Do you ever feel hunger, craving or yearning gnawing at your soul? I do and I know many others who do as well. The “condition” may noiselessly exist, only subtly tinting our lens of experience. Oftentimes though this hunger is the loud and demanding engine that drives our lives so that we are always craving, reaching and suffering. Buddhism even has a whole realm of existence dedicated to this concept: the realm of the hungry ghost. Hungry ghosts are depicted as having large stomachs and extremely constricted throats, disabling their abilities to take in nourishment, and eternally sentencing them to unsatisfied and insatiable craving and longing. Psychoanalysts W. Ronald D. Fairbairn and Harry Guntrip also addressed the dialectical relationship between longing and fear, and our tendencies to adhesively attach ourselves to unsatisfying relationships and actions, making it impossible to trust and take in true nourishment. We are born with a powerful and healthy life force that drives us toward human connection. Through early disappointment and trauma, this healthy force becomes twisted into insatiable desire and craving and we replace healthy connections (with both ourselves and others) with activities and relationships that quickly soothe the pain, but do not transform it. If you feel this way, you are not alone. According to Lama Surya Das, when a student asked Thich Nhat Hanh, “What is life like in the realm of the hungry ghosts?”, he replied, “America”. Turn on your television, open a magazine or start-up your computer and you will see all the shiny remedies to your pain and loneliness.
There are many articles in popular news reports, blogs and magazines, as well as in scientific journals, indicating that practicing mindfulness and meditation is good for you. Meditation has been linked to:
You probably enjoyed Tara Parker-Pope’s article (above) from the NY Times (click above) about our need for self-compassion. Why aren’t we easier on ourselves? Why aren’t we as compassionate toward ourselves as we are toward others? There appear to be cultural influences on the critical eye we turn toward ourselves. The world is competitive, and we need to be disciplined to succeed: the early bird catches the worm, you snooze, you lose….etc. People fear that imperfection leaves them open to “losing” or to criticism and rejection. The research indicates however that a little dose of self-compassion can go a long way, in lowered stress and sometimes improved performance (the research on weight loss cited in the article).
Why is it so difficult to let go of these self-critical, perfectionistic voices that seem to rule our lives? Some object-relations theories seem to offer some insight on this process. According to Fairbairn and Guntrip, each of us experiences trauma in some form or another when we are infants and on. This doesn’t have to be major abuse, it can be small moments that occur that a baby can’t process. This happens to everyone-there are always moments that babies can’t process, because they are babies, and because perhaps mother isn’t able to help sooth them during those moments. The more of these moments that we have, and the more mother isn’t able to sooth them, then we develop patterns of expectation of the world, and ways of being that are designed to protect us from the disappointments and dangers that we expect from the world. So there is a part of us that is always devoted to overcoming our feelings of weakness and vulnerability to ensure that we can’t be hurt. So, to always be strong, powerful, the one “on top”, without needs, perfect and/or in control makes us feel that we are safe and above hurt. We crack the whip at ourselves when we feel need, love or compassion. It is a form of self-protection, although often a self-defeating one because of the level of stress, interpersonal disconnection and conflict that may result.