Wild Hunger / Edition 1

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This pioneering work explores why our culture is plagued by addictions—by giving serious attention to our genetic legacy from our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

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Editorial Reviews

Startling! Writing with passion and honesty, Wilshire shows that in addiction we participate in degenerative vicious circles that substitute for the regenerative cycles of nature.
David Ehrenfeld
This book is absolutely on the cutting edge—even ahead of its time. It brings us an entirely new way of understanding addiction, one of the major curses of industrial society in the late twentieth century. After Wild Hunger, it will be very difficult to think of addiction as a purely medical-neurological problem.
CHOICE, January 1999, Vol. 36 N0.5 - D.L. Loers
Footnotes provide interesting information and lead the reader to the other source.
The Journal Of Addiction and Mental Health - Barbara Fulton
Literate and spiritually refreshing.
Addiction - Robin Room
The book is an interesting indicator of current trends in fin-de-siecle America.
Thomas Berry
Wilshire gives insight into the nature of the pseudo-ecstasy of addiction...and how a new awakening can come about.
John Cobb
Carries the analysis of addiction to new heights and depths. We are immersed in the ultimate question of what we once called 'salvation.'
Catherine Keller
Quite unlike any other work I know on addiction, culture, or spirit, this text becomes a living site of recognition and regeneration, an eco-textual therapeutic you immediately begin to practice and share.
Theological Studies - Patrick T. McCormick
[Wilshire]'s approac is intuitive and imaginative, mixing medical and scientific research with the insights of Thoreau, James, Dewey, Muir, ad St. Paul, and he is most persuasive when describing the alienating disaffections of dualism, patriarchy, and a scientism whhich places inordinate faith in technology.
Journal of the American Academy of Religion - Francis F. Seeburger
A worthwhile contribution to the study of addiction, which rarely receives such sustained, serious reflection by professional philosophers. . . . Wilshire makes a significant contribution not only to the study of addiction but also to the remedying of the ever-widening cultural-societal situation in which modern addictions proliferate.
Journal of Speculative Philosophy - Michael Sullivan
Wild Hunger is an incredibly rich book. . . . This is a book that is sure to interest philosophers, especially American philosophers and phenomenologists, but also medical doctors, anthropologists, feminists, psychologists, addiction counselors, addicts, relatives of addicts, and, more generally, anyone who is concerned with the ominous signs that our present way of inhabiting the world is interfering with our opportunity to realize our most primal needs.
The Journal of Addiction and Mental Health
Wild Hunger is every bit as literate and spiritually refreshing as Pincola Estes' Women Who Run with the Wolves and Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul, which topped the bestseller lists. Wilshire speaks to Everyman (and woman) about the nature of Nature to satisfy the primal wild hunger, banish addictive behavior, and extend the message that life is at its best without aNew York crutches.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this thoughtful, earnest examination of the roots of the addictive behaviors plaguing contemporary societies, Wilshire (Role Playing and Identity) makes an impassioned plea for rediscovering our primal need for ecstatic involvement with the world and other human beings. His conviction that addiction stems from ecstasy deprivation and an inability to access the regenerative sources inherent in nature is compelling, and many readers will identify with the feelings of emptiness and loneliness he blames on our dualistic culture, which, he says, fosters fragmented identities and prevents a holistic approach to life. Where primitive cultures had long-established ways of interpreting and integrating their experiences (myth, ritual, symbols), today's workaholic, alcoholic, media-bombarded humans, Wilshire maintains, have degraded substitutes and no rites of passage to help them. And, by violating themselves with addictive substances and beliefs (including the belief in all-powerful science), they further erode their own powers of renewal. In addition to putting a spotlight on addicts' denial of their basic needs, Wilshire attempts to reveal our limited understanding of the rituals we do partake in (for example, the use of drugs in shamanistic practices and the communal aspect of smoking). Although his scholarly tone and repetitive text may be off-putting to some readers, Wilshire's salient subject matter will speak to a wide audience, as will his location of salvation in the form of creative work and meaningful relationships.
Library Journal
Wilshire (philosophy, Rutgers Univ.) argues that addictive behaviors from smoking to overeating to alcoholism result from modern humanity's loss of ecstatic connection with nature and that society can only overcome these difficulties by cultivating nature, religion, and art. This book is not a systematic argument for this position but rather a compendium of autobiographical meditations (some of which do not seem to have any relationship to the rest of the book), literary quotations, and general musings. It does not offer individual treatment suggestions. Recommended only for larger academic libraries serving programs in addiction counseling or environmentalism.--Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA
Wilshire (Philosophy, Rutgers University) traces the variety of addictions in modern affluent society to our genetic legacy from hunting-gathering ancestors and to the unique way people adapt to their environment through science and by creating art and cities. He suggests wilderness exploration in the arts, myths, and old ceremonies as remedies.
Startling! Writing with passion and honesty, Wilshire shows that in addiction we participate in degenerative vicious circles that substitute for the regenerative cycles of nature.
The Journal of Addiction and Mental Health
Wild Hunger is every bit as literate and spiritually refreshing as Pincola Estes' Women Who Run with the Wolves and Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul, which topped the bestseller lists. Wilshire speaks to Everyman (and woman) about the nature of Nature to satisfy the primal wild hunger, banish addictive behavior, and extend the message that life is at its best without any crutches.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780847689682
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/25/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 0.68 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 6.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Him wild hunger drives o're the beauteous earth.

