Photo by Kathleen Macgregor

Satiety is a feeling of enoughness, a felt sense that we have what is adequate for our  wellbeing. Perhaps you felt a little stirring inside at the word “adequate”. Though the word means satisfactory or acceptable, we have been conditioned to feel that merely enough is inadequate. We have become a culture of extremes and it has come at a great cost.

Wanting is a drive that most living beings experience that can be conducive to survival when it’s in balance with needs. However, humans are particularly susceptible to miswanting and craving, due to the mind’s ability to imagine and to project into the future. We’re able to create useful and not so useful fictions about our experience that can nudge simple wanting into compulsion and addiction. Our out-of-control desires can lead to destructive actions that harm ourselves, our communities, and collectively may destroy the world.

“Insatiable” by Theodore Bolha and Christopher Davis

There have been many stories throughout history warning of the dangers of unchecked human desire. I was recently made aware of the Canadian Cree and Ojibwa concept of wetiko, windigo or weendigo (derived from ween dagoh, which means “solely for self,” or weenin igooh, which means “excess”)  – a virus of selfishness that can never be satiated and can ultimately consume us and lead to our self destruction (Jack Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals). According to Paul Levy, founder of the Awakening in the Dream Community in Portland, Oregon, “People afflicted with wetiko react to their own projections in the world as if they objectively exist and are separate from themselves, delusionally thinking that they have nothing to do with creating that to which they are reacting… To the extent we are unconsciously possessed by the spirit of wetiko, it is as if a psychic tapeworm or parasite has taken over our brains and tricked us, its host, into thinking we are feeding and empowering ourselves while we are actually nourishing the parasite.”

In Tibetan Buddhism, likely originating from ancient Indian culture, hungry ghosts are beings with tiny necks or mouths and giant stomachs. These beings represent the suffering we experience as we futilely attempt to fulfill ourselves with worldly desires. At its extremes, these urges can lead to addiction. Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician specializing in addictions treatment, wrote, “My medical work with drug addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has given me a unique opportunity to know human beings who spend almost all their time as hungry ghosts. It’s their attempt, I believe, to escape the Hell Realm of overwhelming fear, rage and despair. The painful longing in their hearts reflects something of the emptiness that may also be experienced by people with apparently happier lives. Those whom we dismiss as “junkies” are not creatures from a different world, only men and women mired at the extreme end of a continuum on which, here or there, all of us might well locate ourselves.”

Our cultural celebration of amassing limitless wealth, the availability of cheap foods and entertainment engineered to leave us wanting more, the relentless advancement of technology, and the reliance of our economy on endless growth and consumption, create a self-perpetuating cycle of self-indulgence, extractionism and consumerism. But, the impermanence of all things will always disappoint the craving mind. Habituation or hedonic adaptation ensures that we can never be satisfied by sense pleasures. So, we seek to escape our unhappiness through more of the same, thinking relief is just around the corner. But, our world is finite – the Earth is a balanced system that cannot support unending taking with no giving back. Fortunately, there is a way to step out of this harmful cycle.

Ancient philosophies and indigenous traditions have long held the answers we need to break free from craving, tune into satiety, and find balance within ourselves and with the natural world. In Hinduism and yoga philosophy there is a beneficial quality called santosha or contentment. It describes a mind that is free from craving and is satisfied with no more and no less than what we really need. This was likely one of the foundational teachings from which Buddhism, and eventually modern mindfulness, emerged. Practitioners have long understood that mindfulness empowers us to shift our attention from or take a broader view of compelling sense pleasures and the stories and distractions that obscure the truth of our experience. It creates space in which we might engage our higher reasoning abilities rather than reacting automatically from our baser instincts and drives.

Geiger, Otto and Schrader (2018) found that mindfulness of one’s body and external surroundings was positively related to increased healthy behaviors and consequently, increased ecological behaviors. They concluded that when we take more interest in the health of our bodies, we also become interested in the health of our environment and our actions tend to reflect these priorities.

Studies of mindful and intuitive eating show that it can be effective in addressing the excesses of binge and emotional eating and help heal body image disturbances. According to Jessica T. Monroe in her article, Mindful Eating: Principles and Practice, “The basic principles of mindful eating involve listening to internal cues of the body (ie, hunger and satiety) to avoid overconsumption and utilizing external cues (reducing portion sizes and distractions while eating, and eating slowly) to assist in achieving awareness.”

Studies are also indicating that mindfulness based programs can reduce substance misuse and craving through strengthening self-regulation skills and reward processing pathways. The practices seem to “enhance top-down conscious control over bottom-up automatic habits and motivational drives” (Garland & Howard, 2018).

Mindfulness can also help us divest ourselves from the more harmful messages and myths of mainstream US culture that leave us vulnerable to compulsive acquisitiveness. We must be willing to open our eyes to the fact that, as activist Alnoor Ladha so wisely put it, “The great leaps in progress that we have observed did not happen independent of great plunder, destruction, war, violence and rape.” This is why learning a “patriotic” or preferred history will only doom us to further entrench ourselves in our mistakes. Learning our true history, that our perceived “success” has come at a great cost, is what will allow us to gain insight and choose more wisely – to liberate our hungry ghosts and vaccinate ourselves against the wetiko virus. Mindfulness allows us to embrace it all so that we might see things more clearly, cultivate gratitude for what we have, discern sufficiency from excess, and remember that we are part of a wider interconnected web of existence made possible through a delicate balance of giving and receiving.

Resources

Garland, E. L., & Howard, M. O. (2018). Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of researchAddiction science & clinical practice13(1), 14.

Geiger, s., Otto , S., & Schrader, U. (2018). Mindfully Green and Healthy: An Indirect Path from Mindfulness to Ecological Behavior. Front. Psychol., 18 January.

Levy, P. (2014). “Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil” Quest 102.4 (Fall): pg. 146-151.

Linardon, J., Tylka, T. L., & Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M. (2021). Intuitive eating and its psychological correlates: A meta-analysisThe International journal of eating disorders, 10.1002/eat.23509.

MacDonald, P. (2016). The Nowness of Everything: A mindfulness-based approach to psychotherapy, Psychodynamic Practice, 22:1, 38-49.

Newman, K. (2020). In Addiction Recovery, a Matter of the Mind: Mindfulness holds promise as a treatment for those struggling to curb their substance misuse, researchers say. US News and World Report, 29 January.

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