Every time we sit down in meditation, we are challenged to face our dissatisfactions. What is really going on in our body-mind? What ideas are we stubbornly holding onto? What are we afraid of? What would we rather not deal with like anger, resentment, longing, dissatisfaction, numbness? What, or who, are we rejecting? What aspect of our lives makes us want to act selfishly or childishly – by throwing a tantrum, blaming others, or refusing to participate? We don’t have to go seeking for our dissatisfactions when we meditate. Zazen, seated meditation, doesn’t have to become a grim session of taking account of how crappy our life is or how flawed we are. We also need to be open to awareness of the joy and positivity in our life; we have to be completely open to awareness of everything as it is. However, we are much more likely to be open to the positive stuff than we are to the negative stuff, so facing the dissatisfactions takes some intention and courage.
I like to think of “opening the doors of my mind” during zazen to whatever might wander in. The Zen ceremony of Segaki ritually enacts this process when the doors of the temple are opened wide and the hungry ghosts or manifestations of unresolved stuff are invited to enter. It is surprising how effective this ceremony is. Many people report unresolved stuff coming up for them as they sit zazen in the day-long retreat that follows the ceremony traditionally. In the evening there is a ceremony to send the “ghosts” on their way, but it often takes much longer to become familiar with a new ghost, learn what it has to teach, and then take the actions necessary to truly send it away.
When I open the doors of my mind as I settle on the meditation cushion, I always feel some apprehension. What am I going to discover? What am I going to have to deal with? Am I going to have to change?
When I finally summon the courage to face my dissatisfactions, I am always surprised to find that no matter how bad it is – it is less anxiety-provoking to face it than it is to avoid it. Finding something behind the door can be scary and might require serious action, but in the long run it’s better than sensing there’s something behind the door but just wondering how terrifying it might be. When we really face our dissatisfactions there is often some sense of relief. In addition, avoiding or denying parts of our reality increases our sense of separation or isolation from our whole life and from the people and situations we encounter. When we are one with our dissatisfactions we are more fully present with everything. When trying to summon the courage to face our dissatisfactions during meditation or anytime it can be helpful to recall the sense of relief or presence that can be achieved by doing so. Sometimes it also helps to imagine the worst that is likely to come through the doors of our mind and ask ourselves if it would be the end of the world; it rarely would be. Alternatively, we might talk ourselves into facing our dissatisfactions by noticing how tired we are of running away from it.
Once we are determined to be still no matter what comes at us, we expand our awareness by letting go of any idea about our life, our body-mind, or what we should or should not be experiencing at this moment. Then our dissatisfactions can arise and find itself recognized and embraced – because, after all, it’s not coming at us from outside, it was already here.
What connects the various cravings is that enough is never enough—not for long anyway. As craving progress or rather, regress into their craving, to derive sufficient gratification they must constantly seek more and more of their drug of choice…For “more” is the keyword of craving. It doesn’t matter whether they’re craving to a substance, relationship, or activity—the “ante” for getting enough of the object of their craving must continually be raised. But of all the things one might be craving to, nothing tops the greed-laden pursuit of wealth in its audacity, manipulativeness, and gross insensitivity to the needs and feelings of others. Not to mention its extreme, short-sighted, irresponsible covetousness. Ask a multi-millionaire or billionaire so afflicted if you can find one willing to talk to you! And you’ll discover that their “mega-fortune quest” really has no end point. They won’t be able to name the definitive “millionth” or “billionth” that, finally, will do it for them. They can’t because the means by which they reap their riches has itself become the end.
Chasing every financial opportunity—and, it cannot be overemphasized, to the detriment of virtually everything else in their life—has become their be-all and end-all. For that, frankly, is where the dopamine is: the master molecule of pleasure and motivation, and the “end” for them is simply the high or dopamine release they receive each time they do a deal, turn a profit, or make a “killing.” Just like other cravings, over time because of the related phenomena of tolerance and dependency they’ll need to make bigger and bigger “killings” to get the ego gratification they require in order to feel good about themselves.
In general, their “money high” has to do not just with feelings of fiscal elation but with a kind of self-inoculation. What perpetual wealth production inoculates them against are underlying, and barely recognized, feelings of distress—such as depression, anxiety, guilt or shame—which stem from a belief that deep, deep down they may not be good enough at all, so greater and greater financial success is required to help them sustain their cherished illusion that they really are superior—in economic terms, vastly superior—to others: a most convenient narcissistic “fix” for whatever subterranean doubts they may yet harbor about themselves.
On an ethical level, the worst thing about their pursuits is that their mercenary, ego-driven achievements frequently do considerable damage to others and their prospects. Not always but typically those who might be called “greed cravers” aren’t in the professions or Creative Arts, but in business: entrepreneurs, investors, speculators, lenders, CEOs and most often their successes contribute little or nothing to society. Rather, their undertakings are cunningly contrived to transfer money out of the pockets of others and into their own. Exceedingly competitive and aggressive, they’ll take ruthless advantage of every opportunity to turn a profit—and not shy away from turning against others in the process.
To them luxuries “my Ferrari…my yacht…my estate…my penthouse…” are necessities. They all make them look good—and appearances are one of their foremost considerations. For material acquisitions can wondrously mask both from others and from themselves woeful deficits in their core self-image.
Still, it should be stressed that whatever appetite they may have for “things,” their interminable lust for making money really doesn’t have that much to do with tangible purchases. Contrasted with spending addicts; a compulsion that drives such over-the-top consumers—or shopaholics—into unmanageable debt, greed or wealth cravers are hardly focused on depleting or disbursing their fortune but on acquiring and maintaining it. Unconsciously linking their fundamental human value to their financial worth, what drives their behavior is accumulating as much wealth as possible—and then using it to acquire still more wealth and this is why they’re apt to become suicidal should they experience a severe economic reversal; for it feels as though they’ve been stripped of all personal value.
It’s been said that “you never get enough of what you don’t really want.” With people craving to pursuing wealth, their overwhelming, insatiable passion isn’t about getting rich—but richer…and still richer and it is unquestionable that this is not a virtuous cycle but a markedly vicious one. Ultimately, their heart’s desire—tragically unknown to them—isn’t for wealth at all, but for love, emotional intimacy, unconditional acceptance and self-acceptance, and “rich,” satisfying relationships. Regardless of how obscenely wealthy they may become, these are all things that, alas, cannot be purchased with money.
The final debacle of their pursuit isn’t simply that their monetary accomplishments can’t ever bring them the lasting happiness and peace of mind they secretly crave. It’s that their futile quest generally causes all sorts of misfortune to others…as well as to our environment; which they blithely ignore, and to the nation—whose disregulated capitalistic system regrettably supports their ceaseless avaricious ventures.