On Addiction: Michael Berg and Kabbalah

A quotation from Michael Berg, co-director of the Kabbalah Centre:

Being addicted doesn’t make us bad, weak or hopeless. Just the opposite. It means we have a unique soul that wants more.

Wow. No wonder bastardised Kabbalah has become so popular with crazy celebrities – you’re an alcoholic because you’re special! You do too much coke and ket because you’re great! You’re an unique soul! And no, being addicted doesn’t make you bad, weak or hopeless, but being addicted to drugs or booze quite clearly is bad, takes enormous amounts of strength & support to overcome, and can lead people into situations which are incredibly hopeless. Berg also says that

When looking through the lens of Kabbalah, addiction is seen as a positive door to greater personal transformation […]

Um, that’s not ‘addiction’, that’s ‘recovery’. The only ‘door’ that addiction leads to is illness, misery & death.

And yes, I did take these quotations from Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP newsletter. That’s because I get indescribable glee whenever she advises us to create capsule wardrobes around a $400 shift dress, or to make bruschetta for our tiny, toddling children.

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8 thoughts on “On Addiction: Michael Berg and Kabbalah

  1. I think people with any sense will realise this quote is taken out of context. You can not juge based on little snippets of information. As a recovering addict I have found Kabbalah to be one of the the major influences besides the 12 steps in keeping me sober for two years now. I am proud of my sobriety and proud to be a kabbalist.

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    • I really respect what you’ve achieved with your sobriety, and the ethos behind the 12 steps. Especially the steps

      # Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
      # Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

      and

      # Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
      # Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
      # Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

      All indicate immense bravery and a sense of responsibility completely absent from Berg’s attitude, as far as I can tell. Good luck to you.

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  2. Why is Berg’s idea so messed up to you? Do addicts really need to feel bad about themselves before they can get things under control? Is there only one way to “sobriety?” It seems to me that someone who feels that something is not inherently wrong with them or that they have an incurable addiction that only abstinence and reminding themselves that they were on their way to “Rock Bottom” before they can get better is more of a recipe for failure. I think you are messed up if you think there is only one way to living a peaceful happy life.

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    • I think a crucial part of recovery is acknowledging the pain you’ve caused to those around you, rather than exchanging the mental medication of seeing yourself as ‘special’. Encouraging addicts to see their experiences as a step towards greater positive transformation is a short-sighted and offensive to the people whose lives are destroyed by the addictions of others. If your child is killed by a drunk driver, that does NOT lead you to a place of positive transformation. If you’re born addicted to crack, no amount of ‘spiritual journeying’ or whatever that your mother does can make that okay.

      I also think that to portray addicts as (primarily) people who ‘want more’ is to encourage the most appalling form of entitlement – but, then again, Kabbalah in the celebrity sense is aimed at very entitled, very monied people who (in many cases) depend for their careers on public approval, even adulation. Also, to glamorise addicts as more passionate, more artistic or whatever is not that far removed from that whole Bohemian mythos of living fast & dying young. It’s shit and ignores the facts that addicts have partners, children, dependents, colleagues, neighbours and – I don’t know – people who are driving in cars at the same time as drunk drivers, or societies forced to care for them in their self-induced illness or injury.

      It may seem that way to you, but total abstinence + [to rephrase your words] a reminder that their behaviour was harmful, humiliating, exploitative and damaging is what works for addicts. It’s what stops them going back.

      In short: yeah. Generally, I do think addicts need to feel bad about themselves before they can change.

      I think you are messed up if you think there is only one way to living a peaceful happy life.

      I hope you’re not pretending that remark has anything to do with anything you could find in my post, or any view that could be meaningfully attributed to me. I can see you’re very worked up, but really.

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  3. Oh, and the author of this page sounds bitter and jealous when talking about Gwyneth Paltrow. How is that healthy? Okay, I won’t post here anymore as I have so much to disagree with about this blog. Thanks for letting me vent.

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    • You’re misreading me. I think that Paltrow’s newsletter is laughable – it’s meant to emphasise her ordinariness and how down-to-earth she is as a woman and mother, but I think it would actually make most middle- and working-class mothers feel inadequate. Offering any kind of fashion advice based around spending 400 bucks on a single item is short-sighted and patronising – and totally useless to most women. During a recession, I actually find it offensive.

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  4. I found your selections from the article were very one sided and would like to add my own selections:

    1. Realize these yearnings are coming from a true place (our soul) telling us we need to do more, and we can do and be more.

    2. Begin a process of both realizing and connecting to our true essence by focusing, meditating and becoming more conscious of our thoughts, behaviors and true potential.

    3. Do actions that take us out of selfish behavior. Become a more giving person. This helps us be less busy with ourselves.

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