We live with ghosts inside of us. These ghosts are on a constant mission to get us what we are missing. They will lie, cheat, and steal to feed themselves. They never have enough and they always crave more. How do we let go of our haunted minds? How do we release addictions?
The Tale of the Hungry Ghost?
In Tibetan Buddhism Hungry Ghosts are represented as teardrop-shaped creatures with bloated stomachs and necks too thin to pass food such that attempting to eat is also incredibly painful. Some are described as having “mouths the size of a needle’s eye and a stomach the size of a mountain”. This is a metaphor for people futilely attempting to fulfill their illusory physical desires (Wikipedia).
What is Your Ghost Hungry For?
We all have a hungry ghost living inside of us. These are the ghosts that drive our cravings and addictions. The hungry ghost can be seen as a metaphorical embodiment of the part of us that grasps at the world and clings to outside objects and experiences.
The hungry ghost loves shopping, and overeating, and drinking, and gambling, and checking its phone, and working too late, and the hungry ghost wants more of it all.
What are you hungry for? It’s easiest to feel the nature of our hungry ghost when we sit through discomfort. In a 30 minute sitting meditation you will become aware of the urgency of your ghost. It’s uncomfortable, it has a problem, it needs to fix something or eat something or go somewhere. The present moment is never satisfactory for the hungry ghost.
The Imaginary Emptiness.
Recently I spoke with a recovering alcoholic. I asked her what it was like to be overcome with addiction and why she picked up a drink day after day, even when objectively it seemed to be destroying her life. She told me about her experience with addiction and craving.
It always felt like there was an emptiness inside me, a hole that needed to be filled. Drinking would fill that temporarily. The emptiness didn’t go away, it grew and expanded when I didn’t have that drink anymore. Soon I was chasing this temporary relief.”
Another woman, who struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism shared her day-by-day grappling with hungry ghosts that would apparate even in her recovery. She became overwhelmed with emotion and visible frustration and reflected on this.
Even in my recovery I get so fucking frustrated. If it’s not a drug or a drink it’s always something else. I want more. I want to go buy more things. I want to eat more. I want more attention. It’s a constant battle. Why can’t I just be content?”
This Isn’t Enough, I Need More.
The hungry ghost haunts us because we feel like the present moment is not enough or that we are not enough. If we feel uncomfortable with the present moment we try to escape it by pressing “an easy button” and activating the pleasure system. We eat a piece of chocolate, the positive feeling passes, so we eat another piece of chocolate, and another.
If we feel like we are not enough, we begin to do more and cling to more to overcompensate. I’m not enough so I need to work overtime to achieve more, so I feel like more. I’m not enough so I need more money so I can be valued. This isn’t enough and I’m not enough = I want more and I want to be better.
Experiencing Wholeness and Healing Our Cravings.
The mind has a very fussy nature; it’s a problem-generator. Can you remember the last time you didn’t have some kind of problem to solve? Feeling like we consistently need to be hustling for more and for better, implies that what we have is never good enough.
A Happy Environment for Wholeness
Studies have shown that in experiments where they placed two groups of rats in different environments (a positive and a negative environment) with equal access to drugs, only the rats in a negative environment chose to use the drugs pathologically.
In a similar human case, the Vietnam war happened. 20% of soldiers became addicted to drugs in the toxic environment they were exposed to during service. However, 95% of them stopped using the drugs when they returned home without rehab.
Watch This Video
The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”
Humans need to bond and connect. When we are happy and healthy we don’t turn as readily to the easy buttons. If we’re traumatized, isolated, or struggling with mental health issues, we will seek out something else to bond with.
A Culture of Isolation.
The community mindset has been eroding away into an individualistic mindset. We see more anxiety diagnosis’s, we see more online communication than face-to-face confrontations, and we see increasing addiction and suicide in our youth.
We don’t know how to be together but we also don’t know how to be alone without a phone, a drink, or a distraction.”
Experiencing wholeness begins with recognizing that our true nature has no holes, or gaps to be filled. Our ego thinks it needs to work for worth, our soul knows it’s more than enough just by being. Sitting with yourself and surrendering thoughts of inadequacy is the firsts step to silencing the hungry ghost inside.
The next step is sitting with the present moment and accepting it fully. Sit with cravings and let them pass. Just as you begin to feel an itch on your body as you meditate, see what happens if you don’t scratch it. It doesn’t last forever, it always passes eventually.
Cure With Connection.
Connecting to each other in an authentic way and establishing bonds is one of the ways we can create the positive environment we need to prevent addictions. But our environment isn’t the full picture. We could have a perfect environment and still find something wrong with it if we associate with the chatter of our neurotic minds.
We must reach inside and bond with our true nature. We find this nature in silence, between the noise and the complaints of the mind. It’s only through acceptance inside and powerful love outside, that we can truly heal our society’s addiction crisis.
Tara Brach’s Talk on The Hungry Ghost.
Watch Tara Brach speak about de-conditioning addiction is this insightful speech.