March 6, 2009

Ceaseless Craving, Invincible Sustenance

The other night, right before I went to bed, I was craving something sweet. Not wanting to deprive myself of a bedtime snack (heaven forbid), I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie. And as I stuffed it into my mouth en route to my bedroom, I paused. Though my mouth was still crammed with cookie, I was convinced I needed another one. I NEEDED it. Still chewing, I immediately turned around, walked back to the kitchen, and proceeded to shove another one in my face. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was exactly what I needed, I thought to myself, as I crawled into bed with crumbs on my face.

Thirty minutes later, I found myself staring at the ceiling, waiting for the sugar high to wear off, and wondering why I had convinced myself that I actually needed two cookies right before going to bed. I couldn't help it, I thought to myself, I was craaaving them. But was I? Yeah, I'm pretty sure I was. The problem is though I'm always craving something. I crave morsels of chocolate at every meal (read: a large large piece of chocolate), I crave wine, I crave fresh air, I crave dinners out, I crave leisure, I crave coffee with hazlenut creamer, I crave a beer with my burger...and the list goes on. The utterly ridiculous thing about these cravings is that I always find a way to satiate them. It would never occur to me not to! If I want a f-ing cookie, I'm gonna buy a f-ing cookie. And if I want a glass of wine, I'm going to pour one. And if I want leisure, I embark on fun. And if I want a burger, I'm going to get a burger (medium rare, please) despite the fact that I claimed a month ago to be a vegetarian. (This is why I'm NOT a vegetarian...because five days into it, I have these pregnancy type cravings for raw meat and ten minutes later I find myself gnawing on chicken wings, thinking sheepishly "I couldn't help it.... my body was craaaavvingggg it") Ummm...??!!

I rarely do NOT act on cravings and this scares me. It scares me, firstly, because when it comes to my food desires, I know there are so many hungry people in this world who cannot simply eat what they want, when they want. Secondly, this scares me because even though I do not have an addiction (or at least one that I'm not in denial about), I could see how easily satisfying cravings could lead to one. Thirdly, this scares me because I think on principle, deprivation can lead to growth, and I should practice the act of deprivation more. And lastly, this scares me because as the cravings ceaselessly continue, I ceaselessly satisfy them, but I still ceaselessly seek for more satisfaction. To it put it simply, no matter what needs I may satisfy, I still don't feel "filled."

Don't get me wrong. If I'm craving cookies, and I wash a row of Oreos down my throat with a glass of milk, I will be FULL. But I won't be FILLED, and I certainly won't be FULFILLED. The irony is, however, that being "filled" is really all I want at the end of the day; I don't want cookies before I go to sleep each night, I actually just want peace. But, instead of doing a five-minute meditation (which my heart craves), I find myself eating cookies (which my stomach craves).

I'm not Freud, so I won't try to psychoanalyze what my cravings really might mean from a psychological standpoint (although I'm sure Freud could offer some ver-y interesting commentary). I will, however, analyze my cravings from a more spiritual perspective.

Our cravings stem from something inside of us which tells us that we need something outside of us to feel "satisfied." This is the utter lie of the world--that we are not "complete" as we are; we need something OTHER than ourselves to fill us, whether that be a relationship, a friendship, a job, a house, a certain lifestyle. But the fact is that we are already completely whole. We are born in Union with God. But as we process life and start to form our identity, we start to identify ourselves based on the world around us. We start to believe we are what we do and what we have, and we therefore start to feel that we are separate from that Union. And once we believe we are separate, our needs start to change. We start to crave the knowing of things as opposed to the knowing of our inner-being. We crave noise as opposed to silence. We crave motion as opposed to stillness. And we therefore crave the very things that take us away from our Union with God. As one Sufi master noted, "the inner truth of desire is that it is a restive motion in the a heart in search of God." And as we plow forward, desperately grabbing in vain at bubbles of guaranteed "fulfillment" that pop upon touch, we start to feel defeated. Because despite the fact we have satisfied our cravings, we do not feel filled, and we do not feel whole. We believe that we are separate from God.

As James Finley so simply (and paradoxically) stated: "We are not God, but we are not OTHER than God." And once we comprehend that we are not OTHER than God, we begin the journey back Home. We can begin to feel whole again because we realize that we need to look no further than ourselves (into our soul, our inner-being, our Buddha nature) to find everything we need. Jesus assured the Truth of this in eight words: "Behold, The Kingdom of God is WITHIN You."

And with recognition of this Union and the knowledge that the kingdom of God is within, I think we can start to flip-flop our cravings. Our craving for things, stemming from the separation from God, can lead to a craving of God, which will result in the separation of all things. Nuri, a Sufi teacher, stated it much more eloquently: "Union with God is separation from all else, and separation from all else is union with Him."

And in this Union, the oneness with the divine, we will stop believing that the externalities can satisfy our soul. And though our ceaseless cravings may subsist, we will have the awareness that God is inside us, offering "invincible sustenance" (as James Finley calls it) which is all we really need to feel "full."