I want, I want, I want, I need, I need, I need. DESIRE as U2 sings. We all know it, feel, it and can be driven by it. It’s known as one of the three poisons in Buddhism and is associated with greed. Two things that can lead us to suffering. Suffering you say…Hmm really? Desire seems to be a natural part of being human. I mean if Americans are to want for anything then who would buy all the things that we produce? I mean if I am not to desire the amazingness of the next IPhone than what will Apple do? Isn’t that where happiness is? That’s what we are socialized to believe. If we aren’t to desire, to want more then won’t we just all become lazy sloths? We desire what we don’t have with the idea that once we have it life will be so much better. But the tricky part is, if desire is supposed to bring happiness, why is it that generally it just ends up leading to more desire? Have you ever said or thought, “if only_______ would happen, then everything would be so much better?” Of course you have. Yesterday my desires were this “if only these damn greenheads would stop attacking my ankles I could relax. If only the kid with the very high pitched voice would put on his indoor voice outside I could relax.” And so on….. We all do it. The mind creates thoughts, the trick is how to not always follow those thoughts.
Yesterday while relaxing on the beach as I was reading about desire in “A Path with Heart” by Jack Kornfield. Yes, I know, not exactly a “beach read” but a good book on building a spiritual life nonetheless. The title to this post speaks to a topic that Kornfield discusses in his book; Hungry Ghosts. I first heard about these ghosts from my acupuncturist during a session which lead me to do some research. Buddhists characterize wanting as like Hungry Ghosts which are ghosts with an enormous belly and tiny mouth. They can never eat enough to satisfy their endless need. These demons are associated with wanting and grasping. Kornfield sites a statement made by George Bernard Shaw “there are two great disappointments in life. Not getting what you want and getting it.” Ain’t that the truth, huh? Wanting leads to more wanting. Once you are on that roller coaster it is very hard to get off. Back when I started looking into this Buddhist it was suggested that I also try to sit with what the ghost was seeking. What was driving my wanting? Lately, I find myself back in the same place. Wanting to be somewhere I am not currently with the thought that once I get there it will be SO much better than here. Each time that desire comes up to be some place in the future, I try to come back and wonder what is driving that want. What insatiable need are my ghosts having and how can I tend to that deeper need rather than following the want.
While leaving the beach yesterday I had an encounter with a boy around 4 years old that made me think of this topic. We were leaving at the same time and he was lagging behind his family. He fell instep with me and began yelling that he wanted ice cream. His mother told him no that he needed to have dinner first. He then yelled “No I don’t want dinner I want ice cream.” To which I started laughing. He suddenly stopped yelling when he realized I was laughing at him. Well I wasn’t actually laughing AT him, I was laughing WITH him because he reminded me that this is what adults look like when the Hungry Ghost takes over. Wanting what we want when we want it is a sure fire way to suffering. Things happen in life in a way that isn’t always in step with our wants, but like Mick sings “we don’t always get what we want but we get what we need.” For addicts and alcoholics, their Hungry Ghosts can cause intense destruction and leave behind a lot of frustration in sobriety. AA calls it the “King Baby” syndrome which renders adults in early sobriety looking much like that young boy yesterday. But those of us without a raging addiction struggle in the same way. Greed is everywhere. The healing occurs when we stop feeding our ghosts and we learn to sit with what is beneath the wanting. Typically the way we feed our ghosts doesn’t truly get at the need anyway. There is something much deeper that ice cream or something new and shiny can’t resolve. The ghosts rise up to the surface because there are core needs that are unmet that can only be satiated through love. The boy want for ice cream is much like the adults’ want for things to go a certain way. The joy from things never lasts but the joy from love, well that can last a lifetime. These days when my ghosts arise, I try to gently acknowledge that they are there but work towards not feeding them what they say they want (sugar:) Instead, I work towards just seeing them as an indication that I am longing for connection and do my part to connect in whatever way I can. This helps them become a little quieter.
Yesterday’s weather in Boston was the most perfect of all summer weather. But everyday can become just as perfect when we realize that the goods in life are right here, right now. Wanting what we have and having what we want is where it’s at.