Overcoming Addictions and Compulsions: “Finding Your Self” by Peter Metzner


If something out side of your self is the reason you are happy;  you are hostage to it.  Ekhard  Tolle

In over 15 years in being in the field of Human Development, I have seen no correlation with having a lot of material things and “happiness”.   Money is important and ranks along  with oxygen to live.   Yet, when there is enough oxygen to breathe  it doesn’t register in our awareness of needs.

Neuroscience has found that money or accumulating money stimulates the pleasure centers of our brains.      If we are happy, have supportive relationships and are living meaningfully and with purpose,  material comforts can  enhance our sense of well-being.   However,  if we are unhappy,  we are  like hungry ghosts.   Searching and driven yet never satisfied.  Riches, material comfort, distractions etc.  can’t make us happy if we are anxious, driven, unhappy or suffering from low self-esteem or lack of meaning.   If materialistic ambition becomes a substitute for our intrinsic needs for giving and receiving love and doing work that is “right” for us, we can become addicted in the pursuit of diversions, pleasure, accumulating “things” , titles, accomplishments, etc.

Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, PhD  explains, “dopamine levels increase as soon as we start anticipating a reward. Once the dopamine starts flowing, monkeys and people will work and work and work expecting  a treat.  For monkeys,  a grape is usually enough.   For people, the treats include:  a pair of sneakers, a shiny car, an MBA that might lead to a high-paying job, early retirement, a couple of minutes of entertaining diversion, a few seconds of sexual gratification, etc…    Monkeys and people’s neurochemistry  function virtually the same!    The main difference: “Monkeys don’t get hooked on beliefs, ideologies, dogma, degrees, titles, fantasies, lies, empty promises, or self-deceptions” .

What is known about addictions:

  • Any behavior that can deliver a dopamine reward can become an addiction.
  • The more powerful the addiction, the greater the denial, the weaker the free will, the more likely addicts are to detest any information that threatens to keep them from feeding their addictions.
  • It’s possible to get addicted to safety, peer approval, and esteem.   (The dopamine project)

Using brain scanning equipment, researchers have found that there is basically one addiction—dopamine addiction. When heroin addicts shoot up, the street drug tells their brains to produce dopamine. Heroin is a trigger.  Dopamine flow creates the sensation of being ‘high.’ When it comes to scoring dopamine rewards, there are many triggers. For some the trigger is cocaine. For others it’s nicotine, alcohol, sex, gambling, or food.  Street drugs are physical dopamine triggers that are hard to deny because they need the ingesting, inhaling, or injecting of addictive substances.  Sadly, physical dopamine addictions destroy lives and wreak societal damage.  Researchers have recently added video games and texting to the list. Yet the most dangerous dopamine triggers include easy to deny psychological addictions. Psychological dopamine addictions may be more insidious because addictive emotions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, ideologies, rhetoric, and deceptions also trigger release of  dopamine.

An addiction is anything you can’t stop doing and it serves as an anxiety management system.  Along with addictions come formidable psychological defenses.  They include self-deception, denial, and a lack of morality that can even lead to a capacity for murder.   Reason, integrity, morality and a distaste for lying, cheating, stealing, and killing  that non-addicts value are often no match to addicts of:   power, money, fame, substances etc.   We see  in history and current events “examples of unstoppable, unreasonable, inhumane, addict/killers attacking, vilifying, and eliminating reasoning, humane, non-addict/non-killers” (The Dopamine Project)

Addicts have an amazing capacity to dismiss and deny facts, truth, and reason.   “Dopamine flow fuels addictions: More dopamine = yes, like, do more while dopamine withdrawal = stop, hate, avoid. “Thinking”   justifies, rationalizes, and defends  dopamine-influenced decisions”. (The Dopamine Project)  In other words,  intelligence  in the service of  addiction.

