When you’re sick, all you can think of is getting better, and once you recover, just feeling okay again is such a blessing. But before long, you take health for granted. When you are lonely, all you want is a relationship. When you are poor, you’re not happy until you have money.
Even when life is good, and you have what you need, dissatisfaction finds a way to creep back in. There is an eternal cycle for me, between happiness, challenge, and dissatisfaction.
This past week was a beautiful week of summer here in Durango. It was a joy to make videos again! To hang with friends, play frisbee, eat cherries in the park. I felt strong after a period of a lot of travel and changes. It was good to be home. But by Thursday, I tired of the routine, even though I love my daily flow! There was joy and peace peppered throughout my blessed life, but it was no longer enough. A subtle feeling rose of wanting more. More joy. More genius. A peak experience perhaps.
Discontentment. Dissatisfaction. What a curious visitor you are. I wrote about you in my first essay and blog post “The Hot, cold, and Lukewarm”, and I wanted to follow up with you, since you always follow up with me.
Today, I want to explore dissatisfaction as the catalyst for addiction or spiritual growth. And look at the value of discontentment in Nietzsche’s philosophy: how it initiates the great “downgoing” —the shedding of ones skin to become something new.
“THE URGINGS OF THE VOID”
I think dissatisfaction is wired into us biologically for survival. It’s the program that spurs us to act, to do more, secure more food, and overall, increase ourselves in some way.
But I also am coming to realize dissatisfaction serves a spiritual function as well.
When I was younger, a feeling of dissatisfaction, boredom, unease, would spur me to indulge in drugs, or parties, or stimulation of somekind. It’s the call of the void. There is a hungry void within us that wants to be filled with stimulation, love, sex, or novel experiences. It is insatiable. The more you feed it, the more it grows.
Smoking tobacco was a coping mechanism I developed to deal with dissatisfaction. Same with scrolling on my phone, and my more intense addictions. There was a restlessness in my soul, a craving for more. It’s still there, but I have a different relationship with it now.
The more you smoke, the more you want to smoke. The more you scroll, the more you want to scroll. The more you indulge, the more you want to indulge. The void wants to want. It is a hole of lack inside all of us. And we can either fill it, creating addictions, or learn to honor lack as sacred.
The great thing is, when you start honoring lack, and having more discipline in your indulgences, the cravings of the void calm down. But nonetheless, a subtle sense of lack and dissatisfaction remains.
Dukkha, the first Noble Truth of Buddhism, translates to suffering, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction.
More specifically, it refers to the “unsatisfactoriness” or “unease” of mundane life when driven by craving, grasping, and ignorance.
I think Dukkha sums up the experience I’m pointing to perfectly. And as I get further and more balanced on my path, Dukkha becomes more obvious and pertinent. This part of life won’t go away. So how am I going to work through it? Here are some of my ponderings and realizations (share yours with me!):
Dissatisfaction is a calling upward. A calling inward.
Man is not meant to live off bread alone, but off every word of God.
I think we get dissatisfied with mundane life in order to make us reach further. The adolecent reaches for more. The initiate, however, reaches for spirit. So my work is to accept discontentment, and transmute it into fuel for spiritual practice. Those pangs of longing for more can be turned into spiritual-physical effort.
The void wants to be acknowledged. The lack wants to be felt. Not covered up by more externally, but deepened into internally. Lack is sacred. And only when it becomes so, does it lead you to light.
Dissatisfaction comes when there is an edge to be pushed, a deeper experience to be found. To Nietzsche, my favorite German philosopher and psychologist, dissatisfaction is a good thing. It is a welling up of energy from hidden parts of your psyche that want to be revealed. The great discontentment preceeds the “downgoing” in Nietzsche’s words, or the great change. When you get fed up with yourself, your relationships, your life and weak ways, only then will you have the courage to leave it behind. The unconscious puts pressure on the conscious self to force it to grow, to shed its skin and become something new. Discontentment is the unconscious ‘will to power’, trying to express itself.
So put simply, use dissatisfaction to engage with life more fully. Let it push you to your edge of living. And at certain times, let the great discontentment revolutionize your life.
Ultimately, I think giving MEANING to the aspects of dukkha, is important. When the unpleasent parts of life have meaning, and you have a strategy for facing them, they become more bearable and fruitful. Dissatisfaction, pain, and suffering—the three aspects of Dukkha—are there as fuel for your spiritual development.
- Dissatisfaction is the calling to deepen. Wake up to life and push your edge. When feelings of lack and discontentment grow, be with them. The void leads warriors to the light. Dissatisfaction is a call to deepen your practice and prayers.
- Pain is purifying. In Yoga, pain, or tamas, is the “fire that purifies”. Pain is felt in the process of purging heaviness and attachments from your mind, body, and heart. So much of yoga and spiritual practice is about accepting pain and letting go. How can you accept pain, without fear, and let it deepen your presence? When pain comes, give thanks for it. Let it sharpen you and liberate your body and heart.
- Suffering refers to those intense times of loss, pain, disease, or turmoil. When you are suffering, theres not much you can always do or fix. But you can always control HOW you face it. You can resist and cower and run. Or, you can surrender with the heart of a warrior. To bear Suffering well, strengthens the spirit. Although it sucks, suffering is what makes you deeper, stronger, and more profound than ever before.
Watch my full video on Dukkha
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