Addiction, Spiritual Practice, and Hopelessness

Here’s a powerful question from T. about addiction, healing, and family karma…

Dear E & D

My adult daughter is drug addicted. We have experienced years of challenge – life/death scenarios, fear, anger, love, hope, despair, etc. Obviously, it’s complicated on many levels.

 Now I find myself on the verge of believing in absolutely nothing. Over the years, I have practiced consistently, bulking up my spiritual ‘tool box’ until I can hardly lift it anymore. I’m empty and exhausted.

 Just as healing seems to begin – the wound is opened again. After 20 years of this struggle, I wonder if it will ever resolve.

 Thank you,


Dear T.

Thank you for sending this note and for your undefended heart.

When we care and are connected to others it’s natural for their struggles to affect us.

As a parent, friend, partner, colleague, the undefended heart feels and responds to the suffering of those we love.

How can we continue to open, remain present, and engage with compassion?

Particularly in the face of the on-going struggle and the frustration of our best efforts? When conditions are “right” and the people around us are relatively peaceful – it’s easier for the mind to rest in balanced awareness.

But, when those we love spiral into self-doubt or self-destruction, our own sense of balance is threatened.

We teeter and totter and often spiral into our own signature patterns of imbalance.

How can we stay connected and engage in our most challenging relationships – and sustain balanced awareness?

This is the challenge for all who wish to live with an undefended heart.

This is the question for all who long to embody wisdom and compassion in the midst of life ups and downs.

It boils down to this:

How can we heal our karma?

Specifically our family karma.

For while the details of each person’s family karma will differ in the specifics – the nature of the challenge, the deep questions, and fiery invitation to awaken, are universal. We’re all here to awaken.

What differs is the intensity with which life knocks on the door of your consciousness… knockknockknock

Life is knocking on the door of your consciousness.

You’ll find this teaching in every wisdom tradition. Life, the guru, the savior, the bodhisattva, the healing presence (however you name it) is knock, knock, knocking on the door of your consciousness.

These same teachings point out that the healing presence doesn’t come with a neon sign flashing “I’m the healing presence! I am the sacred energy that will heal your life!”

Nope. The healing presence comes in disguise… What kind of disguise?

The Healing Presence is disguised as the form of your life.

In the traditions, it is said that the healing presence comes in the form of a beggar, a stranger, in rags.

In short, the sacred blessing, comes in a disguise that challenges inherited ideas of spirituality, healing, and even love.

The awakening energy of life comes in a form that reflects your deepest need and your most potent spiritual question.

It’s in disguise – as an addicted daughter, a distant father, an angry spouse, a self-destructive sister . . . the forms are endless. But, each one is a mirror – revealing the nature of the emotional pain and suffering that you are here to heal. Not rescue, not control, not fix… heal.

Healing reveals that hidden deep within the disturbing form is a sacred gift that –  as you open to it – brings that which you truly seek into your life.

So, how does life knock on the door of your consciousness?

In whatever way you are able to notice.

Life knocks in the most subtle, gentle, way and also forcefully. This knocking follows a progression – based on your capacity to listen, be aware, and respond. The first knocks or calls to awaken are virtually silent.

If you hear the silent call, your mind is not cluttered with self-contradictory beliefs and tensions.

In this state of integrated awareness, you can respond to the silence; you can hear the unspoken teachings.

But, if you can’t hear the silent call and are unable to respond to the gently knocking; if the subtle invitation becomes lost in the swirl of emotional tensions; then life will adapt to your attentional capacity and turn up the volume of the call.

This increased intensity will typically manifest as more and more dramatic events – messages that are harder and harder to ignore.

At some point, the intensity of life’s knocking will match your capacity to attune

Then you receive the message.

How? By letting go of whatever outmoded identity is limiting you.

In your letter, you say: Now I find myself on the verge of believing in absolutely nothing.


This is a tender and sacred moment.

All the beliefs of the past have brought you to this moment.

This is the nature of every belief, indeed of every insight… it is impermanent. It has carried you this far and now, as you are ready to go deeper, the belief lets go of you.

Will your mind let go of the belief?

Yes, it will – if you allow it to. Breathe… Be gentle with yourself.

Outgrowing beliefs – and accumulated spiritual practices – in no way dishonors their usefulness.

The beliefs and practices of the past have served you.

They have brought you to this moment of letting go. They have purified your consciousness so you can hear the knock, knock, knocking…

Life is knocking at the door of your heart.

It is knocking in the form of your life conditions – including those that are so painful; including all the thought & emotional reactions that arise within you.

Open your heart. Receive what is there with loving awareness. Life will meet you wherever you are. Life offers infinite opportunities for you to awaken, to heal, and to let go of what causes suffering.

Life is fully, unconditionally, and relentlessly committed to your awakening.

Your awakening is inevitable. There’s nothing you need to do. You can follow the path of events (called the school of hard knocks) or you can take the path of spiritual practice.

Here’s the difference (and the choice is yours).

On the path of events, life will alternately appear as being on your side and then not on your side.

On the path of spiritual practice, you partner with life. You assent to and align with life’s awakening energy.

You inhale the blessings that are being transmitted to you  (right now with this breath).

And exhale, letting go of what no longer serves you (right now with this very breath).

Does that mean that your suffering will end?

I don’t know. Are you willing to find out?

Here’s what I do know – that as you develop your capacity to breathe with life, the knocks of awakening will still come. How they will come and when is impossible to control.

But, when you’re breathing with life, control isn’t your agenda.

Awakening is.

Which means that when the knock comes to your door, you won’t recoil, defend, or struggle.

You won’t take the knock, knock, knock as evidence of lack or insufficiency.

You’ll recognize it for exactly what it is. Life turning towards you.

So, you’ll turn, with loving awareness, towards what is seeking to awaken within you and through you.

You’ll accept the blessing and share it… and with an undefended heart.

You’ll open the door… letting go of what no longer serves your life and embracing the next step on your path.

Love & Shanti

E & D

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    That for me was a beautiful description of the path to surrender, the point when I finally acknowledged that I could no longer do it myself, on my own. What is so challenging about surrender is the acknowledgement that I can’t change the other person. I can only change me but when I do change me, that opens a doorway for the other to change. It may be directly. It may be indirectly through another reacting to my change and the change in that person invites the person we’re reacting to to change. Through all of this most importantly, there is the mysterious life force, the Radiance or grace or whatever which comes through spiritual practice in quiet and stillness in its own time and way. I have found it helpful to welcome it with the statement, “I’m listening. I’m willing to be surprised.”

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