Does everything that starts off looking good have to end up being a mirage?

Those first puffs of pot were so rich, so sweet, so…promising. And that first hit of smack. Granted the needle stuff was a little rough, but can anything that feels this good actually be…um, bad?

One of the most universal characteristics of drug use is the chimeric quality that’s almost always present, especially the first couple of times. (And by the way, just so you know, “chimeric” is a real word: “relating to, derived from, or being a genetic chimera or its genetic material <a chimeric cat> <chimeric genes>” from

Well it should be clear that I have nothing of substance to write about tonight. But I’ll share this bit of fluff.

bdas-bioA few posts ago  I commended Bhagavan Das to you. I called him: “that wise / spiritual / contemplative / meditative dude with a huge beard.” This was in relation to the problem of self-control.

Well apparently he’s not so wonderful after all. In fact, self-control seems to be way down on his list of attributes. I recently learned that B.D. can be a real shit. One of my most effective double-agents had this to say:

“He can be quite magnetic, but you might be shocked by reading and viewing some clips/articles here:

BDcrazyIf you click on this link you will find yet another mirage: a guy who came across as wise and spiritual, but who looks, on closer inspection, to be a bit of a self-serving, devious shadow puppet. Someone who is not even close to what he appears to be.

Ah well, so it goes. Perceptions are by their nature misleading, and maybe the only way you ever get to know the reality of something is to be smacked in the face repeatedly with the stupidity you showed by missing it up until then.

Happy Easter.


25 thoughts on “Does everything that starts off looking good have to end up being a mirage?

  1. Richard Henry April 3, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    Being trapped in substance abuse for over 30 years it became a constant battle for clarity. At first use of any one of my addictions, starting with marijuana, it gave me a new understanding of the word around me. Everything was clear and had new meaning, bright and full of color, but the more I used it, the more the shades of colors became interweave and confusing. All that seems clear in the beginning became confusing and distorted. This is the trap substance abuse gives you.
    Even today my natural curiosity for knowledge has sent me down some slippery slopes. Just when I think I see things clearly a whole new set of circumstances comes into play. At least today I have the ability to let go of the false promises and misconceptions that come before me.
    Today I no longer use any outside influences in my daily diet and find comfort in all the little things life has to throw at me. Its the Joy and Love that comes within and not from drugs and alcohol.
    As we all grow up and find our own meaning of life… what brings us to that happy place and understanding as to the way we see the world around us.
    Let it not be construed through drugs and alcohol but in faith and love for one another.
    I may not be where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.
    Regards Richard

  2. Alese April 3, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Well, THAT was a different kind of post. And not that it matters what one little reader may think, but I like it! Feel free to muse on, take tangents and rail against any number of incredibly famous, loved, worshipped heroes of the spiritual and not-so-spiritual vein. I suspect it might actually fuel some debate, dialogue and derision as well. Which can also be fun on a blog!

    As for B.D., I like his voice a lot. Great for my yoga practice. And I have always found it incredibly fascinating that those who spend such vast amounts of time trying to let go of, or focus less on, their ego (and go to great lengths to profess to others to do the same) tend to have the largest egos of the lot. Makes ya wonder…

    • Marc April 4, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

      As I proceed with my cognitive decline (aging, you know) I’m sure I’ll manage to muse, rant, rail, and take more tangents. I look forward to it.

  3. John Becker April 3, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    “being smacked in the face repeatedly by the stupidity you showed by missing it up until then” But, Marc, without that, how ever would science progress?

    • Marc April 3, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

      Less painfully?

  4. Denise April 3, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    Well, your title refers to “everything” which is the way I see it, i.e., this phenomenon not only applies to drugs but to so many things. Look what happens with relationships: ah, the initial burst of attraction, lust, then, perhaps, love… isn’t it similar to that first shot or toke or snort? Then what so often happens? At some point the object of our affections ain’t what we thought he or she was. The euphoria of having found our soul mate morphs into something blah, ordinary at best or agonizing at worst. Or, if we’re really fortunate, it evolves into something “good” but it still is not what it was at the beginning.

    Somewhere years ago I wrote in a review that Ekhart Tolle was a fraud. They left out that sentence. I had come to this belief by hearing a recording of an interview that took place on 9/11/01. He was on the west coast so by the time of the interview the attacks had happened. He knew about it and was asked his opinion of it. He giggled through the questions and acted like it was just another boring news story.

    Some people I mentioned this to said well, he’s really enlighened (!) so this event is really nothing to him… it’s just another part of life….

    So it is true: even the good addictions turn out to be bad sometimes.

