Her story is however is tragic. She is married to Ceyx, the Son of the Morning Star, who insists on leaving her to seek prophecies from the Oracle. He sets sail, but clings near to the rocky shore. Halcyon hurls herself off a seaside cliff when she learns that a storm has thrown his boat against the rocks, sinking it and drowning him.
A suicide seems an unlikely guide to the Tree of life, so I took a look at Noah’s Ark, the third story in the old Testament. Since he must cut down trees to build his ark, and the monstrous sins flooding his world that he takes to the seas to escape seem much the same as those that Erisycthon brings upon himself and his community when he chops down the sacred tree. I decided that I needed to find a way for us more modern sorts to conceptualize this sacred cosmic Tree.
I found our contemporary Tree in chaos theory, and appropriately enough, it is called the Fig Tree after Micheal Feigenbaum (Figtree) who elucidated some of the fundamental constants of chaos. Looking into chaos theory also illuminated one of my unanswered questions about Noah:
- How could he possibly have used a twig out in mid-ocean as a map to find solid ground?
Mathematicians call the Tree in chaos process nonlinear bifurcation and according to Mr. Figtree, this repeated splitting into two parts from an initial point follows distinct rules. Trying to verbalize those rules leads even mathematicians astray, but visualizing them gives us a map of the cosmic Tree.
- A trunk rises up from the ground and
- Splits into two branches each of which
- Split in two and Each split
- Shrinks its branches while continuing to
- Replicate the original pattern
Eventually the branches become so numerous and small that we can no longer perceive order in them UNLESS we change our point of view. If we look at the branching from a ‘higher’ viewpoint, which the mathematician call ‘an orbital diagram’, the original pattern will become clear again. Conversely, if we narrow our view and, like Noah, only look at a twig instead of trying to see the whole tree, the pattern will also become clear.
The stem of Noah’s twig is his ability to decide where to focus his attention and Matthew Wood describes Noah’s Ark as the vessel of the soul in which the inner work that allows us to develop our ability to focus takes place:
The Ark represents the self-enclosed totality of the soul.
It is a vessel,
like the alchemical vase
in which the great work of transformation is performed….
Page 59 Seven Herbs by Matthew Wood
Once we have learned how to focus our attention, we can begin to understand what happens when we change that focus. In its simplest terms that Is our ability to decide yes or no when faced with a decision. The key to transforming an addiction is a willingness to focus one’s attention in the moment and decide that at this moment right now:
- Yes, I will take my drug of choice
- No, I will not take the drug
Each time we do such a decision, the Tree of our life branches, offering further choices. By developing our ability to choose, we begin to accumulate sufficient information and options to begin to see and understand how our choices affect what happens in our lives. Eventually we may even begin to understand how those happenings reflect the constants of more universal patterns of relationship. At that point we begin to develop our inner compass, a sprout off of the great Tree. We are no longer lost at sea, but can begin to make our way towards solid land once more.
The timbers of which the Ark is built
stand for the integrity necessary for the work.
we see that Noah does not look after his neighbor’s affairs,
or point his finger at their monstrous sins.
(In fact there is no record of what those sins were,
evidently because Noah never looked at them.)
The Ark has no windows in it so
he cannot look out upon the evil people
while they are being destroyed.
There is a window only on the top of the Ark,
indicating that during the crisis
he may only look up towards God.
Page 59 Seven Herbs by Matthew Wood
Asking why Noah’s Ark weathers the storming of the Gods while Ceyx’s ship sinks offers some insights into our own journey: Consider that:
- Noah listens to his own inner knowing while Ceyx seeks answers from a outside and earthly source in the person of the oracle,
- Noah brings his wife and children, and all they might need to thrive with him while Ceyx leaves his wife behind,
- Noah is taken so far out to sea that land cannot be seen while Ceyx clings to the rocky shore
Noah does not just find his way back to solid ground by seeking the original Tree, the source of the olive branch brought to him by the dove within himself. He creates a solid island of orderly ground out of the overwhelming seas of chaos for himself and all who accompanied him on his journey by coming to understand how his focus, intentions, and actions, affect his surroundings. Ceyx and Halcyon , on the other hand, remind us that finding the trunk of our inner Tree, a sense of our true self, is tricky business, and all too often our perceptions of safety and solidity are dangerous delusions.
We will not succeed if we chase after someone else’s version of ‘the truth’, or deceive ourselves by clinging to an outward appearance of safety, or by seeking to satiate a hunger for understanding with the delusion of security. For Ceyx to orient himself and find his own answers, he would have to abandon both the shore and his search for the Oracle as wholeheartedly as Halcyon flung herself into the air. In doing so, she calms the seas and finds her wings. To find our own way:
All we need to know
is that the image of the flood
represents the experience of psychological crisis,
the overwhelming of everything
in the taken-for-granted world.
The Ark is the representation of the preparation
a person can make for such a circumstance.
After the flood has been weathered,
God finds the person acceptable.
As a sign of His satisfaction,
God sets the rainbow in the clouds.
This is a sign of the spiritual beauty
which now belongs to the soul
and a guarantee of its acceptability to God.
Page 60 Seven Herbs by Matthew Wood
One of the sticking points for most addicts when they face recovery through the spiritual path of the 12-step program is the burning question of how there could possibly be a predictable universal result from their individual yes or no decision in the midst of the chaos of their lives. Which leads us to one of the mathematical peculiarities of chaos theory:
- As long as the chaotic system is based on dualism, on a yes/no basis , mathematically stated as ‘period doubling bifurcations’, there are predictable periodic patterns of relationships REGARDLESS of the content of the
Scientists find this unbelievable, startling, even miraculous, because it breaks all the rules of science and all the laws of nature. The shamanic and/or spiritual viewpoint is more pragmatic, and instead of arguing plausibility, finds away to both predict these patterns and to influence them. One of the most important idea to befriend is the reality that most systems are non-linear, the next is that very small changes result in huge differences, and not least is the realization that you must reduce the forces driving the instability of the system. In science this mean making sure that nothing changes in the space of your laboratory except the factors you are studying.
When addressing the practice of addiction, the destabilizing factor is time. Instead of pondering whether or not they will ever use their drug of choice again, the addict learns to reduce the instability of the future, to collapse their dilemma into the present and make a yes or no decision. The question becomes do I use my drug of choice right now. Meditation, prayer, self-inventory, and amends, are all means of eliminating distractions, of focusing our minds in the present, and creating an inner moment where we are able to choose yes or no. That clear choice makes predictable changes in the future, cretes a spiritual path, but those changes only remain predictable as long as we are willing and able to create a moment in our lives where we are present enough in the moment to make a choice.
When our attention is scattered into regrets and resentments of the past and foggy illusions of the future, we are not present in our own lives. The choices the addict makes are not related to the circumstances they are in and so their lives spiral out of control. The key shift in attitude is to turn from trying to control all and everyone that makes up our circumstances throughout time, into controlling our own behavior right here and right now. Those who walk their spiritual path moment by moment realize that there are predictable results from their behavior, even if those results fall into the realms scientists find unbelievable, startling, even miraculous.