Chasing the Dragon of Bliss

Chasing the Dragon

The term “chasing the dragon” was originally a description of the undulating nature of the opium vapor in a pipe, as the smoker attempted to suck up every gram of bliss contained in the drug. “Chasing the dragon” was expanded to include the parsimonious smoking of crack cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, ya ba, and other smokable drugs reputed to provide bliss.

A newer meaning of the term “chasing the dragon” refers to the inability of the addict to ever approach the intense satisfaction of the very first “rush” experience — since the brain’s response to each successive mind-searing high is seemingly more muted.

If the seeker of bliss bases his pursuit of pleasure on the use of most mind-altering drugs of the addictive variety, the brain’s down-regulation of the innate receptors of the pleasure-causing molecules can make it impossible to “go home again,” or to reach the levels of pleasure and contentment that tied the user to the drug in the first place. (see Tachyphylaxis and Down regulation)

Other Attempts to Find Bliss

Drugs are just one way that people try to find bliss. Another common method is “falling in love.” If done right, falling in love works very effectively as a pathway to bliss, although it is almost never a permanent fix. And when that bliss begins to fail, the various attempts of lovers to “chase the dragon” could fill a huge library of bad country music songs still waiting to be written.

Raw and mindless sex without love — including pornography — has to be mentioned, but it doesn’t have to be respected. It is clearly an example of “chasing the dragon,” in a futile attempt to find tangible or meaningful bliss. Like some of the other methods mentioned here, the pursuit can destroy a person’s chances for genuine happiness if allowed to get out of hand.

Gambling is another attempt to attain a blissful state. The prospect of winning a huge jackpot keeps a lot of people buying lottery tickets, feeding slot machines, betting the ponies, or any gambling game of choice. But gambling houses exist because they win more than they lose — which means that in the long run you probably lose, regardless of how strong your anticipation of winning the big one. “Chasing the dragon” in this context should be obvious, and the risks of this method should be daunting to anyone in their right mind.

Music can lead to a blissful state if you are open to it. Not everyone is sleeping to the sound of the philharmonic in those plush opera house seats. Some are in absolute bliss, at least for certain passages of particular pieces. My musical bliss comes listening to Samuel Barber’s Adagio, Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, JS Bach’s violin concerto #1 in a minor, and too many more to mention. And although one can grow tired of listening to the same passage, piece, or style, it is not so long before the brain is ready again to reach out and touch that place of bliss. Sometimes, the dragon chases you.

Walking can take you places you might not have imagined, if you learn to let your mind go walking in its own way, while your body walks in its way. And “runner’s high?” That is just another term for what can happen in the brain when the body is entirely occupied with its own competence, allowing the mind to take a brief holiday. These forms of “moving meditation” may be more examples of when the dragon chases you, rather than you chasing the dragon.

Meditation is almost certainly the most personally profitable path to finding happiness or bliss, because it will lead you to a broader understanding of what you are doing and why — and what you might be doing differently if you want to bypass unnecessary unhappiness.

All children should learn meditation, in order to transcend the utter stupidity of the society in which they are immersed. But what form of meditation is best for kids, and how should it be presented? I favor the simplest and most direct approach, beginning with a focus on the breathing. You will know when the lessons are being learned by the actions of the child over time, when he is learning to meditate. Start young, as early as you can. The internet is full of “guided meditations” for kids, but the best approach is for the parent to learn the essence of breath meditation, and custom fit it to their child.

If the parent cannot control his own actions or speech when dealing with the child, the screaming need for calm in the family could not be stated more clearly. An abused child will only propagate the chain of abuse down through time starting with siblings and going on from there.

How Meditation Changes the Brain

Lake Tahoe

The Reward Circuit of the Brain

Brain Reward Circuitry

The brain evolved to reward good behavior, or a job well done. When we solve a difficult math problem, compose a beautiful poem or piece of music, or devise a clever solution to a real-life problem, we feel good. When we achieve harmony in our personal relationships, we feel happy.

Once we have felt bliss, euphoria, or deep happiness and pleasure, we naturally want to feel it again — and again. But beware of shortcuts that may leave you broken and bleeding on the shores of loneliness.

Meditation may sound hokey in an airy-fairy mystical sense. But for most of us it is probably the best and most certain way to cut through the thick armor of delusion and defense that we surround ourselves with.

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1 Response to Chasing the Dragon of Bliss

  1. info says:

    Its ironic. But asceticism has this effect of recalibrating the reward setting of the brain and makes subsequent pleasure better.

    So those who go on regular fasts with intermittent fasting for example and swearing off of general indulgences to only a few times a week or a few times a month experience greater pleasures with those things than those who indulge everyday.

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