Friday, May 1, 2009

My Life As A Hungry Ghost

When I saw this week's theme, I tried to come up with something funny to say about it, because I always try to be funny around here. I'm the official Pain In The Ass for OGG, remember? But instead of funny, I kept coming back to the same thing over and over and over. And that is...

Lust stinks.

This may sound strange coming from an erotica writer, but I have never gotten any joy out of lust. I have wanted things so badly it hurt, and ended up feeling inadequate, hollow, even worthless. Lust is just not a feeling that works well for me.

As a teen, I can recall going shopping and lusting after fashionable but over-priced clothing that I couldn't afford. There was nothing wrong with the clothing I had; it just wasn't the latest fashion. But because I wanted those Izod shirts or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans so badly, I felt dowdy when I went to school and saw others wearing them. Pretty stupid, huh? But it gets worse. I'd see girls with boyfriends I wanted, guys on the football team who were hot and popular and would never give me a second glance, let alone treat me nice if they did notice me. I'd see kids with fancy new cars I wanted and I'd look at my trusty old VW bus with absolute disdain. Worst of all, I'd read tabloid magazines and lust for the lives that celebrities lead, and I'd be left feeling absolutely miserable because I wasn't a famous pop star or teen actor.

My teen years were consumed with lust for things that I could never have, and as I result I had a miserable time. Unfortunately, this lust for things that would always be out of my reach lasted well into my twenties. And those lusts became more ridiculous and more frustrating as I got older. Because I always wanted things so badly, I had to have them right now! I wanted to be famous -- TODAY! I wanted to be runway model thin -- IMMEDIATELY! I wanted to have written the breakout novel -- YESTERDAY!! I couldn't wait to accomplish something, thus I never put together a plan to make something happen because planning took too long to do, and forget about even trying to follow a plan.

Sad to say, if I had planned, if I had worked on some of those goals a little at a time, I could have accomplished some amazing things. Instead, I just chased after a lot of ambitious wet dreams haphazardly and got nowhere in the process. I lusted... and I lost out.

It's not all bad though. Over the years, I came to realize what was going on. Because I hated the way I felt when I lusted and obsessed over things, I started to avoid the things I lusted and obsessed over. I could never have the celebrity lifestyle, so I quit wasting money on tabloid magazines (it was amazing how much money I saved). I could have the overpriced designer clothing, so I concentrated on buying what I could afford and over time developed my very own unique sense of style. You will never mistake me for a runway model, but you won't want to gouge out your eyes when you see me either.

Perhaps most importantly, I quit lusting after guys who would never give me a second glance, and if they did, would never treat me right. After a string of lousy boyfriends and even worse unrequited crushes, I gave up on dating entirely and focused on spending time with friends I enjoyed.

And miracle of miracles, about a year after I did that, I met my husband.

I don't think I would have met Michael if I had still been busy chasing after all that stuff I lusted after. I had to stand still for a while, and just learn to be happy with what I had. I had to learn to be happy with me. By standing still, I was finally able to open my eyes and see what I actually had, and realize that my life was pretty good, even if I wasn't a celebrity with an overpriced wardrobe and a super-famous boyfriend. I was able to see what was right in front of me, easily within reach and ready for me to enjoy.

In Buddhism, there is a concept known as 'the hungry ghost.' The hungry ghost is one of the six realms on the wheel of life, a state of being that people may go through in life. The hungry ghosts are presented as creatures with huge, bloated stomachs but incredibly small mouths and necks. They can never eat enough to fill their enormous bellies, and thus walk around in a constant state of craving, unable to find contentment. This happens in real life when people get into the habit of wanting and craving that which they either can't have or don't need. It's a state that describes many years of my life perfectly.

Contentment is often undervalued, yet I've found contentment to be by far preferable to lust. It took me a while to get to this point, to realize that I don't need to look beyond my own backyard for what I need to be happy. These days, I crave a hot cup of tea, a good book, and a comfy chair to curl up in. I long for evenings alone with my staid, engineer husband (who is also comfy and fun to curl up with). I revel in the small things, and I've never felt better.

I've also never been more productive. I write a story a week, I've published two books, I get invited to participate in anthologies, I'm asked to be a guest at conventions. It's all because I finally quit wanting things right here, right now, and started working on stuff a little bit at a time. The novel doesn't have to be written all in one day. I can write 500 words now, and 500 words tomorrow, and in a year it'll be done. Same with everything else. I can take my time, I can follow a plan, I can wait. Eventually, I'll be a success.

And I'll be happier along the way.


  1. Great post Helen.

    "Contentment is often undervalued"

    I agree completely.

    Kim Dare.