One of the most addictive abstractions is money.  Someone  addicted to alcohol or drugs, increasingly organizes their life  around the use and abuse of their substance(s) of choice.  The person who uses money to mood alter can have their relationship with money spin out of control; by being overly focused on accumulating it, spending it, hoarding it or using it to control people, places and things. For example,  as with a drug or alcohol, tolerance increases and a person  may find him/ herself needing to devote increasingly larger amounts of time to these activities, to get the same mood altering high that only a little once provided.  They become increasingly preoccupied with all things related to getting and maintaining their “substance”  excluding  other areas of living.  Gradually, just like any addict, money and the relationship with money becomes a primary preoccupation.   (Tian Dayton, PhD)    Personal drives and identity become so wrapped up around money  that they lose sight of who “they really are” .

No matter how much they have, money addicts crave more.    As with all addictions, the first pleasure is soon replaced by cravings and withdrawal.  Acquiring more money only increases stress levels which keep money addicts craving more money while worrying about losing what they already have.  Money is highly addictive because it quickly and easily converts into other dopamine triggers that feed other addictions like drugs, foods, sex, gambling, approval, status, and power.  The corrupting influences of money addiction everywhere and at every level of society.

So what does this have to do with Finding your “Self”. 

“Since our capacity for Self deception is truly monumental”  (Yorum Kaufam ) Self Awareness and  Self Mastery entails being aware:  of who we really are, what truly matters, the emotions that drive our behaviors, being able to “regulate or manage them,  knowing our passions, our talents, owning our weaknesses and:   what our “Self”,  Psyche or Soul are asking of us.  This is an awareness of what we truly value and a growing understanding  of our place in the world and connection to the transcendent.  To get there,  we need to recognize the mine fields, the seductions and powerful conditioning  of society that  pulls us to these  baser levels of living, wanting  and consuming.  Freud wrote that “The price of civilization is neurosis” – neuroses defined as  ” being someone who you are not”.

Rather than conform mindlessly or automatically to the expectations of  society,  we can  listen to that small voice. If we are quiet and still enough, summoning the will to live a life that is authentically ours.   “When we allow our light to shine we give permission for others lights to shine” ( Marian Williamson)    The great change agents throughout history, Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, etc.  all answered their summons to raise human consciousness, be in relationship to the transcendent,  live mindfully, ethically and see all of humanity as family.

It is OK  to not fully know our  selves or our true North.   The beginning of wisdom is to realize what you don’t know.  To get there requires openness, receptivity and  mindfulness.    I was forty before shifting into my role of teaching, coaching & training.   By  seeking to stay true to yourself, your values and what energizes you is the compass that helps in finding your way.

The Greek god Aesculapius decreed “that it  is through suffering we come to wisdom” .   Avoidance of suffering can lead to and fuel addictions, compulsions and flights from reality.  (James Hollis) Suffering can also give us empathy, understanding and insights which can help others work through their pain.  Being fully human is to experience the full range of emotions.  Being aware and   experiencing   “all”  emotions enables us to live more fully,  better exercise  free will,  intentionality and grow into the person we are meant  to be.

 “There is hope for the world if enough people do their inner work“. C. G. Jung

References and suggested readings:

The Dopamine Project – Better Living Through Dopamine Awareness : see  http://dopamineproject.org/

Swamplands Of  The Soul – New Life in Dismal Places, James Hollis inner City Books  1996

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should do the Opposite.  David Disalvo Prometheus Books  2011.

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Waking Up From the Trance by Peter Metzner


We are bombarded daily with messages from advertisers, the media, shows, movies, the news,  our families, work, friends, school, churches and  politicians to name a few.  Neuroscience has found that our brain is more active when we are asleep then when we are watching TV.  (Unless we are very selective about what we watch.)   Without being aware, we internalize these messages  thrust-ed upon us every day.   Advertisers use sophisticated classical conditioning techniques to make us mindlessly want things we  don’t need.  As a society, we have been conditioned to be materialistic and view success as having lots of money and “things”.     We see images of what the ideal woman should be, what success looks like, what we should drive and how we should think.    Based on our selection of news programs, our political affiliation or religious orientation as well as our self image,   we automatically seek out information that confirms and conforms to our beliefs.

In his ground breaking book ” What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why you Should do The Opposite, David Desolvo writes:  ” The brain doesn’t merely prefer certainty over ambiguity – it craves it!”  Our need to be right is actually a need to feel right!’   Neurologist Robert Burton calls this a certainty bias which skews our thinking.    Since our brains crave certainty,  we become anxious or threatened  if our world view, religious or political beliefs are challenged.  Even despite compelling evidence to the contrary.  (Disalvo)  Thus differing view points, cultures, religions and ways of living are threatening to many.   Think about it;  if my way of thinking or believing  is right, good and the only way – your way must be wrong.  So if I am good then you must be bad or evil and I should fight evil.. Right?  Or?…

It is easy to see how  religion can be a source of conflict rather than a force  towards healing .  It not that any particular religion is the problem.  It is simply our brains!      Kenneth Wilber, one of the great current thinkers of our time states moral development falls into three distinct stages.  It is all about me (egocentric)  to it is all about us (ethnocentric)  to it is about all of us. (world centric)  This parallels  Kohlberg’s three levels of moral development.  pre conventional to conventional to post conventional.    According to Wilber, 70% of the world population is ethnocentric.  Which means I see and accept the world through the lenses of my tribe, culture, religion,  country, political belief etc.

With  ethno centric populations being  70%  and numerous countries  owning weapons of mass destruction, controlling vast amounts of the worlds resources,  consuming  significant amounts of these limited resources, and polluting significant amounts –  it doesn’t take an Einstein to see the trouble we are headed towards!

In order for there to be peace, sustainability and a shared common humanity;  a critical mass of  people need to reach the third stage of moral development.  (Its about all of us ) Carl Jung was asked if there was hope for the world  and his answer:   “There is – if enough people do their inner work”.    It is up to each of us individually to wake up from the collective trance and realize that there is only one human race and we are all a part of it.  As Desmund Tutu says-  ‘We are all family”.    Jung and depth psychologists realized that on a soul level we are all connected.   This supports Jesus’ teaching that what you do to the least of us you do to the rest of us.   Einstein reasoned that that this feeling separate from each other is an illusion.   From an energy standpoint as well  – we are all connected.

Jung believed that Neurosis is being or having to be someone you are not.  This is the imprisonment of  having to conform to external definitions of who or what you should be.   Shakespeare wrote the “most confining prisons are the ones that we don’t know that we are in”.  Psychological health and emotional well being is to  live authentically. This is “to see with your own own eyes and to feel with your own heart”  (Einstein)

To “wake up” and develop awareness and mastery, is to  step outside of your emotional field”.  (Daniel Starr)   To do this;  is to over-ride our conditioning.    Awareness is the foundation for growth, healing and taking responsibility for our lives.  With awareness we have choices.  The cost of staying unaware is to  be on automatic pilot and living a life that is not authentically and genuinely ours.   When we stay stuck with self limiting beliefs like we are not good enough, deserving,  we can’t make a difference etc..,  the names, the places, the people may change in our lives, but we repeat patterns with similar outcomes.  As we become more aware, we have more choices  and can live more intentionally and creatively.

So how does one  wake up from a conditioned, neurotic life?

According to Starr and the wisdom traditions,  the first step is to become an observer, or witness, to daily moment-to-moment experiences.  Once we can observe an emotion or a belief and not identify with it we are less likely to be managed or driven by it.   This is an important step towards self mastery.  Awareness helps us  learn to manage or regulate emotions rather than be driven by them.

It is important to observe without making judgment.  Self judgement and being self critical entrap you in your emotional soup. Self-awareness enhances self mastery by letting us see or witness our repetitive patterns.  This allows us to intentionally choose  our direction and experience .    Self-mastery helps us be more  effective in our work or vocation as well as other areas of our lives.

