Monday, December 1, 2014

Deflating Hungry Ghosts

Gabor Mate wrote "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts", a book about the struggles of heroin addicts he worked with in Canada. He is a doctor of psychology and yet even he had to admit that he had a strange compulsive shopping habit. When the stress of his work became too overwhelming, he went to his favorite music store and purchased many expensive classical CDs he didn't even need. He just bought them to feel good about himself for a few hours but then he didn't feel so good when the credit card bill came at the end of the month.

An addiction or a compulsive habit is a note to oneself that one has to do some homework and that a lifestyle change is in order. There is certainly a huge spectrum; for some this struggle is about cigarettes, eating or coping with annoying shopping habits; others have to fight life-destroying substance abuse. When you listened to the hardships of Dr. Mate's patients you realized why many of them fell into a big hole. His patients were often abused as children or sometimes simply abandoned by their parents. True therapy for them requires the apparent mission impossible, to discover that unconditional love that we all deserve late in life. 

Dr. Mate's compulsive shopping habit was harmless in comparison. Yet he felt distraught and embarrassed himself. How can it be, he asked, that someone with his academic training could fall into the same trap! He understood his imbalance perfectly well. Buying classical music was his attempt to bring some order and structure in his chaotic world of battling other people's addictions. Who knows, perhaps the solution for him would be to change to a less stressful job. Perhaps the CDs were the price to pay for his saintly mission.

Below I have sketched out the vicious cycle of a compulsive habit or an addiction. The tensions created by the hungry ghosts build and build until the sufferer finally gives into temptation yet again. After an euphoric release of the tension comes the void, the state of emptiness that makes you quite vulnerable to go for it again. But if you somehow make it through the withdrawal symptoms you reach some sort of balance. Unfortunately, sooner or later the temptation comes back. Perhaps it is a stressful situation; maybe some memories trigger the desire that slumbers inside. Your willpower eventually runs thin and you need to find release yet again. A new cycle starts ...


   Tension                                                         Void


Shadow work is different than the commitment to never do it again. It is the process to understand the tensions that hide within you and to release them. Every demon has an authentic demand that appears in distorted form. The heroin abusers want to feel the peace, love and connection during the euphoric high that is so elusive in their real lives. Dr. Mate wants to experience the order and clarity that his missing in his chaotic therapy work. What message have the hungry ghosts in store for you? 

This soul-searching process is quite similar for every spiritual traveler. The objective of the Way is not just about experiencing peace, love and happiness all the time; it is the art of letting go everything that stands in our way of experience God. Hurts of the path, regrets, repressed desires, or the need for forgiveness; you name it. Letting go of psychological wounds requires time, but you can save a lot of time if you accept this phase and stop beating yourself up over it. Start seeing shadow work for what it is, the beginning of the journey back Home. Understand the psychological process that is at work and enjoy seeing the hungry ghosts deflate in front of your astonished eyes.

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