• Paul Lawrence

The Shaman's Way: Exploring Addictions



Part 1: The Four Addictions


“Spiritualism is the highest form of political consciousness. The native peoples of the West are among the world´s surviving proprietors of that kind of consciousness. They are here to impart that message. It is important to use it wisely and well as we go into the twenty-first century—a time of bridging ancient wisdoms into the creative tapestry of contemporary times.” Angeles Arrien.


In this article, I would like to talk about Angeles Arrien (1940 – 2014), a Basque-American cultural anthropologist, educator, and award-winning author.


Let me add shaman, as well, for I believe she was.


Angeles Arrien was introduced to me by my own treasured shaman teacher, Lionel Berman. Listening to him talk about her, the kind of person she was, her thoughts and ideas, I knew this was someone who had a deep understanding of the shamanic ways.




The Four Addictions

Angeles Arrien has identified what she calls ‘the four addictions.’ These are common human behaviors that seriously decrease happiness and increase anxiety, stress, and anger.


They create chaos and non-functionality in our lives and are often the underlying causes of more conventional addictions such as drug and alcohol abuse, pornography, and so on.


As humans, we are all prone to these four addictions. I can guarantee you that as you are reading this you are probably being held back by one or more of them.


1. Perfection

The first is the addiction to perfection. This addiction leaves the person feeling that nothing can ever be right. They try and reach their definition of perfection in everything they do and inevitably fail every time.


The result of this addiction is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual paralysis. One becomes stuck in a cycle of self-contempt and bitter determination. This self-destructive behavior will eventually lead to a complete breakdown.


2. Knowing

The addiction to knowledge, or knowing, is the belief that if we don’t know something, it cannot exist; in other words, we don’t have the power to plan and manipulate it for our gain.


The result of this addiction is the need to be in control, to avoid the unexpected, and the desire to appear that ‘you are on top of it all" without breaking a sweat.


When we are addicted to knowledge, we forget to live our own lives and focus on what is happening around us, what this person is doing, how that person is failing and that one is succeeding.


We feel the need to gain as much knowledge as possible so we can be in control and out-think, out-smart, and out-maneuver.


What we fail to realize is that knowledge is noisy and very often useless blabbering. The silence is where we gain an understanding, a wisdom that brings peace and contentment.


3. Intensity

People addicted to intensity generally are those who have the constant need to create a drama, to draw attention to themselves.


This could range from drug addicts who constantly relapse despite interventions, to adventure seekers who need to always be doing something daring in the public eye.


These people feel the need to make a spectacle because they believe that life is all about passion, suffering for your achievements. They think that the purpose of life is to discover the un-discoverable, to create the unthinkable, and to have an audience applauding them.


They don’t realize that the humble and undetectable action of the earthworms in the soil is just as beautiful as the radiant orange and red sunset that paints the sky from horizon to horizon.


If they are not the sunset then they are nobody.


People who suffer from this addiction are often searching, but have no idea what they are searching for. Constant anxiety and disillusionment are always close at hand.


4. What is Not Working

This addiction is the tendency to focus our attention on what is not working and ignore what is working.


OK, let’s be honest, if you don’t fall within this category then you aren’t from this planet.


It’s a natural human trait to focus on the negative things in our lives and forget the positives. Our brains seem to be hard-wired to primarily lookout for things that can harm us. A result of this is we always point out what is wrong or not working.


The problem is we dwell on the negative things and they become the focus of our lives, to an extent that we are unable to see anything positive; despite the fact that we inhabit intricately complex physical bodies where so much could go wrong, but 99% of the time everything works fine.


This addiction can lead to apathy, hopelessness, and deep depression.


How do We Heal From These Addictions?

If we are human, we suffer from these addictions.


Depending on our personalities and circumstances, we may suffer from all of them, or maybe one or two. They can also appear at different times in our lives.


Unfortunately, not many healthcare professionals offer treatment for these addictions. Modern medicine doesn’t really recognize them as illnesses, and thus they are not acknowledged.


We know that in order for healing to take place, the illness needs to be acknowledged and then accepted by the afflicted person. This brings about an openness to the healing process.


The Shaman

The Shaman is one healer who very much does acknowledge these addictions as illnesses, and as underlying causes of more acute and destructive issues in people’s lives.


The Shaman understands that all human suffering is rooted in fear. When we are in a state of fear, we react in ways that we think will protect us:


· We focus on what could go wrong, becoming hyper-sensitive to any dangers (real or imagined) that could impact us: the addiction to what is going wrong.

· We seek to know as much as possible; knowledge arms us against potential threats that could harm us: the addiction to knowing.

· We seek to put ourselves into the limelight. We fear a lack of attention. We need to constantly remain relevant within the community, and not go unnoticed: the addiction to intensity.

· We create ridiculously high standards to ensure we always cover all bases, no stone is left unturned, the danger will find no way in. We want to ensure our value to the community is irreplaceable: the addiction to perfection.


These primal reactions to fear, although useful in situations of basic survival, can very easily become burdens in our lives and result in patterns of behavior that can lead to personal and social problems.


They are very often the prelude to the adoption of bad habits and chemical addictions such as recreational drugs, tobacco, alcohol, as well as other destructive coping mechanisms such as self-harm and abuse of prescription drugs.


It’s very important for us to be aware that each and every one of us is prone to these four addictions. They are instilled in us from a very early age through societal conditioning and they become part of what shapes us.


If we are to understand the key to peace and happiness, we need to be aware of how these addictions have shaped our lives.


We have to undo the needless damage they have done to us.


So...how do we do this?


The Seven Principles

Yep! you guessed it, the seven principles of shamanism.


The seven principles, as mentioned before, are a set of integrated guidelines that assist one to identify and deal with spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical illnesses that are plaguing them.


It doesn’t matter where you start, because being integrated, they all merge into one as soon as you start applying the wisdom.


You may become aware that you are suffering from the addiction to perfection. On deeper introspection, you realize that there are certain limiting beliefs that are causing this:

  • You are never good enough because it always felt like your parents weren’t satisfied with what you achieved;

  • You are responsible for everyone else’s happiness because they will reject you if you don’t look after their every need;

  • If you aren’t doing better than your peers, you are failing.


Now, these are limiting beliefs. They are holding you back from being the ‘real you,’ creating guilt, stress, shame, anger, and depression. They will most likely result in a really ugly breakdown.


The principle of ‘no limitations’ tells us that we need to challenge our false beliefs. We have to question them; “Did anyone actually tell me that I must believe this or that?”


The talent is clearing the limitations and opening up for healing.


Analyze each belief and ask, ‘Where does this come from? Is it mine? Was it put on me by someone else? Is it actually true?’


From here the healing will require you to consider each principle and employ the talent that goes with it. Once you have done this, honestly and sincerely, you should be able to acknowledge, understand and accept the illness that is afflicting you.


This is a very powerful place to be.


Next time

Please join me in Part 2 of this article, where we’ll explore the shamanic healing approach associated with the four addictions.


PS: You may enjoy some of these books written by Angeles Arrien:




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