“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lao Tzu
Surprisingly, alcohol and fried chicken sobriety taught me a lot about the Buddhist concept of craving.
Soon after I quit my corporate job to enter a career in wellness, it seemed obvious that I now needed to get my sh*t together in the diet and self-control realm.
Truth be told, I’ve never handled liquor well. I don’t have a strong success rate of not getting sick after drinking. And yes, I have tried all the tricks in the book. Believe me. I’ve searched far and wide for a solution to my alcohol intolerance. Who doesn’t want to loosen up and forget their problems every once in a while?
Maybe it’s the good Lord blessing me with this intolerance to avoid a family history of alcoholism. Who knows. What I do know is that I wanted to finally give up the lie that drinking was ever going to be pleasurable for me.
And then there’s the fried chicken. Yes, I literally mean fried chicken. That KFC $5 Fill Up is everything. But let’s just be honest, I wasn’t going to reach my fitness goals by indulging in those high-caloric meals on a regular basis. I’m not trying to be Gisele Bündchen, but I’d like to look legit in my yoga clothes.
Logically, I knew that alcohol and fried chicken were shallow lovers who left me feeling like a cheap whore. I’d wake up the next day hungover, only to realize that I’d consumed what had to have been 3,000 calories the night before—just in drinks. And to add insult to injury, it hadn’t been that much fun…from what I could remember.
So like any self-respecting type-A overachiever, I quit cold turkey. No more booze or delightful greasiness.
Naïvely, I assumed this would be easy. After all, I had such well-thought-out intentions.
But, damn, the lure of food and alcohol is so strong. Especially on the weekend.
“It’s finally time to relax and have fun.”
“I was good all week, time for some treats.”
“I deserve something decadent after this week.”
And now this longing, this desire, was at the forefront of my mind. It almost bordered on obsession. This craving sat in the back of my mind haunting every conversation and activity. It was constantly pulling and enticing every thought I had in its direction.
And, ultimately, the pull was too tempting to resist any longer…and I’d give in.
The satisfaction I felt after indulging in my beloved KFC lasted approximately two seconds. In fact, the craving for more actually started while I was eating. It had now jumped to needing a dessert. It turns out that the anticipation was far better than the actual meal.
My mind was doing what Buddhist’s call tanhâ, which loosely translates to not only craving but thirst. An unquenchable thirst.
There are three types of tanhâ’s in Buddhism:
- Kama-Tanhâ (sensual pleasures). This type of sensual pleasure encompasses all of the five senses. My desire for a margarita and fried chicken directly relates to the taste sense.
- Bhava-Tanhâ (craving to be). This Tanhâ is ego driven to become someone or something that you currently are not. The desire to be rich, famous, or have a rockin’ body are among the most common Bhava-Tanhâ’s.
- Vibhava-Tanhâ (craving for non-existence). I think we’ve all felt the intense craving to be done with some parts of ourselves. Like goddamnit, how many years am I going to struggle with anxiety?! Or fight an unhealthy body image. Why can’t it just go away?
All three tanhâ’s boil down to nonacceptance of who we really are at the core, and what we need to work on in this life. Unless interrupted, the mind is always reaching for something that it believes it needs to feel better. At the very least, it wants a distraction from feeling altogether.
And so, we find ourselves in an endless cycle of craving for relief, as Marc Lewis explains:
“The cycle of human attachment is represented in Buddhism by a wheel that keeps on turning. First comes emptiness or loss, then we see something attractive outside ourselves that promises to fill that emptiness, then we crave. Craving is seen as a universal form of anxiety, focused on a specific goal. So, we crave and crave, and then we grasp—we reach for it. That voluntary endorsement of one’s attachments—that’s what keeps the wheel spinning. Grasping, of course, leads to getting. Getting reinforces the attachment, and that leads to more emptiness and loss, because the thing we’re attached to is never enough to fill the void. And round and round we go.”
This wheel of suffering does not have a bad boy or girl connotation to it. It just is.
And being that we’re human, and not Buddha’s yet, we will have wants and desires in this life. Some desires can be healthy parts of our future. The tricky part here is the unquenchable thirst or craving bit. When you think about a desire, do you feel panic or anxiety by the prospect of it not happening, or not happening soon enough? Are you obsessively thinking about “needing” it?
If the answer is yes—you, my dear, are hooked by craving. You are attached to this desire and desperately need to begin to disconnect from the false belief that it will bring you the fulfillment you are truly searching for.
However, giving up something that you know is not good for you tends to trigger an internal stampede. Feelings that were once hushed by a nice buzz or food coma are now completely exposed and naked. And the mind is very powerful. It will do anything necessary to return to a place of comfort and normalcy. So, don’t be surprised if the craving hits a fever pitch after your cold turkey announcement.
So, what can we do when that craving takes over? Nothing. Well, nothing meaning, don’t react!
Don’t take that damn bait for the 100th time. Nothing dramatic is going to happen if we don’t immediately react and cave into the craving. That’s another lie.
What if we allowed this craving to just exist? What if instead of pushing away the want in shame, we explored the texture of it? Rather than succumbing to the desire, setting into motion the wheel of suffering, what if we marinated in it for awhile? We could just stop dead in our tracks and examine what this craving has to teach us. Neither grasping for it or pushing it away.
Why don’t we play around with allowing this craving to bring us into a deeper relationship with ourselves? What old worn out stories are we continuing to reinforce each time we succumb to that margarita?
Each of us has deep-rooted beliefs and fears that manifest as cravings. These beliefs always go for the jugular revealing conclusions we’ve long ago decided were “true”:
“I am not whole.”
“There is something wrong with me.”
“I need this one thing (career, guy, margarita) to feel at peace.”
So, what was my story? I was desperately in search of relief from crippling anxiety. I wanted distraction…from myself. And I longed for a quiet moment from the unrelenting barrage of negative self-talk that played on repeat all day long.
When I eventually learned to stop, place my hand over my heart, and listen, the craving gradually began to lessen. Instead of habitually skating down worn out pathways that told me I was broken and irreversibly damaged, I began to form new neural pathways that spoke the truth of who I was: valuable and whole.
And yeah, none of this is glamorous or particularly fun. But it is the only way to stop the wheel of suffering.
In saying all of this, I am in no way implying judgment toward my friends here who enjoy any number of these things that I’ve struggled with.
I get it. I have my own that I won’t be giving up.
I gladly indulge my coffee Kama-Tanhâ whenever it calls. I enjoy it too much probably. I wouldn’t even give it up during my yoga teacher training in India where it was “forbidden.” And believe me, finding coffee in the land of tea is no small feat!
It’s about picking and choosing what craving you’d like to understand more. Or get more control of. And then investigating the sh*t out of that!
This is not punishment. Oh no, this is for you. Whatever you have chosen to let go of will bring you close to your natural healthiness. It’s not a restriction or deprivation. You are now choosing to jump out of the endless cycle of craving and into the waters of contentment.
And only in doing that, will we find the peace that all of us are so desperately searching for.
Author: Jessica Desai
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis