Illustration: The Magazine of Yoga
I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Our hyper/ hypo lifestyles reveal our need for meaning
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
When I was still a growing gal of 30-something, a dozen of my friends went together to the beach. It was a spectacular day and we were looking forward to extending it, going out later to dance and show off our sunny dispositions.
As we relaxed in our camp of towels, blankets, and beach chairs, hats, umbrellas and coolers, someone pulled out a book of questions and we passed several hours shooting the breeze. Easy fill-in-the-blanks like “what’s your favorite,” “where would you like to,” and “name five people,” eventually gave way to some real squinters of the shipwrecked-on-a-desert island variety.
You die and go to heaven. You are told you can choose one feeling to experience for all of eternity. Describe in one word what it would be.
Word of the day
This question occupied us far longer and to a wider ranging effect than any other we fooled around with that afternoon. Laughter rang out for the quick friend who shouted “Hot!” and cheers for the one who countered, “No, cool!” before we settled down to reflecting on the merits and subtleties of “understood,” “loved,” and “welcome.”
When it was my turn I looked out at the bright ocean, watching its steady horizon. “Satisfied,” I said.
It was an answer that pleased everyone as one meaning of the word gave way to the next in waves, like the ripples of the water at our feet.
Let me say that I do love potato chips
Friends often remark on my eating habits as disciplined. Take it from me, you should be skeptical about this.
One meaning of the word discipline is a system of rules of conduct. In that sense, I do have a lot of discipline – my basic food rule is “if a few bites won’t be enough, don’t even get started.”
I love potato chips, for example, but I never eat them because I absolutely know no matter how many I eat I will not feel satisfied. I will want another as badly as I wanted the one before. I figure, why bother.
Being satisfied is really a sort of edge for me. If I can’t have as much as I want, then I don’t want any. A handful of potato chips is never going to cut it.
All or nothing
This kind of thinking actually doesn’t serve me very well. It rules out many small pleasures. It’s awfully short term thinking, and it doesn’t deal with reality. In truth, the only things I can have that much of are things that don’t interest me much to start with.
Being a hard-ass is actually a kind of deep fear – a fear of what I really want.
The original Latin disciplina means instruction or knowledge, but in the European middle ages discipline got a crick in its neck when it became associated with “mortification” or scourging, i.e., beating yourself up. For penance, of course.
My variation on discipline was to be harder on myself than other people could be. Why bother with a little self love if I couldn’t love myself completely, I reasoned.
When I first practiced yoga, I saw my problem with satisfaction as one of succumbing to the illusions of the world. I saw my desire for satisfaction as a weakness, one the heat of yoga would drive out of me. I didn’t see this as simply being heart-sore with disappointment.
It takes a well developed sense of humor to realize we’re all made up of the world – we only exist by our interaction in it. We can no more stand apart from the world than we can put down a hand. Trying to make the point, a well-known teacher once remarked, look, if it’s your hand that’s the problem, cut it off.
That’s what I was practicing – cutting off everything that caused me to experience dissatisfaction. No potato chips.
Thank god for getting older
Discipline in its patriarchal sense is always a word that sings like a whip, which if it be spared invites ruin. Whenever anything went wrong in my life, I tended to see it as punishment, as being disciplined, rather than as the natural course of complications and difficulty that is part of everything living.
In my life, being good was a way of avoiding punishment, and as a result, being good at being good was destroying my compassion. By contrast, the very fine thing about dealing in earnest with the feeling of not being satisfied is it’s honest. Instead of judging my dissatisfaction, I had to turn toward it.
Practicing yoga over time, I came to see discipline very differently. It had been stripped of something essential in its translation to harsh task master. Discipline is really much more like a muse, inviting me to get to know myself with purpose.
There are many things going badly in this world. To be satisfied would be heartless. Being unsatisfied means living in potential; it means awakening to the reality of suffering, my own and that of others, and desiring with my whole being to lessen it.
There’s a common reference to the heat of discipline burning up impurity. This metaphor winds its way to us from ancient fire rituals in which sacrifices were offered to the gods.
Sacrifices made because the gods were insatiable.
Don’t settle for less
Discipline meant knowledge before it meant punishment. Empowerment, joy and self determination were taken from us in its translation, and replaced with appeasement, shame and fear.
That long-ago afternoon in the sun, each response surfaced more slowly, and each reply of assent from our group was quieter. Each friend who shared one word blossomed in our awareness of her and what she was dealing with somewhere in her life off the beach, out of the reach of our protection.
That word might be the one thing that was holding her together, or it might be something that had been always missing.
When we hide from our feeling of “never good enough” in shame, then our denial of the one thing we need, or our clinging to the one thing we have, chains us to our unhappiness with ourselves.
We get rigid in our habits, and hard in our hearts, doing too much or too little of what doesn’t interest us very much in the first place, instead of enough of something we know matters.
The need for satisfaction there under all our self-criticism is an innate, human need looking for a bigger opportunity.
Anybody can follow rules. It’s not really your hand or my potato chips that are the problem.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.