“Happy Hunger”   Leave a comment

I’m picking up on Steve Schwartzman’s recent comment here for a title to this post: “happy hunger.”  We usually think of hunger as a “simple” biological drive, the body’s impulse towards food or sex or life.  Yes, as sometimes conscious beings we can override our hungers, at least up to a point, for some other purpose.  But to think of these or any hungers as “happy” I take as a prod in a good direction — a pointer, a reminder, a prompt that a shift in attention and consciousness is possible and has arrived full of benefit.

street mirrorSo what of other hungers?  A hunger for connection, a hunger for the sacred, a hunger for contact with the natural world — all of them vital hungers which we struggle to answer and fill each day.  And so many “unhappinesses” when we don’t meet these hungers — crimes and random behavior and restlessness and secondary hungers for stimulation — sugar, fat, salt, second-hand sex (porn), alcohol and drugs (to change awareness any way we can!), gossip, fits of temper, violence — these stem, I know at least in myself, from unfulfilled primary hungers, from attempts to shift consciousness out of the bland, boring, mundane, even unreal sensation of “just existing.” As if life, the most real or literally “thingly” thing we experience, could also be “unreal.”*  (Which it also is.  And that’s neither a good or bad thing, but part of the way the universe apparently works.)

Those of you familiar with psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs know that, in his schema, these other hungers, and especially the hunger for the sacred, aren’t considered the “largest” or most “immediate” ones at all.  They’re at the top of his hierarchy, most distant from Maslow’s naming of our “primary” needs for food and sex and safety.  But I’d argue that in fact the need for the sacred is our primary hunger, and that all the rest fall in line behind it.  The less we’re connected to the sacred, the more we’re just flesh machines.  Fortunately we’re always connected to some degree — that’s what being alive is.  The task is to blow the spark to fire, to nourish and feed that singular flame through and with all the others, so that eating and lovemaking and all the “daily-ness” of our lives, potentially everything, becomes sacrament, a door for the sacred to enter this instant, right here, and transform us.  It’s what Christians call the abundant life, what Zen means by satori, and what we all experience in those transcendent moments that do not last because we also live through the (potential) sacrament of time, that sweeps us ever onward to the next, the latest, the new.  A physical world can only manifest eternity as time.  And our next task is to see time our ally, to make it and to know it as a sacrament as well.  Not as endpoint — it can’t be that, in its ceaseless flow — but as ongoing opportunity for practice and reverence and worship.

So the “happy hunger” is the hunger that connects us, the hunger we recognize and welcome and honor.  As a Druid I have a tool-kit to make room for the sacred, to invite and witness it around and within me and all whom I meet, to increase its presence in my consciousness,  and then to bring more of it into my world and surroundings and atmosphere and aura and presence, so that others may encounter it, too, and access it in their own lives.  We all have access points to many ways to do the same thing.  The tools aren’t what’s lacking.  It’s the courage and love and trust and responsibility to make use of them for our own good, for the good of the whole.  This is my prayer and my goal for practice, my ritual and my path.  May you strive and realize, delight and rejoice, as you discover and find your own.

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*”real,” from Latin re-alis, “real, thingly,” from re-s, “thing, matter, affair.”  Thus the “real” means simply whatever is a “thing,” and so the “unreal” is the realm where distinct “things” disappear, where there is a whole, a network, an interplay, an eco-system, and not a collection of separate things to be counted — the “real” is whatever we can count, or assign a number to.  And so then of course we turn around and protest that we’re not just numbers to be counted, we’re not just statistics, or collateral damage, we “matter” (odd use of the “material” to point to the sacred!).  Here is our recognition that the spark in us is sacred, that it knows more that “this.”

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