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.
Since I learned that the U.S. had killed Osama Bin Laden, I’ve been feeling relieved and hopeful. But each time I start to feel upbeat, a claw grips my heart, saying “not so fast, how can you feel good about a murder”? So I’ve continued shifting back and forth between relief and hope, and shame and guilt. When I saw all of the people outside in NYC and Washington, I felt strange. I had a yearning to be there, to be connected to and bathed in all the relief and joy. I would then frown at myself and think of it as unseemly to “celebrate” a dramatic murder. Mulling my reaction, and the reactions of family, friends and those throughout the social media, I now see the death of Bin Laden and the associated reactions as another step towards healing the trauma of 9/11.