We were never meant to be completely fulfilled; we were meant to taste it, to long for it, and to grow toward it. The secret to living life as it was meant to be is to befriend our yearning instead of avoiding it, to live into our longing rather than trying to resolve it, to enter the spaciousness of our emptiness instead of trying to fill it up. 

~ Gerald May



I can’t get hungry ghosts out of my mind. People who, despite all they have, want more; have an insatiable desire or craving. We live in times where it seems we are being invited to participate in global community. A gathering of kindred spirits. A better understanding that our family is the human family, and that when one suffers, we all suffer. We may be overdue to level the playing field. Americans have guarded and defended and provisionally enjoyed the lion’s share long enough. The global shakedown of ’08 has shown us, more than at any other time in memory, how and from what humility is born. Not a concept any longer, it becomes real the moment we recognize the nature of the lives of most of the planet’s inhabitants. We have consumed and gobbled up more than our share of the world’s resources – and still, we are left wanting more.  A nation of Hungry Ghosts –  entities with huge bellies and necks as narrow as pins. Consequently we collectively remain in a state of constant craving; unable to gulp down enough to fill that cavernous space within.

This past couple of years I have worked with my own Hungry Ghost energy. I’m not a person who craves so much as I am a person who shares. But food has always been my weakness – I love cooking and love eating good, wholesome food. I love it so much in fact that I have a hard time stopping before I’m filled to the brim. And so I’ve been cleaning up my act; getting my body in shape. As I approach sixty, I want the best quality of life possible. If I have an excess of flesh, that indicates to me that my system is overloaded; toxic. Time then, to listen deeply to the fragile house of my spirit and get on board with its agenda rather than simply that of my desire. The body has its own profound sagacity, if I can but attune to it.

What I have learned has turned my life around. But it’s not something I can share. It’s not because I’m stingy or want to write a best seller. Instead I’ve discovered at this stage of life that each body is unique, just like our personalities. What works for me may not work for others. There is no one-size-fits-all, though the barrage of diet books and advertisements that glut the media would have us believe otherwise. Instead I have discovered profound soundness in the somewhat complex system of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I remember a Chinese doctor saying to me that many Asians suffer from deprivation, but that Americans generally suffer from conditions of excess. At that time, maybe five or six years ago, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what he was saying. I guess I wasn’t ready to hear it.

Americans seem always in motion, trying to fill each minute of each day with something, anything – to avoid the longing and emptiness Gerald May speaks of. I realize that, with all good intentions, we Westerners try and quell our existential emptiness with things; with food; with substances. We even try and cure disease by adding more: vitamins, minerals, supplements of all kinds – when what would be kinder to the body – what might well eliminate many of our ills and diseases – is likely less of everything we are conditioned to want most. The plus is, we can have more of the stuff that really matters. Less food, more exercise. Less television and computer time, more reading and human interaction. Less talking, more listening. Less action, more reflection. Less taking and more giving. Less craving, more quality of life. And in that, dear readers, you are invited to discover a wellspring of wisdom.


16 thoughts on “HUNGRY GHOSTS

    1. Thanks C. Yes, that’s certainly one aspect of it. To me, the yearning itself is indicative of a need to settle – a call to accept spaciousness itself as an essential aspect of being. So hard in the midst of the chaos most of us live amidst. (Less so for you and me!) Thanks for your comments, as ever.

  1. This speaks so profoundly to my own inner musings of late. Approaching sixty, same “discussions” with my body. But, more, that cravings our culture has and my own personal ones. Even though I don’t think I “want” much, in reality I do. I can judge someone’s huge SUV, and feel overly righteous about my battered old Corolla. I can feel despair at the mall . . . I found myself in one for the first time in probably a year a week or so ago . . . the “stuff” inside, the amount, made me feel sick. There were so many people, and as I sat at the lunch court eating something I really didn’t want, but eating it because I hadn’t packed anything food, I felt this intense numbness that seemed to seep through the people there with me from the flourescent lights, the intrusion of the canned music, the monitors blasting images with their audio tracks competing with the musak . . . and yet I want and even in my own home struggle with the sense of being and the virtual world that cries out for attention. The theologian and mystic Cynthia Bourgeault writes about how in self-empyting, we find our true lives. I find promoting my book in my haphazard fashion competes with this notion of letting go. Yet I do it because I have to. Also, I love the quote you begin this with. I think the fact we don’t find our completeness meaningful, a default for growth of our spirits.

    1. Alethea, thanks for your contemplations and compliments. You’re saying a lot here, and reading between the lines, I sense that feeling of overwhelm I so often feel when in public places. In my opinion, that ‘sick’ feelings emanates from somewhere within – with a spirit that longs for nurturance rather than fullness – the quiet that open space and nature provide so bounteously. That sort of abundance never gives me those same feelings of pressure, for lack of a better word. And I too experience ‘mall food,’ whether in malls or no, as having a similar energy – a stuffing without real substance; thus leaving one perpetually empty and, if habitually imbibed, craving more. I think it’s how society is set up, on so many levels.

      Good luck with your book! I know it may feel conflicting, but – and take it from someone who’s had an entire lifetime of learning to focus – it must be necessary in order to move your words out to the masses who don’t yet know they are eager to hear them. Blessings to you.

  2. I wrote this in a noisy airport terminal and find that I’m much more in my body and soul than when I started writing.

  3. Bela,

    What I particularly like about this post is the aspects of Humility ( acceptance of one’s own limitations), Integrity ( acceptance of one’s past mistakes) and Gratitude (for all that one has) that it so beautifully portrays. Thank you.


  4. You have an uncanny knack of reading my mind then putting it into eloquent words. Lately I have been conscious of stuffing myself with food and knowing that I need to stop. I know I’m making up for other things that aren’t there in my life. With food, I can satiate myself quickly, where as everything else seems hard to reach and far away, so I reach for something I can grab quickly. And guess what, it doesn’t do the trick! Instead of comfort eating, I’m going to remember what you’ve written here and restrict myself in an attempt to reconnect with my spirit within rather than my hungriness, which ironically leads to emptiness.

    1. MLTW, that’s splendid! So hard to sit with that rattling, but often rewarding as well.

      I’m also happy to provide whatever impetus you gain from reading my words. As it turns out, most of my writing is precipitated by events or people who overwhelm me with confusing, often conflicting emotions. Until I start writing, I’m left in that jumbled state. Once I get thoughts onto paper, a theme emerges – and quite often it is just what someone else needs to hear. For that, I credit the Mystery 😉 Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts on the post.

  5. Seems the only way to happiness is “more” ______- pick the poison.

    Like our bodies, our poor nations are gluted with stuff. If we took everything out of storage, we’d overwhelm our garbage dumps and recycle depots.

    Look at blogging…is more better?

    It’s a mentality run riot.

    A very poignant article, Bela.

    1. Amy, yes. Having come from Maine where people stuff two-story barns full of junk they’ll never use or need, I can relate to your imaginings! We’re into feng shui, ourselves. 😉

      Not sure what you mean about blogging, only that’s it’s a relief not to have to pound out 1600 word articles anymore, after years of doing so. Writing poetry really prepared me to be frugal with descriptions.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, as always!

      1. I meant that “more” blogging doesn’t make me a better blogger. The way the stats are set up, I noticed myself wanting to self-compete – more, more more…

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