Feeding Hungry Ghosts
our power to end the addiction that devours us
Humanity is poised for a great, collective awakening. Yet facing our own complicity in the current global nightmare may be what’s needed to finally jolt us out of our sleep.
In the middle of the last century, philosopher Alan Watts alerted us to the numbing effects of our collective, modern dream:
“Our age is one of frustration, anxiety, agitation, and addiction to ‘dope.’ Somehow we must grab what we can and drown out the realization that the whole thing is futile and meaningless. … This ‘dope’ we call our high standard of living, a violent and complex stimulation of the senses, which makes them progressively less sensitive and thus in need of yet more violent stimulation.” 
His words are truer now than they were in Watts’ time. We are like hungry ghosts, those wretched, starving creatures of Buddhist lore, with large, empty bellies and long, skinny necks, unable to receive nourishment, because food turns to ash on their tongues. With ever-increasing anxiety, we frantically consume that which does not nourish us, as we turn to ash the very planet that sustains us. All the while, our economic machine insists that growth must increase. The question is: Growth of what?
Over 15 years ago, I was touched by a film about Dr. Marilyn Waring, the feminist and former Member of Parliament in New Zealand who challenged prevailing wisdom about what was ‘good’ for her rural constituents and her country as a whole.
Dr. Waring understood that what economists call ‘growth’ is vastly different from what sustains life. She has since taken up the work of demystifying economic language, which is more likely to intimidate than illuminate.
Her holistic perspective of economics opened my eyes to the appalling truth that our global economic system is actually designed to value death, not life. By way of example, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the indicator of a country’s economic health, “is utterly unrelated to the wellbeing of a community. It tells you nothing about levels of poverty. It tells you nothing about the distribution of poverty. It tells you nothing about primary health care, education standards, or environmental cleanliness.”
Historically speaking, this one-dimensional measurement of “growth” helped industrial countries rebuild after World War II. That’s when every United Nations (UN) member-country was required to use it in order to belong to that club and receive its many benefits. Today, the GDP measures what it did back then, and is woefully inadequate to assess our world’s complex needs and challenges.
Although the UN has made recent progress in developing a survey of national ‘happiness’ indicators, with the hope that it may inform futurepolicies, the wellbeing of people and natural resources is not yet seen as an indictor of a country’s economic health and status. Thus high-dollar industries that exploit or kill people and poison natural resources continue to yield economic boons and praise, because there is no accounting for their negative impacts on life. In the meantime, activities like feeding, clothing, and raising healthy children, and preserving natural resources for future generations, are perceived as economic burdens and even encounter life-threatening attack.
Of course long before the GDP, humans were committing all manner of atrocities in the name of progress, righteousness, security, and lifestyle. Our long history of global colonialism has adversely affected all of us, in a variety of ways. It has severed connections to family, culture, homeland, as well as a felt sense of inter-relatedness with all of life — something that was foundational to indigenous cultures before the siege of colonial ‘prosperity.’
Numbing the pain of disconnection is a short-term strategy for ‘self-preservation.’ Yet our long history of anesthetizing feelings of isolation has become a raging addiction that is now eating us alive, and leaving us ever more hungry and bereft of meaning.
Here in the United States, we have enthroned an icon of our deadening addiction to a “high standard of living,” making more visible than ever the imperative to kick our lethal habits of convenience. We can’t wait for so-called leaders to show us the way; this is our work to do now.
Overcoming addiction to the status quo requires radical self-honesty. Do we dare to connect the dots and see that our daily choices are killing what is most valuable to us? Do we dare take on what is ours to do, as individuals?
As I see it, we are each response-able to claim self-authority, to stand in our innate power to re-connect. We are each response-able for how we spend/invest our time, our dollars, and our creative, life energy. We can choose to support local small- and micro-businesses that value people and planet more than profit. We can prioritize Nature. We can express authentic kindness, and reach beyond cultural barriers. We can practice compassion for self and others. We can learn to pause and consider the repercussions of each of our actions.
We can practice repeatedly asking ourselves, What’s the most life-giving choice available to me right now? and then make that choice. Repeatedly.
By slowing down and tending to what is subtle and generative, we can re-awaken a felt sense of deep connection with what matters most. That level of connection is nourishing. We can feel it. What we are feeling is love. And love is contagious, for when we experience it, we tend to pass it on.
When we make life-giving choices love flows through us, and into everything we do. Allowing ourselves to feel this level of connection is how we claim healthy power and support thriving. As we wake up to the reality that our actions — our very beings — are inter-related with everything else, and as we allow ourselves to feel love in that, there’s no telling what’s possible.
1] The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety. Alan W. Watts, 1951.
 Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics. A feature-length documentary by National Film Board of Canada, 1995.
Thanks for reading Creative Catalyst! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.