Relentless Hunger

Relentless Hunger March 14, 2011

As soon as we covet what someone else is or has,

that desire prevents us from seeing what we have.

—Paul Bowler

I was at a conference, and in the basement of the enormous hotel was a casino. Having only been once or twice, I was curious. As I entered the windowless room, I was stopped right away by the sight of a woman working two slot machines at once. I learned that she had been there all day, never leaving for fear that the moment she would leave, the jackpot would flood from the mouth of the machine and she would miss it. This painful scene struck me as a metaphor for that part of us that always looks for life other than where we are. Whether our search is for wealth or love or success in the eyes of others, the underlying sense that life is not where we are, but always just out of reach, cripples us. It enervates our will to live by siphoning our best efforts into entanglements that are difficult to escape.

I think our current problem with obesity is a painful form of gambling, which presupposes that if we take enough in, the right one will relieve us of our relentless hunger. The painful truth is that so many of us keep eating things that are ultimately unfulfilling, and so we never satisfy our hungers. Carl Jung described alcoholism as an attempt to quench a spiritual thirst with the wrong drink. Similarly, our obsession with eating seems an attempt to feel full by ingesting the wrong foods. What we really need is to empty ourselves in order feel at all.

I recently went through my own bout with eating. Over a period of four years, I became overweight without realizing it. My knees began to hurt. My energy became heavy. I began to feel like I was moving underwater. With my wife Susan’s help, I’ve managed to lose thirty-five pounds, and, more than feeling physically renewed and so much lighter, I feel clear again—as if waking from a subtle form of amnesia. Now I have regained the distinction between cravings and hunger, which I didn’t know I’d lost. Now I have immense compassion for anyone trying to break the cycle of relentless hunger. For no one sets out to eat too much or drink too much or spend too much. No one aims to lose themselves.

It is as true as it is old: Feed the inner hunger and the outer hunger will dissipate. Ignore the inner hunger and nothing in the world will satisfy you. So many things get in the way, not because life is out to trap us, but because the journey through it all is how a spirit awakens in a body on earth. And we are challenged to dig for a deeper response. When you catch yourself being blind and hurtful, look for more light. When you find yourself darkened by pain, wait until you can see. When life seems to flood you, put down your mask. When feeling cut off and depressed, look for work that is whole. And when feeling you will die if a particular hunger is not fed, let that part of you die. Get out of your own way.

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