    • Marc April 8, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

      I looked up Ekhart Tolle when I read this. The name wasn’t even familiar to me! There’s a new one every few years, isn’t there? When I was in my twenties, I worshipped Krishnamurti’s writings. When I finally got the chance to see him in SF, what I saw was an angry-looking man sitting stiffly on a wooden chair in the middle of a huge stage, berating the audience for their thick-headedness. Bit of a let-down.

      Yup, nothing like the first time.

      But you know, I still like Bhagavan Das’s music…even if he is a jerk. And I still love my wife….

      • Denise April 8, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

        Growing up in our culture here in the U.S. (I don’t know how it is in other places!) I believe we’re conditioned to strive for intensity. We’re always looking for the highest high, the biggest rush, the most stupendous mind-blowing experience, the love of our lives, “be all that we can be,” etc. etc. We wind up disappointed when our lives are “merely” good, pleasant, or satisfying, and feel we have to keep striving for more excitement and intensity. As the leveling out comes after the intense rush of the new, we begin to think about what to seek next, whether it’s a repeat of the same high, or something new. Thus, the phenomenon of never being satisfied.

        Personally, I can say that with aging I’ve come to value the “smaller” joys in life, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the intensity that I experienced in my younger, wilder, and crazier years.

        P.S. Congrats on still loving your wife! Perhaps a small number of things do last, after all…

        • Marc April 9, 2013 at 9:06 am #

          There really are big cultural differences. Here in the Netherlands, it seems people are not after the biggest, bestest, most intense experiences. No one talks about being everything they can be. They ride their bikes around in weather that is often gloomy. And they like to drink beer, but there’s not a lot of hard drugs or hard drinks.

          • Denise April 9, 2013 at 10:30 am #

            That’s really good to hear… we here in the US can escape the claws of culturally induced depression and despair by becoming ex-pats 🙂 Are the people in the Netherlands, in general, not depressed? Are they content with “what is” given that they’re not striving for the biggest and most intense? If so, then perhaps in the US the only way to eradicate the culture of addiction is to change the overall culture. And somehow, that seems impossible.

            • Marc April 10, 2013 at 7:16 am #

              But US culture IS changing. You have a BLACK president! (And a very good one in my view.) Do you realize how outlandish that would have seemed 50 years ago? Anglo whites will soon be a minority in the population at large. Wow!

              But one can idealize cultures too, of course, and I tend to do that here. I really like the Dutch. I admire their honesty and their day-to-day courage. And….they have very high ratings of “happiness” for children and adolescents — among the highest in the world. But overall depression rates are not so great. Why? Probably because most women still stay at home most of the time, which isn’t great for anyone.

              So it seems we all have something to learn from each other.

              • Denise April 10, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

                Absolutely… every culture has its positives and negatives. But I’ve been thinking all day about what Obama being president means in terms of the addiction issue. I did a little research and learned that the U.S. has the highest drug addiction rates in the world. Wow. Here we are, the country that many people from other countries aspire to come to, yet the drug addiction rate belies the country’s greatness. Obama as president certainly represents true progress in terms of people (and not only whites but many others who have also scapegoated the African and African-American) being less racist, but I’ve also been of the belief that he was able to win not only because of his presidential qualities but because of his being Half White! Obama succeeding lends truth to the idea that “…only in America, land of opportunity…” anyone can be anything. But doesn’t that just contribute to the “be all that you can be” pressure? Before, the ghettoized addict had a ready-made excuse: I could never be president because I’m black. Now, the phenomenon of Obama takes away that excuse, potentially laying the groundwork for more despair when they don’t succeed professionally or economically. Ah, yes, it’s always something…

                • Marc April 15, 2013 at 10:05 am #

                  Yeah but c’mon! It’s got to be a good thing, even if it does seal off one route of escapism.

                  On the other hand, it’s true that Obama’s success epitomizes that thing about the culture — being all you can be. He sure got that right.

                  I think (tongue in cheek) that the main criterion for being a successful politician in the Netherlands is…being polite. Except for that white supremacist dude, Wilders — I guess he’s being all he can be. Luckily most sane people hate him and hate what he represents. But now I’m getting this cartoonish flash: a take-off on bumper stickers from 1972 or so: Holland! Love it or leave it! I don’t think that would go over so well here….

  5. Guy Lamunyon April 3, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    One school of philosophy says all is illusion (Maya):

    • Denise April 3, 2013 at 11:47 am #

      Thank you for the reference on Maya. I read (skimmed) through it and became somewhat confused by the many definitions and explanations of Maya. The fact that there are so many perhaps conveys its meaning. But I’ve always found the concept that all is illusion a bit too abstract as I’ve struggled to understand the happenings of daily life. On the other hand, the concept of attachment and nonattachment I find much more applicable and useful.

  6. Nicolas Ruf April 3, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    B.D. is a chimera

  7. Jasmine April 4, 2013 at 2:26 am #

    Marc, your post doesn’t seem like fluff to me….

