Waxing Existential – Craving What You Can’t Escape

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I was with my friend Denise the other day, and she was describing her experience in a yoga class.  “…I had to really focus on my feet on the ground, and aligning my body in the proper position.  I couldn’t possibly think of anything else but what I was doing in that moment…”  Then her face had a sheepish, but excited look, and she said, “I want more!” 

She went on to tell me that this was a guilty thought.  She craved something that she thought was perhaps selfish.  It meant time away from kids and home responsibilities, errands and demands.  I was struck with the thought that what she was craving was presence; being present with herself, in the moment, unable to think of anything else; a sense of being. 

A craving for just being…hmmm, what did that mean exactly?  When I was pregnant I craved oranges and grapefruits, because my body must have needed the nutrients provided by these tangy delights.  Sometimes people crave things that they haven’t had for a while.  I haven’t been to New York in a few months, so I crave the sights, smells, culture, and yes, pizza that are part of my experience of being there.  But a craving can also be part of a constant urge that is being denied

It seems that Denise has been denying herself the experience of being quiet and still.  She has been caught up in the importance, as well as minutia of her everyday life.  Being a mom, and doing the laundry, respectively.  She craves what is being missed in her life.  Now, this is not just a story about self-care.  (Although, how often do I hear the concept of self-care getting mixed up with selfishness?  A lot–both in my psychotherapy practice and out.  A whole lot.)  The point is Denise is not craving citrus or cheesy deliciousness.  She is craving be-ing!   She has been denying her very core self!

How many of us walking around doing what we do are craving just being?  Not a new concept I realize.  As we writhe in the twitter age, and try to make sense of the complexities of our time (double meaning), the craving may be that much stronger.  In the paper today, a factoid pointed out that laptops are taking the place of pets as companions for some of us! 

In my friend’s case, the guilt and concerns about being selfish have stifled a regular practice that would, no doubt, enhance her life.  Just one yoga class showed her that!   Yet, all the goodness of being present is thwarted by the “bad” of… being present.  Doing the things she does.  How to reconcile?  I think it has to do with learning, or maybe re-learning how to make be-ing valuable, life enhancing, and even awe-inspiring.

The old proverb, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime” comes to mind.  Where is she going with this, you ask?  One yoga class= one fish.  Learning the vitality of presence and being= eating for a lifetime.  It can take time to learn how to fish, I know.  I find the words of Mary Oliver quite inspiring fishing material.  She wrote in her poem, The Summer Day:


I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done? 


What else should I have done?  Yes.  This hits home.  This is permission, from Mary Oliver, to pay attention and be idle at the same time!  I wonder if Denise will be able to give herself permission to do this.  I wonder if I will.  Taking the time to learn this can be also be painful.

Enter: guilt, that old-standby, waiting in the wings to pounce, like a jealous lover.  I’m not talking about Jiminy Cricket guilt that has to do with one’s conscience.  I’m talking about the guilt that is born from feeling inadequate, not “enough”, needing to give parts of the self away in order to show that you care the most or the best.  When the self is carved into an unrecognizable form; hollow and depleted—what then?  Craving.   Notice this craving!  This is the doorway to your be-ing!

As James Hollis remarked in What Matters Most, “Their guilt is not real guilt, for they are doing nothing wrong when they seek to take care of themselves, to save the only person they can save; it is rather an anxiety that is activated by stepping out from under their archaic assignment.”  Yes, the anxiety of something new.

Craving into anxiety, into being…  

Again, Mary Oliver sums up beautifully.  


Tell me what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?


To read the poem in it’s entirety, follow this link: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/133.html 


– Sibel Golden

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