Emotions are states of mind, and we are always experiencing some state of mind, so we are always feeling an  emotion – whether we are conscious of it or not.   There is a relationship between thoughts and emotions.   With each thought, there is an emotional trigger or an emotional association. We think about something,  then comes an emotional association, and this, sparks another thought with its emotional “baggage”.   The process continues as the emotions resonate or fuel each other and increase in intensity.  We have all experienced being upset or angry about something (or someone) and by continually thinking of the situation, we become increasingly agitated.  This  called “awfulizing”.  We can awfulize or “catastrophize” about anything:  fellow workers, managers, clients, policy, finances, relationships, family, self-esteem, and so on.   The patterns are very similar.  Being aware of this,  makes it is fairly simple to master.

The most important part of self-mastery is awareness, (Starr)  so when you start to notice the awfulizing, reward yourself for experiencing this.  You are then associating a positive emotion with the act of becoming aware.  This is a lot more beneficial then getting upset about awfulizing again.

When  we experience negative emotions,  it is usually because we are experiencing something in our environment or our mind that is not in harmony with what we want.   Think about this being an opportunity to discover what we do want.   The starting point is first  knowing what we do not want.  The steps are simple:

1)      Reward yourself for becoming aware of your awfulizing, or negative emotional state.

2)      Notice what it is that you do not want, and ask yourself “If that is what I don’t want, then what is it that I do want?”

3)      Consider what you want and imagine, feel, experience what it would be like to have what you do want.

This third step is very important, for you are now choosing an emotional state, and developing self-mastery.  (Again, which is better, being in a negative state, or choosing a positive one?)  With this exercise we “shift”, from conditioned patterns to more  effective and productive emotional states which allows us to better handle stressors and frustrations.

Making this shift, requires waking up to what is happening to you in the present, and by choice or intention, consciously turning your attention from what you do not want to what you do want.   Wherever you put your awareness, that will expand.  According to William James considered by many the father of psychology – we become what we think about.  Neuroscience has shown that by thinking regularly of the virtues and strengths we want to adopt – that our brains actually start to rewire synapses which helps us embody these qualities.

Happiness is a by – product of  having purpose, meaning, healthy supportive relationships and feeling like we are making a difference.   Psychological maturity comes from knowing who we are, being responsible for our behaviors knowing our strengths and weaknesses accepting and loving ourselves thus being able to accept and love others. (Marian Williamson)   Affluence in the fullest sense is knowing what matters, going for what is truly important and meaningful and feeling or having a sense of being connected to something larger than ourselves.  We each have a summons to living our own lives and to wake up from the trance.

The world needs you.

Suggested readings:

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do The Opposite,  David Disalvo 

The Essential  Ken Wilber; An Introductory Reader 

The Middle Passage From Misery to Meaning in Midlife;  James Hollis

River of Time Guided Visualization and Relaxation Process by Peter Metzner


How ready or able are you to: 

  • Eliminate stress?
  • Sustain self-confidence in the most challenging situations?
  • Maintain a healthy perspective towards life challenges?
  • Letting go of self-limiting beliefs?
  • Discovering your true life’s goals?
  • Staying  calm?
  • Generating a good nights sleep 365 days a year?
  • Enjoying a greater engagement with life?
  • Maximizing your energy all day long?
  • Dealing with the complexities of life?

For the price of a decent bottle of wine you can change your mood and life forever. 

I  made a CD and audio of a guided visualization and relaxation process I have been doing with various groups for over twelve years.  After going through the process,  many report:  increased self-confidence, sense of well-being, a healthier perspective, ability to  connect to meaningful goals, greater calmness and focus as well as sleeping better and having more energy!

The River of Time Audio enables you to experience  deep relaxation, allows you to release stress and let go of self-limiting beliefs.