The one thing we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety ... to do something without knowing how or why ... Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. The way of life is wonderful; it is by abandonment.... Dreams and drunkenness, the use of opium and alcohol are the semblance and counterfeit of this oracular genius, and hence their dangerous attraction for men. For the like reason they ask the aid of wild passions, as in gaming and war, to ape in some manner these flames and generosities of the heart.

In the long run ... humans cannot tolerate ecstasy deprivation.

Chapter One

Ecstasy Deprivation
and Addictive "Remedies"

* * *

Each Aboriginal group in Australia roots and identifies itself with its ancestor-source—an animal, insect, bird, reptile, whatever. As the group names itself, so it is. This ancestor-source is commonly translated into English as the group's Dreaming. To disclose this naming and this knowledge to nonmembers is to imperil the order of creation and the very being of the group. Individuals live because the group lives within the ever present ancestor-source—honey-ant, white-breasted sea eagle, monitor lizard, and so on. The ancestor's story, indeed its ever present career, is simultaneously the people's, their life's blood, theirligaments and bones.

    Our first contact with full-blooded Aborigines was at the roadside store at the intersection of the Stuart Highway and the road to Uluru (Ayer's Rock) in the Northern Territory at the heart of the continent. We had been told that not a single Aboriginal group kept to its age-old ways of living in, with, and from the land. Perhaps this is true. But certainly all the Aborigines we saw were garbed in European dress and seemed dependent on foreign economies.

    And yet they approached that roadside store as if from another world. About five—they may have been together—converged on the store barefooted over reddish, dusty ground. If asked, "Were they walking on the ground, supported by the Earth?" I would have had to answer Yes. But the immediate impression was of beings who belonged to Earth so intimately that they could float slightly above it, and at any moment move effortlessly in any direction. Though erect, they moved over the terrain like weightless serpents. I gaped at them, and they looked across at me from a vast distance. Did I seem as foreign to them as they to me? Were they in touch with something I could not clearly grasp but perhaps might, and should?

Today in late twentieth century North Atlantic culture we are masters of engineering, the beneficiaries of manifold technologies for achieving things desired, self-advertising paragons of management and control. Many problems yield before technology: eliminating plaque on the teeth, innoculating against polio, putting persons on the moon, etc.

    But many people feel dissatisfied and needy. Their lives are flat. They experience ecstasy deprivation and very often addiction. Various technologies are used to attack the problem, their multitude testifying to widespread dissatisfaction over their effectiveness.

    We should ask if science and technology can accomplish the first task, which is to describe clearly what the problem is. Now, the description of a problem must tie in to what would count as a solution, if that were to be found. For example, a condition of thirst can be specified as a problem only because we know that it is water or some potable liquid that, if found, would solve the problem.

    But what are we to say of ecstasy deprivation? Thinking within the problem-solving model, we automatically assume the solution is ecstasy itself. But what is that? We cannot describe it decisively as we can the potable liquid that satisfies thirst, or the regular heartbeat that solves the problem of fibrillation, or the rockets that put people on the moon, and so on. The idea of ecstasy is open-ended, enticing, and at the same time exceedingly opaque.

    I thought I was living fully and happily—that I was writing freely and well—on that beautiful summer morning. But only when the wild bird arrived did I become aware of how limited I had been. My life expanded abruptly. What might I be missing right now, working and reworking this paragraph? It must be something like what the wild bird supplied.

    The inability to adequately describe ecstasy deficit compounds the difficulty, and exacerbates a constant and contrastless restlessness. Ever-repeated attempts to fill the deficit constitute the addictions with which our culture is rife. Even "feeling good" may not be good enough, and may prompt lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau put it, or even the loud and angry kind.

