Feeding Yoga to My Hungry Ghost: When is Enough, Enough?

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I was on my way to work the first time I felt contentment.

Driving an hour and a half on a busy highway toward an often-stressful job may seem like a strange time to feel content, but there it was. And I wasn’t about to argue with this utterly foreign, utterly wonderful feeling.

In that moment—and for the first time in a long time (perhaps ever)—I wasn’t worried about my career or my weight or my relationships or my cash-flow. Nothing had changed with those things. None of them became perfect. But in that moment, it didn’t matter. I felt strangely at peace with the way things are. I accepted it all. I loved it all. In that moment, my longing was gone.

Ah, longing. Is there any greater form of suffering than to long, to yearn, to want desperately? In Sanskrit, suffering is called dukkha and describes not only pain but, also, dissatisfaction. And this particular sense of dissatisfaction, this longing for more—to have enough, to be enough—has a name as well: preta, or the realm of the Hungry Ghost.

Stephen Cope describes this sorry state in his book The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living:

“The Hungry Ghost has a large mouth and belly, but a very, very skinny neck. While her belly constantly cries out for food, she is destined to remain empty because only a limited amount of food can pass through that teeny little neck. This character is bound to a painful fate—everlasting and irremediable hunger.”

I know that hunger, that desperation to fill the emptiness inside. So I do what anyone would do when faced with that kind of hunger: I feed it. At first, I tried to give it things I enjoyed—books and movies and writing and romance and, one time, a puppy—all to ease the ache of my wanting.

Then, when that didn’t work, I tried to ignore the pervasive feeling of deprivation. I escaped into wine glasses and pizza boxes. I hid. For too long, I hid, desperately wanting more from my wasted life. Things that brought me pleasure, things that brought me pain—I served it all to my Hungry Ghost, and still she starved.

And still she starves. Naming her hasn’t helped in exorcising her completely. So I turned to yoga, which is perhaps a better use of my time than drinking wine.

Lately, though, I’ve worried that I’m using yoga the same way I used food or wine, trading one addiction for another. At first, I loved my practice because it allowed me to listen to and obey my body without judgement. Now, I find myself always seeking to go deeper, to go just beyond my edge, to be better with every breath. At first, I devoured yoga books because they allowed me to understand yoga beyond the asanas. Now, I find myself always seeking solutions to my unhappiness in the pages, to find the one answer that will lead to my enlightenment.

I worry that I’m feeding yoga to my Hungry Ghost, and that it still won’t be enough.

But there are moments now, however short they are, where dukkha gives way to sukha, where dissatisfaction with the now becomes sweetness in the now. And in those moments, I don’t worry whether my Hungry Ghost will be sated someday. She already is, if only temporarily, and in those moments, I already have everything I need. In those moments, I am already enough.

Tell me: Do you have a Hungry Ghost? What does it long for? What do you feed it?

 

About the Author

Headshot - Jennifer BlairWhen she’s not living in her own head, Jennifer Blair shares a lovely little piece of Central Alberta with her two greatest gurus: a husband who infuriatingly insists on living in the moment and a pug who loves all things unconditionally (except the doorbell.)  By day, she’s a writer; by night, she’s a reader of epic fantasy and a baker of epic bread. Attending a yoga retreat is on her bucket list, but her most secret dream – the one too scary to put on a bucket list – is to make a living teaching yoga, writing books, and baking bread. Get in touch with Jennifer on Twitter at @fairerblair.