Beware the Hungry Ghost

Matt Licata

While the desire for transformation is noble, if we are not careful it can serve as a vivid expression of the painful realities of materialism and self-abandonment. One of the shadow sides of seeking and the (seemingly) endless project of self-improvement is that we never slow down enough to digest what we have already been given, which is often much more than we consciously realize.

In Tibetan tradition, there is an image of the hungry ghost, a figure with a large distended belly and tiny mouth. No matter how much food (experience) is consumed, there is a deep ache and longing for more. Regardless of how much is taken in, there remains an insatiable hunger. Because this one is not able to make use of or enjoy what is given, a primordial hole is left behind which can never seem to be filled.

This hole is alive and unique for each of us, hidden and spinning within psyche, and has both cultural and archetypal dimensions. To slow way down and send breath, life, curiosity, and warmth directly into this hole opens a portal into an abundance which is not the product of further acquisition, but one crafted of the stars.

The willingness to digest and assimilate personal, cultural, and collective grief… to hold and integrate the tender, raw, achy, and uncertain… to allow a reconnection with natural joy, rest, and play… is an act of love and fierce, revolutionary compassion.

These and other soul-nutrients are buried in the food of our embodied experience and yearn to be metabolized in the flame of the heart.

May we slow down and become mindful of the ways we seek to fill the empty hole in the center, whether it be with food when we’re not hungry or experience when we are already full. In this way we can walk lightly together in this world, on this precious planet, not as hungry ghosts desperate to be fed, but as fellow travelers of interior wealth, richness, and meaning.