I imagine a cartoon depicting a bunch of zombies in the basement of a church. It’s a twelve step meeting. One of them says, Have you seen Ed? Another of them says, He ate brains last weekend.
Zombies are a perfect symbol for addiction. They’re also the perfect symbol for consumerism, mindlessness, and craving, three things all of us embody at one time or another. If that rubs you the wrong way then fine, I’m only speaking for myself.
It’s my speculation that it’s no coincidence that in the past fifteen years there has been a proliferation of zombie movies. Once an obscure facet of voodoo religion, the movies about zombies are now numerous: Shaun of the Dead, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, etc. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I don’t think it’s just that zombies are entertaining and look good on screen. I think what’s really happening is that we as a society are projecting ourselves onto the screen. We’re zombies.
I first became aware of this while working at a coffee shop. I came face to face with the bottomless maw which is human desire. It was most acute at the cash register, when you’re trying to punch in people’s orders while they’re oblivious, listing the things they want at a fast tempo. Latte. Cappuccino. Brains.
Somebody once told me their favorite alcoholic beverage was called more. That’s how it was for me too. I remember lighting a cigarette, taking a few drags, then feeling depressed that it was going to end, and getting ready to light the next one. This doesn’t necessarily have to be alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. It could be shopping, sex, food, you name it. Food is the biggest and most fundamental craving we have. It’s hard to call it an addiction, because it’s so necessary. Yet we often eat excessive amounts, and post-period of contentment is often all-too-short.
Eat a sandwich, need more in a couple hours. Have sex, need more in a couple days. Buy a pair of shoes, return to Amazon in a couple weeks. Whatever we give ourselves to feel better, fails to bring lasting happiness.
That’s exactly the way of zombies. They spend days wandering through urban centers, breaking into barricaded buildings, all to devour human flesh. But once they’ve feasted, they want more.
I’m not suggesting we become saints and stop consuming. I’m pointing out, in me at least, the zombie is my default mode. If I don’t pause and think, I live life like a zombie. I may not use alcohol anymore, but I eat voraciously with no appreciation of my food. I work and run errands compulsively, with no awareness or enjoyment in what I’m doing, an impending anxiety that I won’t get done what I (supposedly) need to do.
Answers. I’ve listed a lot of problems but haven’t come up with any answers. Before putting forward my own, how about the Buddha. He is famous for The Four Noble Truths. The first noble truth is that life is dukkha (suffering, anxiety uncomfortability). Pause for a second. That’s an American sized pill to swallow. Life hurts. That’s the first noble truth. The second noble truth is the source of dukkha– Taṇhā, which literally means thirst or craving.
Not just for coffee, sex, and sweets. Craving to be somebody, to become something one’s not. Craving to be free from who you are, your faults and limitations. Craving for greatness, superiority, security. This a psychological component, in addition to the physical cravings we all have. Fundamentally, we’re ill-at-ease because when it comes to anything, our favorite is more.
The third noble truth, like much of Buddhism, is gloriously practical. Cessation. Remove the cause of suffering. If drinking gives you a hangover, stop drinking. If cheese fries give you heart burn, give up the cheese fries. Mere cessation is simple enough, but we know it takes a lot more to simply quit things that are bad for us.
Bringing us to Noble Truth number Four: a practice. You need a practice. The Buddha called his practice the Noble Eightfold path, which consists of: Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
But it’s not just Buddhism; every spiritual tradition has a practice. For AA, it’s the twelve steps. For Catholics, it’s the seven sacraments. For Islam, it’s the Five Pillars.
More than likely, you don’t fit neatly into one category. Not anymore, not in the post-modern world we live in. Maybe you go to Mass on Sunday and Yoga on Tuesday. Maybe you practice mindfulness because you know it lessens your anxiety and makes you a more compassionate person. Perhaps you simply treat people kindly because it’s the right thing to do.
There’s a multitude of spiritual exercises, each of which can be beneficial, no matter what practice they belong to, if any. The point is to wake up to your true nature, which is not a zombie.
A common image of enlightenment is some guy having an out-of-body experience akin to an acid trip. How bout this? A zombie, walking across a field, approaching a barn hiding in which is a cowering family. The zombie stops, it looks up at the sun. Enlightenment.
Then goes on to eat them, because we’re only human.