  2. Wonderful post, Helen. But I'm wondering if some of the time, you're confusing lust with covetousness?

    Of course, you are right. Desire, according to the Buddha, is the root of all suffering.

    Still, I've never stopped lusting. I don't covet - I don't really want anything that someone else has. In fact, I'm not sure I even experience lust in the sense of wanting to get into someone real's pants anymore.

    But I do create mental paradigms, and then lust almost painfully for that fictional, liminal state. I've simply somehow divorced it from actually humans. I think I lust for the different personae inside myself.

    Now THAT's narcisism at its worst!

  3. Wonderful post, Helen,

    I don't disagree with your conclusions - just maybe with your definition of what lust is. Or perhaps I should say, what kind of lust I find interesting.

    RG beat me to quoting Buddhist philosophy. That's exactly what I thought about when I read your post. You've given up on "desire" (by some definition) and found a greater peace.

    It's true (and I'm sure that Garce will chime in here) that desire can engender suffering. However, it can also produce exquisite joy.

    Actually, as I understand it, the Buddha said that attachment is the root of suffering. Trying to hold on, being unable to let go and accept change which is the only reality. If lust is interpreted as the need to "get" and "keep" a person or a thing, than it will indeed result in misery. (Of course, misery is also something to explore in our writing.) On the other hand, the experience of wanting, if it can be divorced from the notion of keeping, can be transcendent.

    Maybe a one-night stand could be viewed as a spiritual experience, connecting and then letting go. No attachment.

    There have been times when that has been my truth.


  4. Ah but when in lust, get laid, works too. If contentment cannot be found, satisfy the itch. Then begin tryouts for the position of contentment provider.

    Rather like eating before going grocery shopping.

  5. Hi Helen,

    Aren't words amazing. Covet and lust, two very close 'sins' which if you ain't a religious person means absolutely nada.

    I agree with your thinking, but like Lisabet, I think the words emotion you may have tagged as lust in some cases may be something else to me.

    I've lusted after my husband for years, and think that's a good thing. I've felt lust for others, but that's also a good thing, in my opinion. Shows I'm still alive. I don't covet what others have, usually. Although I might be tempted if I ponder some famous writer who's made tons of money when I think I deserve it more. *G* Joking there.

    A lovely, thought provoking post. Thank you...Pain in the Ass... LOL


  6. Thanks to everyone for the wonderful responses today! Yes, I do lump covetousness and lust together into one category, but think about it. So much of our advertising and entertainment these days revolves around sex appeal. How do you sort the two out? Desire is desire. You may not want to sleep with some super star's millions, but some people feel that money makes them sexier. Same thing with power.

    I do certainly have sexual feelings for my husband -- very strong, very hot feelings accompanied by rather explicit ideas of what I'd like to do with him (and to him!). And in one sense that could be called lust, but it's very different from the other feelings I mentioned in my post. My desire for my husband does not leave me feeling hollow and pathetic. Rather, I feel good about myself when I'm with him. That other kind of lust always made me feel sorely inadequate, worthless. I couldn't be anyone if I didn't have the clothes, the guy, the money, the fame, etc. And maybe that's the difference between lust and... love? I don't know. I liked what Lisabet mentioned in her response, about attachment and suffering and one night stands. If you love something, you set it free, right? If it comes back to you, great. If it doesn't, that's okay too.

    So maybe the good feelings are love (albeit at different scales depending on the relationship) while the feelings that leave us feeling like losers are lust.

    Does any of that make sense? I've got an inner ear infection right now, so I know I'm a bit loopy tonight!

  7. Uh, Helen, you're a bit loopy most days...*G*

    Oh, did I say that out loud?


    I hope you're feeling better soon

  8. Hi Helen!

    Very good post, I relate to a lot of what you were saying. In my case I went from a kindo f garden of eden phase to a kind of persistent hungry ghost stage. I spend a lot of my time envying people. As one my characters, Father Delmar observed, its probably the most universal of the seven sins and the only one that gives no pleasure. I miss lust. Maybe I envy your husband, I dunno. Anyway. Attachment causes suffering. We live in a culture that is consumer based and therefore urges attachments of all kinds. Even if you want to be content you have to work hard for it. Hell, there've been times in my life I've seen dogs sleeping in the sun and envied them. But I've gotten better sicne then. There's this wonderful stanza in Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" that goes:

    I think I could turn and live with animals, they're so placid and self contain'd,
    I stand and look at them long and long.

    They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
    They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
    They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
    Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
    Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
    Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.


  9. P.S. I don;t envy people all that much anymore, really. I'm getting better! I promise.


  10. "Does any of that make sense? I've got an inner ear infection right now, so I know I'm a bit loopy tonight!"

    Makes perfect sense to me :)

    Kim Dare.


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