“...for my greatest skill has been to want but little.”-Thoreau
I think a lot about a concept I call 'the hole in our hearts.' I think of this aching absence as one of the inviolable truths that make the human experience what it is, categorically unique from other life forms and intelligent beings. We are undeniably insatiable creatures. There is always more to be wanted and achieved. Happiness is painfully transient, especially in the world we find ourselves in today. The hole only seems to grow deeper and more treacherous as technology progresses and our basic needs are so easily met. My grandma would say something here about too much free time and idle hands being the devil's playground.
Life is a constant pendulum swing between valleys and peaks, grief and joy, beginnings and endings.
Each of us has an innermost hole that shows itself in our thoughts, feelings, and actions over time. We crave and use different things to fill or plug the hole temporarily. Relationships, attention seeking behavior, numbing agents like drugs and alcohol, food, seeking monetary or professional success, adrenaline junkies, going on spiritual quests, religion itself...
In my generation, I see a recurring theme of people wanting to abandon their lives in totality, sell all of their shit, and escape on adventure to an island or far off land where everything will definitely, suddenly make sense to them. Where they will find a permanent fix to this hole inside themselves. Yet, despite the glorification of travel or adventure as the key to happiness, the inner longing never goes away indefinitely..
I'm not judging the sentiment of seeking escape. I can't tell you how often I have felt painfully unfulfilled in my life; How many times I have used gratitude practices to try and remind myself of all the beautiful things I have experienced or achieved. The progress I've made, the love I've experienced. Even in the midst of good things happening, sometimes we feel a quiet voice inside ourselves asking is this enough? Is this all there is?
Besides relationships, I think I have used hiking and outdoor adventure as a usually-satisfying, temporary fix over the last couple of years. It's the only hobby I have ever held onto for this long without losing all interest. My friend Mark wrote a great blog about craving adventure recently, and he used the phrase "the rat that gnaws inside", which I loved as a synonym for the hole in our hearts.
Throughout our time here on the third planet from the sun, we are blessed with experiences that fill us with extreme joy and satisfaction, and moments (if not months) that charge our energy and make us feel vibrantly alive. Falling in love is a perfect representation of this, as well as the inevitable nature of change and the pendulum swing that life goes through. Not all love ends, but it often changes drastically and sometimes gets set aside in the pursuit of something, or someone,....else? different? More.
I recently started delving back into a past interest in Buddhism that (like most things) has waxed and waned for me. Something that really resonates with me though is the concept of the Four Noble Truths. The idea of insatiable desire as suffering makes sense to me in many ways. I'm going to share the basic tenants below.
[Disclaimer: There are monks who spend a lifetime disseminating these four ideas and the eight-fold path. What follows is very much a light summary.]
The Four Noble Truths:
1. Life is "Suffering" -Dukkha- Happiness is transitory. Psychological suffering is especially prominent in our human life. Ultimately life is fleeting.
2. The cause of Suffering -Samudaya- is desire, craving, attachment, and holding on to things and experiences that are impermanent
3. The cessation of suffering -Nirhodha- through relinquishment of desires and cravings
4. The method, or path, to end Suffering-Magga
There is a lot of modern discussion about the context and translation of the first Noble Truth. I certainly don't mean to argue that all of life is constant suffering. More that absolutely everything-good and bad-is impermanent, and this is a harsh fact that takes so much time (lifetimeS?) to accept. Transitions and endings are inescapable. As with most difficult truths, I think it's a three step forward, two steps back quest to acceptance. You can think you've made peace with this until a job, or friendship, or even a life abruptly and injustly comes to an end.
Honestly the fucking best we can do, little by little, is to aim for less attachment and expectation. It just happens to be one of those things that is easier said than done. Still...our will is so powerful, and If I didn't believe that the long, slow road of improvement was possible, I would have no reason to seek the highest version of myself.
"The student eventually finds there is no way at all to not desire. Even desiring not to desire is desiring. Even trying to accept oneself is a way of trying to escape from oneself because one hopes psycho-therapeutically that by accepting yourself you will get rid of your nasty symptoms. So you are not accepting them." -Alan Watts