    Psychiatrists, trained in the scientific model of medical materialism, have coined a term, dysthymia. It is supposed to mean lack of enjoyment in one's life. Like technologists generally, they assume that the enjoyment that, if found, would fill the need and solve the problem can be described. But can it? In some cases it seems clear enough—for instance, in the case of gross sexual dysfunction, which is solved when a successful "performance" occurs.

    But perhaps even here the solution is not clear enough. Some who proceed right on schedule to climax still search for something more. How about an anorexic person who no longer feels an uncontrollable urge to diet and is manifestly happier? That is clearer.

    Yet in many cases what would fill the need is not clear at all. As noted, some people feel a lack in their very enjoyments. They may experience pleasurable sensations, but accompanied by negative emotions or moods. The technical term dysthymia suggests a solution to a describable problem, but it misleads. Our task is not to calculate and explain what solves the ecstasy "problem," but to describe what happens when the experienced world opens up, often completely unpredictably, and our lives feel whole and swell along with it ecstatically.

Who Are We and What Do We Really Want and Need?

I think we are not duplex creatures, minds or souls somehow attached to bodies, but are body-selves. Ecstasy that is regenerative and not just momentary is a bodily and total experience, not just a mental or spiritual one, and, just as truly, not just a physical one. Body-self is difficult to illuminate, but so is ecstasy deficit and what would fill it.

    What is the whole self? There are tempting abstractions that oversimplify the difficulty from the start: for example, the old stand-by, "A sound mind in a sound body." Or, "The whole self is body and mind and spirit," or "body and mind and soul and spirit." As if we already knew what the enumerable components of self are, and all we have to do is to add them up. Presuming to be holistic, the assumption of enumerability reveals the frozen mind-set of mathematical science and technology, an approach to the world greatly profitable in some areas and wretchedly inadequate in others.

    To understand the body-self we must have concrete examples of human conduct today, as its often bizarre tangle of needs press for satisfaction. Take these:

    Item: The fear of wildness and wilderness cannot completely conceal in many of us an attraction to it. The feeling is uncanny and fascinating, attractive and fearful. Wilderness can terrify and be-wilder—that remnant remains in our language; but it can also excite and fascinate. Even risk of great loss is exciting for many: the greater the risk, the greater the excitement. As Paul Newman replied when asked about his car racing, "I race because nowhere else do I feel so alive."

    Item: Certain wealthy housewives or socialites caught shop-lifting say they do it "for the rush it gives" (vestigial and confused hunter-gathering behavior?). The risk excites the adrenaline plus endorphin rush—they feel momentarily enlivened, refreshed, aware—and may be unable to give up stealing even if they choose to do so, for without it their lives are flat, pointless, empty. They are dependent on the next rush.

    Item: A contemporary Anglo-American said, "When I was about fifteen, there was a large White Oak tree in a clearing in a woods fairly near our house. Like a magnet the tree drew me to it. I experienced the seasons through it. I felt protected sitting near it. When the farmer sold this land to developers I was worried, but thought they might spare it, build around it, for it should be the center of something. When they put an X on it, as they had on other trees they had cut down, I had my brother tie me to it. But they got the cops to arrest me for trespassing, and cut it down."

    What needs do such bizarre behaviors—and others not so bizarre—attempt to meet? In today's secularized and technologized world there are no commonly accepted, reasonable-sounding needs or motivations to explain such acts. It seems that a residuum of the prehistoric world in which prehumans and humans were formed over millions of years emerges, particularly strongly in some persons. A world in which people were either intensely and habitually involved and alert as whole selves or didn't survive to procreate others uninvolved like themselves. A world that was exciting and dangerous, one of close escapes or disasters, of rapt and astonished gratitude or despair, in which life was vivid and incredibly valuable, lived side by side with death. And a world in which we lived cooperatively with animal, vegetable, and arboreal kin or didn't survive. A residual memory of such a world would seem to best account for the boredom often felt by those who finally achieve the ease and security they think they want. But how we would "prove" all this is not easily known.

Archaic Experience, Rituals, Signs, Symbols, Myths

Examples like those above at least remind us that we did not appear yesterday out of nowhere. Our prehuman and human ancestors lived a hunting and gathering existence in wilderness environments for 99 percent of genus Homo's existence. It seems counterintuitive to suppose that our recent irruptive cultural and technical evolution has simply expunged the needs and capacities encoded in our bodies, some of it genetically, over many, many millennia.