    Actually got me thinking about the importance of naming and owning the dark/shadow side of ourselves and others. I get the stuff that Jung etc. wrote about human nature being both light and shadow, or as he put it: “How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow?” But, am thinking that this binary embrace can leave us stuck in the mud…

    As for B.D. (BaDass?), I have a bit of a beef (er, tofu) with supporting or appreciating someone who behaves in such a clearly lascivious manner. He even calls himself a “guru” (in his book), which can leave quite an impression on those looking for some direction…

    As someone coming to terms with my own shadow of addiction, I’m trying to stay focused on the light. But, when I can’t, that’s okay so long as I can name it authentically….

    • Marc April 8, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

      Your last word is the key, in my view. Authenticity. I don’t like it when people are mean, angry, explosive, and hurtful….but I can understand it and let it go. When people are fake, there’s something truly repulsive that’s hard to ignore. It cheats as well as hurts….and it hurts so much more because it’s sneaky.

      I feel the same way about myself. I can forgive myself for my anger, but when I’m insincere…. that doesn’t go down so well.

  8. Pete April 4, 2013 at 6:51 am #

    Very timely post Marc,
    I have just been thinking about people that we put up on pedestals, who seem to have all the answers as to how we should live our lives. As though some one could have all the answers to make our lives perfect.
    I came to the realisation that there is a lot of great information and teachers out there , but no one can steer your life in the right direction but yourself. You can take from books and teachers what you need that works for you. But at the end of the day it’s up to ourselves to work out our own lives. As human beings we are as diverse and individual as everything in nature and what works for one person may not work for another person. That’s one of the great things about being human…… As the line goes in the movie ” The life of Brian” …. ” you are all individuals!”

    • Marc April 8, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

      Well said, Pete. I’m a sucker for gurus…always have been. I tend to idealize just about everything….people, restaurants, countries, movies, you name it. I guess we all do to some extent, because diversity is just so taxing. You mean I really have to figure out all this on my own? …and continue to live in a state of uncertainty until, until, until…..well, that’s the problem.

      I think idealization is what they call “collapsing the wave function” in quantum physics. Finding certainty in a probabilistic universe.

  9. Chris April 7, 2013 at 2:24 am #

    Interesting. I’m in the middle of a book by Professor Ian Robertson, The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure. I stumbled onto Robertson’s work because he was mentioned in the comments here last year.

    The premise of the book is that success and failure both change a person’s brain chemistry (of course they do; doesn’t every thought or experience?). The changes he talks about in the book seem to arise through the seek and obtain pathway you have discussed here previously, in a word dopamine. He suggests for a healthy balanced individual there is an optimal range of dopamine production in the frontal lobes, a ‘Goldilocks Zone.’

    The book discusses the effects on brains operating below, in and above the optimum dopamine range, but the part of the discussion that is pertinent is about people who succeed to positions of great power. It seems to fit the story you refer to. I don’t have the book with me this week, so I have to paraphrase from memory. Robertson talks about neurochemical and neurophysical changes in people who operate for extended periods of time with frontal lobe dopamine levels well above the optimal range. In this case power becomes like a drug. He proposes that some individuals who rise to a position of unchecked power demonstrate a tendency to treat other people as objects rather than human beings, to be wrapped up in gratifying their own needs to the exclusion of the needs of others, lose their ability to empathize, become narcissistic, and are so focused on their goals they are completely unaware of the risks and pitfalls their behavior creates. In extreme cases, the overconfidence born of long success leads to an inability to realistically assess potential costs and benefits of their actions, often with disastrous results for them and those they lead.

    I don’t get the impression Robertson is trying to excuse those who abuse the success and power they attain, nor am I. I do believe he is theorizing that due to brain changes caused by success and power, the behavior we find so objectionable, disgusting, or disappointing on the part of the person in a position of leadership and power who has gone astray may be compulsive rather than conscious. Sound familiar?

    • Marc April 15, 2013 at 11:11 am #

      Chris, this is fascinating! Um yes, it sounds familiar. But here’s another parallel that occurs to me, beyond the obvious: this notion of a Reward Deficiency Syndrome, a phrase coined by Kenneth Blum, whom I met at that conference on behavioural addictions. Anyway, a number of studies have shown that some dopamine receptors are lower in density in alcoholics and other drug users. Now comes the chicken-and-egg problem: reduced receptor density due to drinking? Or drinking due to low density?

