Recently I was speaking with a man, of about forty, who was suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. He was telling me that his life had gotten so bad that before coming to treatment he and his girlfriend would lie in bed and fantasize about dying. They weren’t talking about suicide or how they could end each others lives. They simply wanted to disappear. Life had to become too intense and the suffering was overwhelming. They had gotten to a place where all of their attempts to alleviate their suffering only made the pain more unbearable. They felt stuck. He described it as hell.
I asked him to elaborate on what he meant by “hell.” He began by describing the sadness and frustration associated with a life that is governed by an addiction. He specifically mentioned the powerlessness and unmanageability he experienced every morning when he woke up and the first thing he thought about was getting high. I could see the sadness in his eyes. I asked him about this sadness, and he said, “Well, I knew that I was going to have to do things, things that I didn’t want to do, to people that I loved. I was going to have to lie, steal, and manipulate people that I cared deeply about. I was going to have to hurt people, and I did not want to, but it was as if I had no other option.”
I could see that there was a soft spot, which for me, was very interesting. So, I pressed on. He told me that his current lifesytle went against everything he believed. That in order to live the way he was living he had to discard his morals. I asked him if he felt like these morals were something he was taught by his parents or religion, or if it is was something more innate—a knowing that is not learned, but self-existing. He said, “Oh, I just know that it is not right to be dishonest or violent…It feels wrong. It just doesn't feel like I am being myself. It feels like I am a good person doing bad things. It makes me feel gross.”
I said, "It seems to me that your true Self—who you are beyond your addiction—is being violently suppressed in order to get high." He said, “I want to believe that. I know I am a good person...a loving person, but I have done some terrible things." We sat quietly for a minute, then he continued, "Just the other day it happened again, but this time it had nothing to do with drugs. Someone asked me if I could do them a favor. At first I thought, sure, but then I was overtaken by what I wanted. ‘The football game was about to start and I wanted to watch the game. They had all day to ask me this, but they waited until the game was starting.’ So, I told them no. I felt exactly how I felt a few weeks back when I was doing things I didn’t want to do in order to score some dope. So, I got up and did what this person asked me to do. When I was finished I was walking back by and heard someone say, ‘I knew he’d do it. He is a good person.' Man, that made me feel good. It reminded me of who I use to be, before the drug addiction. And it reminded me of why I wanted to get sober—so I can become that person again.”
I asked him to tell me a little bit more about how he felt when he heard that guy say he was a good person. "It made me feel great. It gave me hope that I could become that person again.", he replied. I asked, “But you did feel it, right?” He said, “Absolutely.” Then I said, "You felt it, not because you use to be that person, but because you are that person. It is so important that you take the time to notice and appreciate the fact, that not even the darkness of your addicion was able to destroy your basic goodness. All the terrible things you've done, as still at the core you are a good person. Reconnecting with that voice of authenticity is what it means to develop a relationship with God. That is what it feels like to step outside of your ego’s limitations—your addiction to what you want—and reconnect with your true life."
The heart of awakening is present within each and every human being, because it is what each and every person truly is. Regardless of how far down we have gone, that authentic inspiration is still present and operable. A good heart is indestructible. It is the ground from which we all emerge. The spiritual path is about reconnecting with this soft spot and working with the obstacles that prevent it from inspiring our daily lives. At the end of the day, we are all basically good people, but for the time being, most of us are too timid to share our basic goodness with the world. So, as Suzuki Roshi said, “We are all perfect, and we need a little improvement.”