    Given us to ponder are the nearly inert remnants of what our ancestors have themselves already interpreted, their rituals, stories, legends, symbols, myths, signs—the medical logo, say, those intertwined serpents. Or the dim but real totems of sports teams or fraternal clubs—bears, eagles, cardinals, elks, rams, and so on. Or the various flags or insignia we fly and the atavistic clothes we often wear. Or the role that archaic initiation ceremonies still play in religious, sororal, or fraternal groups.

    Today, outfitted with technological powers, many tend to assume we no longer need myths or rituals. We no longer need to remember what our great-grandparents remembered—"Yes, we were there, our small Mormon band on the banks of the Missouri that winter." We encase ourselves in controlled environments called buildings and cities. Strapped into machines, we speed from place to place whenever desired, typically knowing any particular place and its regenerative rhythms and prospects only slightly. But if we need to bodily know particular places, then a primal need is not being satisfied. Addictive substitute gratifications may seduce us.

    How much have we really changed from our hunter-gatherer past? As body-selves can we feel at home in the world without a story habitually told to ourselves in enwombing and orienting home-places? A story that inducts us into the regeneratively cycling universe beyond our sporadic life in buildings and speeding machines, and seals our membership in gratitude and awe?

    At times, interlaced myth seems still to fall over us today, a spidery, weirdly resilient network drawing us toward sources in wilderness. Frederick W. Turner:

For moderns the experience of these archaic visions is simultaneously strange and strangely familiar, as if, reading or listening to an unknown narrative we should gradually become aware of a rhythm of events announcing itself in advance so that we foreknow the conclusion.


The roots of the word ecstasy extend deep into early languages and probably prehistory. In Greek ek-stasis means a standing out from the points in space one's body occupies. To stand out into the surrounding world and to be caught up and possessed by it. The world owns me and, in a strange sense, I own it. For instance: swimming confidently in great rolling waves, they are made mine in my very abandonment to them.

    But being transported ecstatically is not necessarily pleasant. We may be seized by terror, unable to anticipate a likely turn of events that will make sense of what is happening. We cannot pay attention; our attention doesn't seize but is seized. Yet we hang on and endure. The terror is felt to be mine, an integral element of a cohesive self.

    Neuroscientists report that certain sorts of stress are beneficial, for analgesic and opioid chemicals are released naturally and periodically in the brain—the euphoria-producing endorphins. At such times people are not left disoriented in the slough of tedium and addiction that mires so many considered successful today. Mired because substances and behaviors that substitute for opioids released cyclically and naturally destroy the brain's ability to produce its own "uppers." When input ceases, the ravaged brain demands another dose to counteract depression or convulsion. Dependency sets in, and sense of self, power, and worth withers—quickly or over the long term.

    Some writers divide substance addictions from behavioral ones, divide the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs from workaholism, for example. Disclosing self to be body-self shows the distinction to be artificial. Both groups need ecstatic fulfillment, and both fail to trust Nature to provide this in the fullness of time: the natural necessity of periods of recuperation or dormancy is not respected. Both groups must perpetually prop themselves up and short-circuit regenerative Nature. As the "crack" addict does not stop taking the drug, the workaholic does not stop working. Not confident that their organism in their place will regenerate itself and themselves in time, cyclically, they are not in possession of themselves. They are, to various degrees, possessed.


The roots of the word wilderness convey its attractive/frightening ambivalence, its uncanny power to excite frightened desire. At first glance they simply mean "wild place." But wild and self-willed or willfull are connected. In this reconstruction, the roots of wilderness are wil, plus der (of the) and the Middle English ness which means place. Most revealingly, "wil-der-ness" connotes "the will of the place." Wilderness has its own periods and ways. Cultures since the advent of agriculture nine thousand years ago have striven to conquer the will-of-the-place. Yet we have continued, apparently, to long for the excitement of will-of-the-place that catches us up as a vital part of itself.

    Spasms of orgasmic pleasure are only a part of what is desired in sexual experience. A new and attractive body is exciting just because it is new. Underneath the clothes lies an unknown wilderness to be explored—the will-of-the-body-place, a wilderness with its own will. What might happen when we abandon ourselves to each other? Essential to the excitement is often some stress or fear. Thus the quest for—or the nagging urge to quest for—new individuals to disrobe and explore.

License my roaving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.
0 my America my new-found-land ...

