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by Ruth Cherry, PhD

Most of the inmates at the state penitentiary where I work were drug addicts—heroin, marijuana, cocaine, LSD, whatever they could get. They speak about chasing their first high, always remembering a more intense experience than they’ve had since and not being able to recreate it. They didn’t abandon the chase until incarceration forced the end.

In the meditation groups I ask if our meditations are similar in any way to their drug highs. The long time meditators say, “Yes, but without coming down.” Longing for the experience of oneness may be the soul of drug addiction. And isn’t that the core human drive? We seek love, friendship, or success but these diversions so often leave us dissatisfied. We achieve what we say we want and within minutes we want something more. Why?

My suspicion is that on a cellular level we know we are missing something we need to be whole. On an intellectual level we can’t identify what that is but we substitute “definable” solutions. We long for peace inside but we focus on making money. That’s something we can control. Who can force peace? We want happiness which we can’t make happen on cue so we enjoy chocolate which we can buy any time. The inmates used drugs. What’s the difference? Control of something finite substitutes for oneness with the Infinite. For a minute.

I don’t know of one person who would say that what s/he seeks in life more than anything else is oneness with God but I suspect that that is the human condition. We somehow know that there is more to existence than meets the eye. We can’t place it so we try to structure an experience that we can define. We must redefine God in limited terms so our minds can be involved in the act. Better to use our minds than to allow unlimited vulnerability.

But “allowing” and “vulnerability” are what knowing God is about. We imprison God when we say, “This (read: money, love, power) will make me happy.” When we try to define God, we limit God. When we want to assume an overlay of happiness without doing our undercover work, we shy away from God. We hate not being in control and when we are in control, we imprison God. We want God not to threaten us. We want God to fit into our lives neatly. We want God to keep us comfortable.

When comfort is necessary, God gets squeezed out. Unlimited power cannot be controlled or fit into our little boxes and it doesn’t come on schedule on Sunday morning. We don’t dictate terms to God about what we will accept or won’t. We say, “Your will be done” and we watch. When we surrender our lives, we don’t know what will happen. And if you need to be in control, that’s not a “reasonable” choice.

So, if we accept the premise that experiencing oneness with God is the basic human longing and if we acknowledge that losing our boundaries terrifies us humans, then we find ourselves in a pickle of gigantic proportions. For a few years or decades we look for God under the street light, so to speak. We want God in small doses, easily digested. We’re satisfied with our God-in-a-box. And that’s the end of the story for many many folks.

Some of us won’t let go of the search that easily, however, and by mid-life we won’t engage in illegal activity or reckless risk-taking. What are we to do? We need to experience our oneness with God because without that we’re lost. Nothing else holds meaning.

The vastness of our inner world and the pervasiveness of our life experience when we surrender and trust in meditation and then throughout the day leads us to experience God minute by minute. And then we don’t want to stop. Even when it’s scary or unpleasant or inconvenient. And I think that’s what the drug addicted inmates sought in their own unsavory way. They are just being humans. On some level they knew there is more. They detoured with drugs but find some peace in meditation. They are acting like human beings, just like the rest of us.

Ruth Cherry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice in San Luis Obispo, CA. Her specialty is midlife when psychological and spiritual dynamics merge. The power of the unconscious at midlife to heal and to transform is tapped in meditation. Besides writing about meditation, Ruth leads guided meditation groups weekly both for the public and for inmates in a state penitentiary. Her web site www.midlifepsychology.com.

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