My Hungry Ghost

I spserving-handsend my life fighting my own selfishness, the urge to filter the  world through the lens of “what’s in it for me?” As I have aged, raised a family, moved forward in a career, made friends, become part of various communities, this selfishness—my hungry ghost— has continued unabated and in fact has grown and expanded. It now has become tinged with worry and fear: “What if I don’t have enough to retire on, what if my way of life—my comfortable way of life—gets unhinged in some way through financial loss, illness or separation from family, or changes in my routine, or my community?” On, and on, and on the feedback loop goes.

I fight this urge to cling. I strive to be “ego-less” to get outside myself and turn towards others. This I know is the right path, the path that my Catholic teaching exhorts as do the great wisdom teachings I have explored and tried to embrace in my lifetime. But man, is it hard. It is a battle I wage regularly and more often than not, I lose.

The reading from the Gospel of Mark contains the well-known passage: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” [MK 10:25]. Jesus advises a rich man to sell all he has and give to the poor in order to attain treasure in heaven. After the rich man leaves, despondent over this daunting requirement, Jesus tells his disciples that “there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age…” [MK 10:29b].

In my simplistic reading of this gospel, it is the call for me to be “ego-less” to stand in relation to God, which of course means in relation to my neighbor (broadly defined as all of humanity and not just those in my family, town or country) within whom God dwells. It is about turning off the filter that clings and hoards and says “what’s in it for me?” and turning on the filter that says “this life is not just about me, it is about God and all of God’s creation and living according to the gospel teachings.” This message is the hardest for those who have the most to lose.

I know the truth in this teaching. My selfish hungry ghost however is my constant companion. The battle continues.

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The First Step

The 4 year old could not write but he loved everything about writing, the smell of the paper and the magic of a pen flowing over it.  He would watch his older brother and sister at the kitchen table, hunched over their homework assignments, earnestly scratching and scribbling shapes on to the page.  One day, he took blank lined paper and a pen and tried to write just like they did, staying between the lines and using distinct shapes.  He noticed that his writing did not follow the same pattern though.  But the experience of holding the pen in his hand, pressing down on the page so that it did not slide and trying to create shapes, was the first step.  He gradually and eventually learned the meaning behind the shapes and developed the dexterity to form the shapes to create his own meanings on the page.  

The young boy has grown into a man who has written tens of thousands of words over his lifetime.  But each time he sits down to write, he is still that 4 year old boy taking the first step.  This is the practice.