    So cunningly John Donne links discovering the woman's body and discovering America. But is the will-of-the-place, the woman's will, respected? Or is she being exploited, as was America? Perhaps sexual experiences are merely sexual conquests, and become so frequent and easy that satiation with that type of exploration ensues. Fear—meaning awe—is gone. In unjaded sexual activity we hope to become aboundingly real and whole through each other. If the lull panoply of ecstasy is not found, and we have no clear idea of what is missing, we may feel compelled to repeat what we do find. Ecstasy deficit excites mechanical repetition, addiction. Gerald Sykes:

For the city man the only green thing is sex. For the country man there are many green things. Freud was a city man, Jung a country man.

    What happens to a controlling man when women develop their own ecstatic possibilities? In a time of fluid roles and decaying patriarchal hierarchies, this is a dismaying prospect for many men.

    Technological mechanics steps forward, offering its own ecstasies, which aim to overwhelm wilderness Nature's. For example, "interactive television." One film features a nubile porn actress. Various commands are available: "Take off your bra," "Touch yourself." Technologized sex is a vortex that magnetizes and constricts.

I was not happy with my life (others were not happy with it either). When I was driving, a car going too slowly ahead cut me off from an earth-shaking objective that somehow had to be visible through the tunnel of my line of sight. What this was precisely, I would not have been able to say. Fame and glory? Yes. But the hunger overflowed these, engulfing me in a vast, churning amorphousness. The poet Hölderlin's line, "It was no person you wanted, believe me, it was a world," pulsed in a cocoon, as if it might carry a cryptic answer. Some idiots were said to cry for the moon. How could a sane person want a world? My "tunneling" marked a desperate desire to plunge into a world that would welcome me into itself only if I possessed skills and words of request I did not know.

    There were other moments of feeling encompassed protectively, relaxed, as if a voice were murmuring in the trees, the river, or the breathing sea. Vaguely heard, as if promises had been made from earliest days, "I will take care of you. You will be at home with me, knowing me." Muffled words, reverberating somewhere beneath the threshold of ordinary speech. Who or what was speaking? There was a blank. Though I was an adult, a professor, a husband, a father, I could not, at will, redirect or stop the habitual tunneling plunging. The loss of freedom was loss of myself.


A key feature of wilderness is that any place (if not fatally poisoned) left to itself, will regenerate some way in the fullness of time. The Nature in which our forebears were integrated through seasonal rites and rituals in home places was perceived by them to be both repetitive and regenerative. We are therefore predisposed to expect regeneration through repetition of any of our acts. This is delusion.

    For many thousands of years our ancestors survived only by fitting into the self-regenerating whole of Nature that fed its dying parts back into itself, to repeat the life cycle. Sprouting, blooming, maturing, fading into death, blooming again. Animals growing, rutting, birthing, dying, and the cycle repeating itself. All things: birth, flourishing, dying, rebirth. Nature feeds back its "wastes" into itself. The heavens repeat the same perpetual cycle of waxing, waning, dying, reawakening of celestial bodies. Humans enjoy excited consummations, dying away of excitement, and typically its rebirth in the fullness of time. Human rhythms—so-called biological clocks—evolved as cultures wove the rhythms of humankind and all of Nature together in myth and ritual.

    But many today lack assurance that the inevitable demise of excitement will be followed by its rebirth in the fullness of time. In fear of emptiness and inertness, ecstasy must be mechanically reinduced. Addiction is failure to trust the spontaneous recoveries of Nature and culture.

    Addictive gambling, for example, is repetition without orientation. It mimics the spontaneities and risks of Nature herself, but also her chances for fabulous abundance, a windfall. Convinced they can win it all, a world somehow, gamblers blur, trancelike, the lines dividing possibility from actuality and part from whole.

    But only money and what money can buy is possible. One is penned up in addictive repetitions—like a wolf or coyote relentlessly pacing its cage—with a wild hunger and no way to consummate the longing. How better explain such counterproductive behavior than supposing some badly identified primal need that drives the gambler? And that the concealed need is deep enough to conceal its own concealment and baffle attempts to satisfy it? Vincent van Gogh:

We cannot always say what it is that surrounds us, imprisons us, and seems to bury us; and yet we do feel these indefinable barriers, these railings, even walls.

Mother and Mother Nature

Before we came into the world, we were already in the world. As the unborn infant floats in the womb's amniotic fluid, the will-of-the-place floods its nervous system. But so suffusingly, nurturingly that no sense, presumably, of self-over-against-a-world arises. Yet already the body's later cyclicity begins to form as the infant interdigitates with the world's cyclicity through the mother. Her moving about and uttering sounds irregularly, her various perturbations during the day, and her relative immobility at night, when the solemn beating of her heart and the gentle rocking rhythms of her breathing achieve their nocturnal dominion—world fulsome and abundant beyond reckoning.