      Both, it seems. There are genetic associations that obviously predate one’s drinking problems. So low density (reward deficiency) means that you don’t get as much buzz out of life as other people. Things are flat, meaningful events are less meaningful (like the opposite of schizophrenia, which is linked to excessive dopamine in many theories). So what do you seek when normal rewards aren’t doing it for you? I guess booze, or sky-diving, or bungie-jumping, or promiscuity, or, according to what you say Robertson says (I haven’t read it yet), power! And with the excitement, challenge, thrill of dominating man or nature, you get more dopamine. Makes a lot of sense.

      But I don’t think you need the RDS in the first place. I’m sure that’s a route for some people, but not for everyone. There are even models of adolescence — normal adolescence — that stipulate a drop in striatal dopamine. So adolescents make the leap, they go the extra mile to get extra-special rewards: drugs, unsafe sex, shop-lifting, etc, etc. And that’s exactly what adolescents are supposed to do, at least in our primate ancestors. They’re supposed to charge off in the jungle, make friends with the popular guys, find girls, and move to another troupe. Good thinking, evolution!

      I’m really just thinking out loud here, and for that I am truly grateful to you. Because what I’m thinking is working for me. The dopamine is flowing.. I’m just at the stage of negotiating with a certain publisher for book #2, trying to fine-tune the proposal. Which means fine-tuning my thinking. So the theme is “why addiction is not a brain disease” — which means it’s incumbent on me, and I’ve been in this place quite a few times already, arguing the point with various people, some scientists, some not — to show that brain change is in no way abnormal. Brains are supposed to change. They’re designed to change. They change when you fall in love, they change when you fall out of love, they change when you win a lottery — and now, what I get from you, they change when you start to pursue power, and keep pursuing it.

      But what’s especially good about this example is that the KIND of change, cue-dependent spikes in dopamine metabolism, is exactly the kind of change that people attribute to drug addiction. So…I feel this will help me clinch my argument that addiction is not a disease. If power can change your brain IN THE SAME WAY that cocaine or meth can, then brain change is just the price you pay for falling in love with something extraordinarily rewarding — something very hard to come by.

      Thanks, Chris! For kicking my brain into gear with this fascinating parallel!

  10. Denise April 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    It’s really interesting thinking of the abuse of power as a function of dopamine and not of the heady experience of having and wanting to keep that power. The only position of power I’ve ever been in personally, and of course “power” here is a relative term, is as a psychotherapist and a mother. In both roles I’ve always been acutely aware of not abusing my power over my patients and my son. In fact I’ve often been moved and humbled by how much these people have trusted me. We can only hope that people with serious power have a similar conscientiousness. Perhaps the dopamine doesn’t play a role until the power is experienced on a very grand level such as being the leader of thousands or millions of people, but as a therapist I tend to think that the psychodynamic components of being in that position may lead to a range of different behaviors including distorted and abusive ones. As in so many cases, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle, i.e., both chemistry and psychology are responsible.

    • Chris April 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      “As in so many cases, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle, i.e., both chemistry and psychology are responsible.”

      I think Robertson would agree with you. I focused on one aspect of his ideas in the context of Marc’s post about a man who abused his position of authority and power for personal gain. In so doing, I left out other parts that might have spoken to your comment. No doubt, Professor Robertson could articulate it better than I have.

      The central ideas I’ve gleaned from his work dovetails rather well with your perspective: Each human being’s consciousness, the part of each of us that is utterly unique and special, rides on the structure of the brain – gelatinous neurons supported and sustained on an elastic three dimensional matrix of glial cells. The neurons of a human brain have trillions of potential connections within that “trembling web” (Robertson’s term) and the number of possible patterns of connections (pathways?) in every human brain is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe. That physical structure, the electrical signals within neurons, the chemical messengers between them, the patterns of connections between them–are all affected and changed by every single experience, action, and thought. Reading Marc’s blog and the responses of all the people who participate here has changed the structure and patterns of connections within my brain. We are not just an expression of the physics and chemistry of our brains, nor merely made what we are by the way we were nurtured. We are each the complex one-of-a-kind expression of the physical and chemical structures of our brain, as molded by the individual, familial, educational, social, and cultural milieu in which we’ve matured and in which we exist. For better or worse, we never stop changing. We have enormously exciting potential and profound limitations.

    • Marc April 15, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      Hi Denise, I like what you’re saying about the phenomenology of power, but you don’t have to think about the experience of power and the role of dopamine as either/or. I know it’s tempting to do so, and it happens all the time. Is this experience happening to me or is this some electrochemical oscillation in my brain? It’s both. Always both.

      You mention your psychodynamic background, and I also drank deeply at the fount of psychoanalysis in grad school. And I’ve almost always respected it, except when it gets completely ridiculous, self-aggrandizing, and bullet-proof. But Freud knew, even back then, that all that emotional stuff going on in his patients’ minds was also brain stuff. In his Project for a Scientific Psychology he tried to spell it out. But he just didn’t have the data back in 1895. How could he?

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