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."


  1. Great post Ker! It makes me rethink that cinnamon roll I just killed :)

    Two questions that I've wondered about came up again as I read this: One, If everything we need is inside of ourselves, why do so few people seem to find it? Do you think it's just cultural? And Two, Does this mean that we could be truly fulfilled without community?

    I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on these!

  2. Thanks James! Glad you enjoyed your cinnamon roll, just the mere thought of it ignites my own cravings...frick :)

    In response to your first question, I'd have to say that we don't find what we're looking for when we look in the wrong places (that's nothing more than common sense). Looking inside of ourselves is often the last place we look in our search for God. We look to books, we look to religious leaders, we look to each other, and we look to doctrine. And while all of these places offer cues as to who God is, the words and the doctrine themselves are not God. They may be "living words," but they are not the living Being.

    And I think part of the reason we do not go inward to find God is indeed cultural. I think some cultures, particularly those which focus on contemplation and meditation, encourage the exploration of the inner-self to find the divine. But I also think that in large part, the search for God inside of ourselves is really scary and intimidating. What if we don't find Him? What WILL we find if we look? Most of what we will find is not pretty. As we unearth the mud in our search for Gold, we realize we are needy, judgmental, worrying, untrusting, lustful, fearful, wounded, and so on. And this makes us stop searching inward because as we recognize our flaws (and our humaness), we are convinced that the Divine could not exist amidst all this errancy. So we stop looking and the separation between God and ourselves remains intact.

    Additionally, I think we're fearful of the understanding that the Divine is within us. I mean, shit, what would that mean if our inner light was God. We would probably have to act differently, because any action in contrast to the divine would shadow that Light. And who wants to be held solely responsible for providing that shadow?

    I truly believe, however, that if we push through that fear, and keep peeling back the layers of ourselves, we will find our true inner-beings and, therefore, God.

    In response to your second question, I think yes and no. Yes, we can be truly fulfilled without community, but, no, I do not think we're supposed to live a life of solitude. Buddha achieved enlightenment by sitting alone in the forest, BUT then he returned to a monastery and spent the next 25 years serving as a community leader.

    Community can be a huge component of our search inward because our interactions (whether good or bad) with each other teach us about ourselves. And by sharing in the knowledge, wisdom, and experiences of others, we are allowed to think about OWN knowledge, wisdom, and experiences. And this can help the "unearthing" process. I also think community brings us joy and I think joy is essential to the spirit. I think a distinction between joy and pleasure, however, must be made. Pleasure stems from the satisfaction of cravings, JOY stems from the holiness of LOVE. And ff community allows us an outlet to share our love for each other (and the divine), then we have also taken a step closer to God.

    What do YOU think my friend? :)

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful response Ker! I'm looking forward to giving you some follow-up thoughts soon. In the meantime, here's a really interesting 15-minute radio piece that is a bit of a rabbit trail from your post, but very interesting nonetheless. The video is amazing once you've listened to the piece!

    Radio Lab: Delayed Gratification

  4. Okay, I'm back. Great response to my questions.

    I think I see the search for truth or salvation or enlightenment as a delicate dance between the internal and the external, each always leading to and necessitating the other. That Buddha found enlightenment while sitting alone does not discount the community he had enjoyed up to that point. Perhaps it is just as likely that he could have achieved Nirvana while cleaning a friend's dishes or feeding a hungry stranger. At least, it doesn't seem unlikely to me.

    I agree that the internal search is important, and intimidating - I remember that we spoke once of the 'chaos'. (And that chaos is multiplied when it is the lens by which we view others, who act out of their own chaos.) There seems to be Truth available to us, if only we'll be still long enough for the chaos to settle, but we rarely do, like a huge snow globe that we keep shaking so that we can't see what's inside.

    That's all for tonight. Good discussion. Many thoughts.