    Birth is some kind of sundering of an ineffable self-world whole. Without the compensation of enwrapping support, particularly from the nursing mother, the infant is prey to abandonment terrors. How can we help supposing that if basic hungers are unmet in those days, the emerging self will clutch frantically at a world it cannot trust? Panicked attempts to minister to body-self amidst hopelessness are presumptive roots of addiction.

    The enwrapping or looming mother is for each of us Nature's first reality, either greatly frightening or greatly comforting, or both at different times. She is also, of course, an enculturated being. "Mother Nature" is root metaphor, a likeness too close to experienced Nature itself for analysis to easily pick the two apart and too engulfing emotionally to be reduced to objectifying, literalizing terms. The mother of all metaphors? It emerges early as the background of all attempts to understand the hungering for connectedness, wholeness, growth, and the complex cultural strategies over the millennia to achieve these.


Inability to realize our deepest needs and capacities for ecstatic wholeness is a failure of responsibility to ourselves, and engenders hazy, floating guilt. But guilt is noisome and must be suppressed. So we may "pop an upper." But there is more guilt when inevitably the down follows—or threatens to follow—the artificial high. Guilt can be suppressed only through another dose of the drug or the behavior, and on and on.

    This explains the fateful progression of addictions in ever greater distraction and dependency, also the tenacious aura of mendacity that hangs about most of them, and why Alcoholics Anonymous insists on honesty. How can we admit to failing ourselves at the heart of ourselves?

    The maintenance of addiction demands self-deception. Addictive "adaptation" requires that primal needs be suppressed, and the alarm at their going unmet be unheard. The exploratory urge to reach out into the self-regenerating world to contact other beings with whom we have evolved over millions of years is such a need. When these needs are suppressed, substitute gratifications take over. Primal needs are kept on the margins of consciousness: perceived as "not to be perceived further." We deceive ourselves. Any trouble in our life is blamed on others. Or, trouble may be owned, but only to the extent of admitting lapses in managing gratifications: "I usually have drinks only with food, a couple of martinis at lunch, a few drinks before dinner, a little wine during, and a liqueur perhaps afterwards. But life has been so hectic lately I haven't been able to eat regularly." Self-deception encloses the addict in a substitute "world." It can be broken through only by bodyself in possession of itself, but this is what is lacking.

    Addictive compulsions are irrational desires for things that, once attained, do not satisfy for long. As Eric Hoffer once put it in an interview, "You never get enough of what you don't really want." Even if we succeed in stopping, the possibility of resuming typically preoccupies us. The vast consensus of observers—including sometimes the addicts themselves—is that the addictive behavior impairs one's life. But it is difficult or impossible to stop it, for no longer possessing our ancient place in Nature's will-of-the-place we no longer possess ourselves.

Civilization, Coordination, and the Sacred

Historically and prehistorically the most important task of civilization has been to survive by integrating us in will-of-the-place. Among earliest evidences of distinctly human cultures are lunar calendars incised on animal bones. That we might be caught up ecstatically as a vital part of the enwombing universe, its recurrent cycles were recorded and celebrated in ours—in rituals, ceremonies, stories, and myths.

    Vast mounds and circles of stones in what is today England and Ireland were erected around 3500 B.C. They registered the turning points in the progress of the Earth through the year, particularly its changing relationship to the sun: winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice, fall equinox. Stonehenge is a well-known example. These mounds and circles were not for merely practical purposes—planning for planting and harvest—but fed persons as wholes as they cycled with the seasons. The egg-shaped mounds and circles were temple-observatories.

    Probably our early ancestors did not sharply divide activities into practical and spiritual. Each celebration recreated the whole history of the people by reinserting them yet again in the regenerating Whole. The most spiritual was also the most practical. The source that created them was never absent. Can we not suppose that, despite what we would call hardships, they were in possession of themselves, because in perpetual possession of their source and place in Nature, and that they lived in ecstatic kinship with things around them?

    I imagine they experienced themselves belonging in what caught them up excitedly in a vast chorus of living and nonliving beings. At least Paleolithic art, much earlier than the stone circles, suggests this. Gathering-hunting people of our own century do not—or did not—define personhood in a way that isolated them from other beings, other "persons" (we put the term in scare quotes).

    But this experience of belonging in what catches us up ecstatically is the experience of the sacred: of what roots and empowers us in the world and centers and orients us, of what we know can never be completely known or controlled. "Whole," "heal," "holy" are connected.