It is crucial for health and mental well being to activate the the relaxation response daily.   A relaxed body relaxes the mind, giving a much greater capacity to manage life’s challenges.   It is clinically impossible to be anxious or stressed while the body is relaxed!

There are numerous ways to activate the relaxation response.    Gardening, golf, walking,  meditation and yoga to name a few.  An advantage of the guided visualization and relaxation  process is that not only does it assist  in achieving a deep state of relaxation – it  helps in letting go of self limiting beliefs and can you connect to the  true  North of your  inner compass.

After facilitating dozens of this process live to students, teachers, and people from all walks of life, many have connected to deeper and more meaningful goals;  and experienced the calmness, focus and drive to take action in going after them!

I hope you will experience this proven process.  Below is a  testimonial:

“I really enjoyed the River of Time CD!  After listening to the River of Time CD I experienced that I slept better than I had in a long while. Those 20 minutes were the most stress-free, relaxing, and encouraging 20 minutes ever!”
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River of Time CD

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Please send your comments. They will be helpful for others to see!

Safe Stress: The Art of Coping by Peter Metzner


With  chronic stress so detrimental to health, productivity and sense of well being;  it is important to find ways, habits of thought  and strategies to bring balance back to our lives.   Everyone is different and each may find their own strategy that works best.  Below are practical and immediately useful insights that can help to find greater joy and meaning to life.   The good news is that these are not expensive.

First,  we need to do something every day that is relaxing and we like to do just for the sake of it.  For me, I find that meditation is an ideal way to start off the day by visualizing what I want to accomplish and experience. I set an intention for the impact I want to have from my classes, seminars and coaching. Try it it works!

Exercise is another stress buster. Daily exercise even it it is walking briskly for 30 to 40 minutes, flushes out stress hormones and gives a fresh perspective on things.   There is a lot of literature and research that also shows a link between a poor diet and chronic diseases.   Processed food, sugars found snack foods and soft drinks are linked to obesity, high blood pressure, ADD, moodiness,  low energy as well as inflammatory diseases.   A diet rich in unprocessed foods, fruits,  and fresh vegetables will give our bodies the fuel it needs to repair itself.  A “healthy”  diet will also help in our having more energy and impact our sense of well being.  Think about what would happen if you put bad fuel in a car?   A typical fast food diet is like putting impure low octane fuel in an engine.  Avoid the “hit and run junk food”

“An optimistic attitude enhances coping skills and ability to deal with stress more productively.  If we can be more accepting of our current life situation without judging ourselves, and learn from each of our difficulties.. a profound shift starts taking place.   We start to see our situation as a necessary part of our growth and development.  Problems no longer are things we dread and fear but are seen as needed developmental opportunities for us to grow and become more capable and mature* .” (Holzman)  Shifting to an intention and a belief  that I can do it,  helps rewire our brains, trigger more positive emotions and helps us to take more productive and necessary actions to move forward .

Managing the negative, self-deprecating or worrying thoughts that fuel anxiety and feed depression – is personal power.  To do this entails learning the art of inner quiet and creating a space where you can find your “reset” button.  You can achieve this through the discipline of daily meditation practice, which acts as a detox for your energy system (mental and physical).  Ironically the “discipline” is really in doing nothing, learning to still the mind and find the comfortable inner quiet in your body. Wayne Dyer states “You will find your “Self” in the space between two thoughts.

Dr. Andrew Newberg; a radiologist at Penn; one of the nations most prestigious teaching  hospitals and authority on “Neuro-theology” found that even novice meditators  in a study, improved their memories by meditating just twelve minutes a day,  for only a few weeks. Even just thinking about what you value most in life, i.e, compassion, reason, love, peace, empowerment… will literally strengthen the neural connections that enable you to carry those values into the rest of your life” **

References and additional reading:

* Pamela Holzman:   http://www.pamelaholtzman.com/its-not-obsession-its-discipline/

** Fringe.ology  * How I tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable – And Couldn’t, Steve Volk;  Harper Collins 2011

