I am a hungry ghost. Spindle neck, grasping mouth and a huge sagging stomach with never enough in it. I want to eat the world. I am restless. What I am is not enough. What I have is not enough. This moment is not enough. The tiny sliver of life I will get to experience is not enough. But if I could gulp down the world would I be satisfied? Would I then look at the other planets and feel I was missing out, that I needed to figure out how to swallow them up as well? And where would that end? No matter how much I could get/do/be there would always be more to get/do/be.
This restlessness, this discontentment is, I think, part of what it is to be human. Where would we be without it? There is no doubt it is useful, essential even. But I feel overwhelmed by it lately.
At this time in history, in a wealthy Western nation, there is a lot of choice about how to live life and a strongly felt sense to not squander the opportunity – i.e. make the ‘right’ choices and fulfill your potential. A part of that is the incredible proliferation of knowledge and ideas and, more importantly, access to those ideas through that cornerstone of modern life (for many at least) - the internet. Now I can feel overwhelmed by the whole smorgasbord of life in the 21st century, but it’s the Internet that’s looming large at the moment. It’s not surprising really, since I find its digital fingers reach both far and deep into my life. It is at once so exciting and so mind boggling. I feel completely overstimulated – and addicted. Frustratingly too that age-old irony applies and when I am all desire and movement – skimming the surface looking for the next thing, afraid to miss out, or gobbling down words without really savouring them – the less satisfaction there is to be found.
So how to bring back balance? To take advantage of this incredible tool without ending up in a frenzied, discombobulated puddle?
Accept and let go, let go, let go. It’s true, there is so much fascinating stuff out there and it would be great if I could read/do/be it all. But I just can’t. Instead: loosen my grip and trust that if I’m open and interested my experience will be a rich one. Will it be the richest, best experience it could possibly be? Who knows. It doesn’t really bear thinking about it because it takes me away from what is, and as soon as I’m gone from there I enter a no-man’s land of longing without the possibility of any satisfaction at all.
Slowing down and really savouring whatever it is that I’m doing or experiencing. Banish the anxiety of split attention, i.e. a brain always partly thinking about something else: what I haven’t done; what I need to do; what I’m missing out on.
3. Gratitude, or the glass is also half full
Gratitude, savouring’s close cousin. When I’m getting frenzied I rarely count my blessings, or focus on all the things I DID achieve. It doesn’t have to be ad nauseum and it doesn’t mean that we can’t also recognise what’s missing, or what didn’t go so well, but we shouldn’t ignore the good bits because that’s not realistic either.
4. Choose consciously
Sometimes it just sweeps me away, and there I am, still clicking on links three hours later, caught up in a more, more, more buzz. How much better do I feel if I consciously choose how to spend my time? I can even choose to wander around the Internet for a while because time to wander is important too. The crucial bit is pausing to consider what I really want to do and not just be blindly lead by the feel-good fiend that lives in my head.
As I look at this list and think about craving – on the net and in my life at large – it seems the most important ingredient to add back in is being still. The creation of moments of pause in our lives makes it easier to do all of the above and to just generally see a bigger picture. Definitely a better, calmer way to live than being consumed by the bittersweet pain of longing.