    Loss of ego is a kind of sacrament that leaves room for something much greater than ego. "As it was in the beginning, so is it now, and ever more shall be, world without end, Amen." The Christian doxology exhibits roots in more ancient human practices of restoration and homecoming.

Fragmented Modern Humans

Despite tendencies inherited from our ancestors, the contrast between us and them (even fairly recent ones such as the Athenian Greeks) is vivid. As John Lachs, for one, points out in The Relevance of Philosophy to Life, we are caught up in vast organizations that use us as if we were cogs that click in and out at appointed times in vast institutional machines. Having little sense of the meaning and value of the Whole of which we are parts, we have little sense of our own meaning and value. Addictions are acts of violence directed at our own insignificance. Lachs writes:

Our official roles require that we perform act-fragments without concern for their meaning or consequences.... [W]e soon learn to act ... with little interest in how what we do fits current circumstances and with what its ultimate outcome may be. The psychic distance from the immediate and the long term context makes it difficult to introduce intelligent moral considerations into the deliberative process.... The fragmentation that pervades the mediated world is internalized ... The well-known problems of coordinating intellect and feeling arise from the independent operation of what should be integrated personal functions.

    Though we may sneer at how small the world of indigenous persons is, still they had a visceral sense of the Whole as well as their own competence and worth within it. (Words referring to the unconditioned and unconditionally valuable have mythic force and are capitalized.) An anthropologist once spoke of a group of indigenous people who marveled at the drinking glass she owned. They asked how such a thing was made. When she told them she did not know, they did not believe her.

    Knowledge must be rerooted in the ecstatic body-self that molds materials and becomes whole within the Whole. Henry Thoreau describes standing on the peak of Mt. Katahdin in Maine:

What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries!—Think of our life in nature,—daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it,—rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?

    From long experience working with addicts, Alcoholics Anonymous cites "belief in a higher power" as a first condition for recovery. This seems to be true. Self-worth resides in a firm sense of the vast Whole in which we are small but vital parts. And the AA mantra or motto "one day at a time" suggests at least that our vitality depends on rootedness moment by moment in the sensuously given world around us, that sweetest gift that answers to our needs as bodies. Contact! Contact! Without this we can't be content with "mere Nature" but must contrive addictive gratifications.

    But what exactly is "higher power"? If it means higher than the world, it will tend to disengage from the matrix of regenerative Nature. It will also suggest fanatical allegiances, even if not to drink, commitments intolerant of the profusive variety, stately pace, and local integrities of the world. It will mean addictive short-circuiting at both the group and personal level.


Our Paleolithic ancestors almost seem to be another species. How to grasp their learning through millennia from the cycling lives of beasts, birds, snakes—what to eat, where to find shelter, when and where to hunt, gather and store, when to lie dormant? Their quiet alertness is inconceivable for most of us.

    Nevertheless, on some level of consciousness many of us still feel the will-of-the place, our alienation from it—our abandonment and loneliness. A member of the Omaha Tribe:

When I was a youth the country was very beautiful.... In both the woodland and the prairie I could see the trails of many kinds of animals and could hear the cheerful songs of many kinds of birds. When I walked abroad, I could see many forms of life, beautiful living creatures which Wakanda [The Great Spirit] had placed here; and these were, after their manner, walking, flying, leaping, running, playing all about.... But now ... sometimes I wake in the night, and I feel as though I should suffocate from the pressure of this awful ... loneliness.

    In an age of power and technology, many feel powerless. Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom wrote of the bewildering choices offered by modern technology. It destroyed the seamless mythic matrix that guided and empowered earlier persons' choices day by day, stage of life by stage and provided intrinsically satisfying excitements and contentments. Perhaps the very magnificence of sleek, powerful cars and the allure of the person beside one create disappointment when, still, there is something missing, we know not what.

An Addicted Culture?

Some studies maintain the whole culture is addicted. As we throb constantly n robotized atemporality, the charged atmosphere appears normal and is hardly noticed. Robert Atkins, M.D., notes that our society consumes ten times as much sugar as any that has ever appeared on Earth. This amount of sugar throws many into a headlong run, a perpetual attempt to try to regain balance and counteract withdrawal symptoms with yet another dose of sugar (or caffeine, or ...). The breathless atmosphere of NOW and the general commotion and amorphousness are all-pervasive—life in a dust cloud.