The National Wellness Institute at: http://www.nationalwellness.org/

The Profile of a Killer: Stress By Peter Metzner


In our last posting we talked about how each personality “type”  typically responds to it stress, and inadvertently stresses and triggers others.   In following up as to how stress can impact our professional and personal relationships;  this posting, will look at:

  • What stress actually is.
  • Sources of stress.
  • How stress impacts health

   Stress

As Americans we are five percent of the world’s population but we consume 65 percent of the world’s psychotropic drugs, tranquilizers and mood enhancers*.  None of these will “cure” stress or anxiety and each has potentially toxic side effects as well as  addictive potential.   We seem to be a population under a tremendous amount of stress and collective malaise.

Our bodies respond to stressful situations by releasing hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, which immediately increase our  heart rate and energy level.  In the short-term, these stress hormones help us adapt and survive an unexpected threat.  Like a dog snarling at us or a car suddenly swerving in our lane.  Our arms and legs get a burst of  energy,  our hearts beat faster, blood pressure increases and  everything that’s not essential for survival gets turned off, such as digestion, growth, healing and reproduction,”  Temporarily we think more clearly, and certain aspects of learning and memory are enhanced.  All of this helps us respond  if…  it is an immediate and short-term physical stress-or —a real one.” **

The problem is;  non-life-threatening stressors, like worrying about money, the economy, your job or trying to please your boss, also trigger the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones, which, over time, have devastating and life threatening  consequences to your health.  Negative emotions like anger adversely impact health as well.  In his ground breaking book,  Anger Kills, psychologist Redford Williams found that hostile, angry and driven individuals (The type A profile) are more likely to get heart attacks; often fatal.  These individuals (as we have seen in our last posting) typically trigger stress in others.   Bad bosses  (Unaware, driven, dominant and hostile)  have been shown  to be a significant risk factor in triggering heart attacks and other stress related disorders in the work place.

Our brains can not tell the difference between a real threat or an imagined threat.    Imagining or perceiving a threat  also triggers our fight or flight response.   In this case,  FEAR becomes an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real.   Robert Sapolsksy, a leading neuro- scientist and foremost authority on stress  states:   “If you turn on the stress response chronically for purely psychological reasons, you increase your risk of adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. If you’re chronically shutting down the digestive system, there’s a bunch of gastrointestinal disorders you’re more at risk for as well.”   Studies show that long-term stress  suppresses the immune system, making you more susceptible to infectious diseases,  can  shut down reproduction by causing erectile dysfunction and disrupting menstrual cycles.  If you are chronically stressed, all sorts of aspects of brain function are impaired such as creativity and problem solving.  Research also shows “stress to be a smoking gun in early onset of Alzheimer’s and senile dementia”.  (Singh- Kalsa)  Neurons in the parts of the brain relating to learning, memory and judgment don’t function well under chronic  stress and have been shown to die off.

The bottom line is:   For whatever reason, if you are chronically stressed,  like so many of us in these uncertain times,  you are more at risk for heart disease and many of the other leading causes of death in our Westernized life.”  (Sapolsky)   My next posting will highlight practical ways to effectively manage stress, cultivate calmness, and cope more effectively with the complexities of life.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, breath deeply; (at least three times)  this helps by  oxygenating the brain,  “flushing” out stress hormones and  allows you to better respond versus reacting.  Reacting tends to keeps us stuck in the situation we are resisting.   Remember; “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”.    (Anais Nin)

 Resources and References

*Richard Wolf, PhD;   Sun Magazine Feb. 2012 “Capitalism and its Discontents -What Went Wrong”  

** Robert SapolskyPH.D Stress the Portrait of a Killer, National Geographic, DVD

Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health;   Redford Williams MD, Virginia Williams, PH.D

Brain Longevity: The Breakthrough Medical Program That Improves Your Mind and Memory , Dharma Singh Kalsa, MD & Cameron Stauth