Monday, June 2, 2008

The mask of jeweled addictions

One of the treasures uncovered in the process of emptying out our closets was an old carry-on bag of my mother's, stuffed with the jewelry she collected over the years. So now that my older daughter is home, we spent the morning at the dining room table sorting through the piles and boxes and bags of mom's old jewelry.

Though it was fun to be looking at the stuff with her, the pieces themselves just made me feel sad. Most of it was pretty cheap and tasteless, but even the things that must not have been cheap, that were stored in little felt bags in special jeweler's boxes, still seemed tasteless to me: chunky, garish, and gaudy, as if she were trying to compensate for some inner lack.

But I could just be projecting. Because I've been reading the section in Essential Spirituality about reducing cravings. And there's a wonderful quote at the beginning of the section from Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, a 20th century Hindu sage:

All you want is to be happy. All your desires, whatever they may be, are of longing for happiness...Desire by itself is not wrong. Desire is life itself, the urge to grow in knowledge and experience. It is the choices you make that are wrong. To imagine that some little thing -- food, sex, power, fame -- will make you happy is to deceive oneself. Only something as vast and deep as your real self can make you truly and lastingly happy.

Desire is not the problem. It's when we get hooked on something other than that vast deep Source within us; when we expect worldly things -- like jewelry, or junk food, or new cars; power, sex, drugs or fame -- to make us happy, to compensate for the emptiness within, that we run into trouble. Because they can't help, not really.

About three years ago I went on one of those no-carb diets. And what I remember from that experience is that before the diet I would get a terrible case of "the munchies" in the late afternoon and evening, craving all kinds of junk foods, eating them, and finding the craving still there.

When I stopped the carbs, I learned that it was the junk foods themselves that were creating that late afternoon craving for more junk foods. And now, three years later, I still know that if I find myself hovering in the kitchen in the late afternoon, what my husband calls "Miss Vaguely Dissatisfied," it's probably because my carb intake has grown out of balance again.

When we get out of balance, when we get too much of something we don't need or can't use, it seems to create this weird craving for more of the same -- or at least, for something else equally unsatisfying. I remember noticing this the day after The Secret Garden closed: I kept finding myself in the kitchen, staring at the cupboards, beset with a hunger I couldn't seem to assuage. I think I may have been missing the role, the sense of purpose, or perhaps just the applause.

Ignored, or catered to, these cravings quickly grow into attachments, and we find ourselves thinking I HAVE to have chocolate, or I MUST have the latest Prada bag, or Porsche, or Manolo Blahnik shoes, or a part in the next play. When NOT getting these things triggers fear, anger, jealousy or depression, we know two things: we're attached, and we're in trouble.

Roger Walsh, the author of Essential Spirituality, says the first step in dealing with a craving like this (once you've recognized its irrationality) is to sit with it, see what it feels like, bring awareness to it.

Once we recognize the craving and take the time to acknowledge it, explore its roots and consequences, we are on the road to redirecting that longing to its rightful source. What makes me sad, looking at my mother's jewelry and knowing what I now know about her relationship with my father, is that she could never allow herself to sit in that space. Because to notice the craving would have been to notice what was missing. And to notice what was missing would have been to open up what I'm sure must have felt like a bottomless pit of misery.

So I look at the gaudy rings, the fake diamonds, all the ridiculous trinkets, and I ache for the love she never got, either from her parents or from my dad. Because she masked that so successfully with all her tasteless little addictions, I found her very hard to love, and aligned with my father; sad but true. I suspect she was a very lonely woman. Now I look at the jewels and sigh, and I try to send a little belated love her way, wherever she may be.

With any luck, Heaven is not a place where the streets are lined with gold and she can have all the jewels she wants, but rather a place where she can be so filled with love that she no longer needs them.

1 comment:

karengberger said...

This is beautiful and profound. Thank you for writing it.
Sending love to you.