Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hungry ghosts and gratitude

No amount of possessions or gratification could ever fill the gap between us and the world. So we’re looking for something, thirsty for something, always dissatisfied. In Buddhism they call this trishna, thirst. Like hungry ghosts we are thirsting endlessly for something we can never get.

[To] be grateful for and with what is, doesn’t deny difficulties; rather it embraces them and accepts them as a necessary step in the healing of them.

EverydayZen Teachings, Gratitude
Zoketsu Norman Fischer

I have no complaints about life at the moment. It’s basically very good.

However buttons were pressed earlier in the week in one particular area of my relationships, and the fall-out in terms of stress and emotional upset still lingers. I had expectations and hopes that weren’t met and I was, well, crushed. And I felt diminished. It is not a situation I can hope to avoid in the future either – I need to have regular contacts with those involved.

I was aware I was overreacting – the feelings around what happened have reverberations from, and have been amplified by, painful occurrences in the past. And no, I don’t want to go into any more detail except to say that this isn’t about my love life.

The strength and discomfort of my internal reaction – and fortunately those around me weren’t aware of it - has given me pause. The term hungry ghost is a pretty accurate description of what I felt like. The temptation is to close down, and I’ve done some of that this week. The other option, and part of the reason for blogging about it, is to try and see it as a way of moving forward.

Am I able to be grateful for what has happened, as the second of the above extracts suggests?

Well, I certainly don’t feel grateful. But I know as surely as I know anything, that in order not to stay trapped in this endlessly repeating circle of reactivity and to be able to handle the ongoing situation with a modicum of grace and serenity, I need to stay present with the feelings engendered. I need to flow with them and not resist, not shut down and not try and escape - I’m particularly adept at the latter. The opportunity to do so is therefore a gift …of sorts … and one that needs to be recognised and acknowledged.

It’s about setting an intention. An intention and a willingness and a desire to work with what is for as long as necessary, through whatever means. There has been enough unwillingness. It’s time.


While I was drafting this I came across the article I have linked to above by Zoketsu Norman Fischer, a Zen Buddhist teacher. I have found it very helpful over these past few days. The last two sentences speak of movement and of the universal as well as personal benefit to the work.

Through our practice of gratitude we can imitate our teachers and move forward with our lives, come what may, whether it is suffering or joy, arriving or leaving, in the spirit of gratitude. And we do this not only for ourselves alone – which makes no sense at all anyway – but for and with everyone.


Blogger Sky said...

Oh, I love this..thanks so much for sharing.

I believe we live much of our lives trying to settle childhood issues, whether with our parents and family of origin or within other relationships where we have re-created them, camouflaged though they may be by this time.

Being grateful for the lessons is a grand way of understanding it all - viewing the larger picture. Learning more about ourselves and our needs surely opens us to being better friends, lovers, parents, and citizens. Richer from everywhere we have been, we come away from it all enhanced, don't we, if we pay attention and understand? And, were we not thirsty, how much would we really explore and learn? It is all good. :)

10:58 am  
Blogger Jean said...

I don't think there's anything harder than this, and being willing to accept it, go into it, instead of shutting down. All I can say is, I know what you mean, and feel your pain, and it IS worth it. A book I found very helpful in this regard is Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, an American Buddhist teacher and Jungian psychotherapist. And I like Norman Fischer's site very much too - kept meaning to link to it on my blog, but I don't think I have, have I? He has a blog (link on site), too...

12:44 pm  
Blogger leslee said...

It occurred to me reading this how typical of being highly sensitive (thinking of Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Person work). Sensitive people just have more intense reactions to things, process a lot more than others, and therefore have a harder time being in a comfortable place. That doesn't solve the problem of how to manage one's reactions and responses, but it does aid in the "acceptance" part I think.

2:21 pm  
Blogger MB said...

Present moments can carry intense echoes from the past, can be colored as if by a lens of history — often completely unconsciously — and it's sometimes extremely hard to separate that out. Those old ghostly roots run deep and strong. When I can, sorting it into "that was then; this is now" can ease a major upset into a less traumatic one. And the urge to escape eases. The trick for me does seem to be the big picture — understanding my own history — as well as understanding that the fact that I get to keep learning ... is a blessing, in fact. Oh, but it's still hard! Thank you for the link.

4:11 pm  
Blogger rdl said...

"endlessly repeating circle of reactivity"
boy,can i relate to this.
Trishna/hungry ghosts- interesting stuff. Thanks for the link.

5:55 pm  
Anonymous Jess said...

"endlessly repeating circle of reactivity"... yeah, I relate to that too. It is really hard to have gratitude for something that hurts, especially when the wound is fresh and you didn't see it coming. You're writing about it now--maybe a little of the sting is gone. Gratitude will probably come easier next week!

11:02 pm  
Blogger LJ said...

I know this feeling...when something feels like a sucker punch...when even though some rational part of your brain kicks in maybe minutes later...or hours...or the next day, reason holds no sway.
It's a great gift to be able to even identify that hungry ghost. A gift that personally, I'd rather return unopened.
But you're right. The point is always to be present with it. Without doing that, the hunger will never go away...
I really appreciated hearing someone say this, M.

1:59 am  
Blogger g said...

This land of blogging is so unusual. You write about an encounter (encounters?) after which you felt crushed and diminished and I want to know who are these people? How could they do this to Mary? Such boors!

But then I realize that the world is perfect and Mary got something that she can use. Take it easy g. Put down that weapon.

2:22 am  
Anonymous ginkgo said...

I happen to be reading the book Jean recommends--Tara Brach's Radical Acceptance--right now and am finding it very helpful and powerful. I've also been downloading some of her dhamma talks from here: and listening to them during my commute. The series on Awakening Through Emotions is wonderful. One thing she says in her book that I'm trying to take to heart is that when faced with suffering, besides not running away from it, we might also ask ourselves: how can this suffering serve to awaken compassion? And much of the time, the compassion we need to practice must begin by generating compassion toward ourselves.

With lovingkindness...

2:44 am  
Blogger Brenda said...

It sounds like a challenging situation, actually, and especially if it's ongoing. Just be careful not to take on what isn't yours- it's always a two-way street, reciprocal. Changing one's habitual response patterns is a truly wonderful quest, though, and we can grow so much when we delve into ourselves and our relationships in this way. Good luck with it... xo

9:23 pm  
Anonymous Tania from Germany said...

To be a human being in general and to live my life individually – I consider this the core challenge.
What comforts me is that you have the courage to share your pain with us, your personally experienced pain....and open up a way for us readers to participating and having compassion for you as well as for ourselves.
What a difference Sharing makes....
Thank you.

9:52 pm  
Blogger Dale said...

I'm with g. I wanna break somebody's nose, and *then* reach acceptance. :-)

12:01 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Thank you all so much. Every comment here has touched me and has helped.

G said "Mary got something she could use". I think that's it.

Jean and Ginkgo: I've ordered the book!

7:01 am  
Blogger zhoen said...

Great challenges are great gifts. It is up to you what you make of it.

...all this manure around, gotta be a pony in here somewhere...

9:58 pm  

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