    Scientific research tries to keep pace with the violation of the organism's ancient regenerative cycles, particularly that of sleeping and waking. With the abrupt emergence of the electronic age, artificial light available twenty-four hours a day and the bombardment by messages is relentless. Once the natural diurnal rhythms are overridden, a semblance of wakefulness must be produced by stimulants of various kinds, which easily become addictive because their effects are ephemeral. If we addictively do without sleep—a primal need much closer to other diurnal mammals than previously suspected—we tend never to be fully awake. The height of wakefulness is proportional to the depth and ripened fullness of sleep.

    Evidence suggests that a component of violence in many hardened criminals is physiological, a matter of diet. Consumption of junk food whenever hunger pangs occur leaves withdrawal symptoms so disturbing that sometimes only a violence-rush can allay them for awhile. Normal hunger pangs degenerate into addictive cravings. And we can be addicted to the excitements of criminality. When offenders are put on a farm and raise and eat vegetables, relapse into crime is reduced.

    How important is the physiological factor? Probably the attempt to break down "the problem" into (presumptively) technologically manageable units or factors reflects the generally addicted society that wants immediate solutions. For example, how could we differentiate the chemical factor of the stimulant consumed (caffeine or sugar, say) from the urge simply to consume anything to fill an experienced emptiness?

    All of us need to feel significant because we do significant things. Mere consumption masks the need without satisfying it. In criminals the need is explosively strong. In noncriminals the need is not necessarily vividly apparent. But a pervasive perturbation takes over. As long as the gratifications demanded by the addictive "adaptation" are available, however, and our organism does not give out totally from the strain, this need might not be obvious.

    Hungry, crying, new-born infants do not know what will satisfy their need, but satisfied, instantly feel better. Likewise, persons binging on food cannot describe what they really need, but feel better while eating. But the infant is satisfying a primal need and developing as an infant-person, whereas bingers can no longer fill the dependency need and are degenerating. Any ecstasy not coupled with growth and a sense of one's significance is degenerative.

    In an addicted society, control and satisfaction must be achieved NOW. Units not relevant to immediate power and control are ignored. When these "irrelevant" units are the regenerative cycles of Nature themselves, there is reason for Thomas Berry's assertion that the culture exhibits a rage against the very conditions of life itself.

Overreaching and Disintegrating Mind and Consciousness

Given the prevalence of addictions and vain attempts to escape them, our mental powers seem more entangled and weak than we commonly imagine. I do not think mind is separate from body (all of the body, of course). What, then, is "human mind"? How do we best deploy our "mental powers" to coordinate capacities of awareness and primal needs?

    Other animals' exchange with their environment is regulated almost totally by instinctual turning of awareness and involvement. Wolf consciousness, say, is wolf-moose consciousness—that of predator-prey. Their hungers are naturally periodic. As long as these animals endure at all, they are regenerated by Nature and its balances and rhythms, which they cannot, typically, disrupt. They live in a vast womb.

    For us, sounds and sights can be separated in thought from the things that emit sounds and show themselves. And it is just because these sounds and sights can be separated in thought from their things, that they come to symbolize and name them. They are of things that are absent, or that do not exist, but perhaps might. We alter Earth in the light of our imagination and powers of abstraction as does no other animal. This is what many call the glory of human mind.

    Yet what is the value of our distinctively ecstatic and far-reaching mind when it includes the capacity to distract ourselves from Earth's local environments cycling regeneratively (if not totally crushed)? What is the value of mind when it creates havoc with the human organism?


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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Prologue: Hunger for Ecstatic Connectedness Part 2 I NATURE'S REGENERATIVE CYCLES Chapter 3 1 Ecstasy Deprivation and Addictive "Remedies" Chapter 4 2 Rediscovering Space, Time, Body, Self Chapter 5 3 Circular Power Returning into Itself Chapter 6 4 The Intimate Otherness of Body-Self's World: Addiction as Frightened Response Part 7 II ADDICTION: CIRCULAR POWER SHORT-CIRCUITED Chapter 8 5 The More Than Merely Human: Hunger to Belong Chapter 9 6 Medical Materialism and the Fragmented Grasp of Addiction Chapter 10 7 Possession, Addiction, Fragmentation: Is a Healing Community Possible? Chapter 11 8 Smoking As Ritual, Smoking As Addiction Chapter 12 9 Body, Nose, Viscera, Earth Chapter 13 10 Art and Truth Chapter 14 III HARMONY WITH NATURE Chapter 15 11 Mother Nature: Circular Power Returning into Itself Chapter 16 12 Technology As Ecstasy: How to Deal with It? Chapter 17 Conclusion: The Awesome World Chapter 18 Sources Chapter 19 Acknowledgments Chapter 20 Index Chapter 21 About the Author

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