Monday, 9 June 2008

Greed and Disconnection

Late last week I was sitting at my desk at work over lunch, thinking about a complex and persistent work-related problem. I won't get into what the problem was, but I had this thought all of a sudden, which said: "Disconnection is the root of all evil." Then my thoughts said, well no, everyone says it's greed that's the root of all evil. So then I figured, "disconnection and greed must be related somehow."

So I pondered on that for a minute, imagining myself when I am greedy and what I'm doing and feeling and thinking at the time of the greed. (Since I was gobbling down my banana tofu pudding at the time, the imagining wasn't all that hard.) And it dawned on me then: greedy acts cut us off from everything and everyone except the immediate physical and mental sensations of the greedy desire being filled. It's almost like a trance state of some kind, that distances a person from outside awareness.

Greed is the ultimate in narcissism. Greed is being cut off from last part of the equation that more for me means less for you. Greed even separates me from the rest of myself, because I lose sight of the consequences of my greedy behavior while I focus only on the sensations that come along with immediate, selfish gratification. Like when I gulp down the pudding, and I'm just focussed on the tasting and gulping. When that's happening I don't think of the fact that I'm lucky to have pudding (or anything) to eat, or that there are people who will never taste pudding in their entire life.

I remember the same kind of thing happening when I would go shopping. I would get into a mindset where I was focussed just on the thing I wanted to buy, and I would dismiss any and all arguments against purchasing it. I have a five hundred dollar PDA device sitting unused in my backpack as testament to an episode of zombie-like consumption I had a couple years ago. I was convinced I needed that thing and no information to the contrary was going to dissuade me.

I think greed has such a distancing effect that at times we don't even know we are being greedy. We are so used to consuming what ever we want, whenever we want to, that it becomes normal to over-eat, over-buy, over-indulge in all sorts of ways. Eventually we become de-sensitized -- our senses become dulled from continuous over stimulation. We become disconnected from ourselves, and we don't know the difference between being fulfilled, and just being filled.

How can we recognize greed sooner, before the trance-mode of sensory over-stimulation sets in?

Lately I've been captivated by taking close-up pictures of things. Like the picture up there, of the little drop of water caught in the corn seedling after this weekend's rainfall. Who knew corn could catch rain and save it, directing it right down into itself? Stopping and looking at things, at the little small tiny things has helped me to re-sensitize myself. To look at what's right in front of me, and appreciate it and marvel at it. To recalibrate myself, somehow. When I consciously take time to look at the very ordinary, very humble things, it seems to lower my sensory threshold and I only need a little of any kind of sensation for it to register in my sensorium. This recalibration is helping me to be joyful in moderate circumstances. It is a meditative process that is helping me to reject greed, at least some of the time.

Edited to add Chapter 12 of the Tao Te Ching, which speaks to this issue well I think:

The five colors make one blind in the eyes
The five sounds make one deaf in the ears
The five flavors make one tasteless in the mouth

Racing and hunting make one wild in the heart
Goods that are difficult to acquire make one cause damage

Therefore the sages care for the stomach and not the eyes
That is why they discard the other and take this


Green Bean said...

First thought, pretty insightful, Theresa. You are absolutely right. Greed causes a disconnect. I never would have thought of it.

Second though, we took my kids to Disneyland last week. Bad choice, really! In any event, they don't watch much TV, if any, we don't shop, go to movies, etc. In sum, we generally live a pretty simple life. I could not believe how overwhelmed their senses were by Disneyland. Significantly more than the other kids we saw who seemed to crave only more and move, going on scarier rides than my kids would even go near. We are all so desensitized by the life we lead - bombarded by tv, radio, the internet, advertisements at every corner. It's a great thing you are doing, Theresa to reconnect.

CindyW said...

Nice reminder of my shopping days. When I looked through racks and racks of clothes in a store, there was this strange urge that told me that I had to buy that shirt or that dress. I would run through all kinds of rationales in my head and convince myself the case for buying. Deep down though, I knew I was looking for excuses and not buying that shirt or dress would not matter much at the end of the day.

In fact, having a little time and physical distance between me and the desired item, I would have a completely different perspective.

I find your theory of disconnection and greed interesting because it did feel like a total disconnect to reality of what I went wanted. Nice pondering :)

DC said...

I think that greed comes not only from a sense of disconnectedness, but also from a sense of incompleteness and inadequacy. If we feel good about who we are, as we are, greed and other desires for "more" don't arise. When we feel a sense of wholeness and completeness within ourselves, we don't need a lot of material objects outside of ourselves to feel at peace.

Whenever I find myself wanting some item I don't need, I imagine how I will feel a month after I have acquired it. Usually, what I envision is having forgotten about the item and not feeling any differently than I did before I bought it. I also remind myself that the ephemeral joy that we feel upon acquiring a material object really doesn't come from the item itself -- it comes because a desire has been extinguished for a short time. But as soon as this desire is fulfilled, another arises. There is no end to it. But there is a far, far greater joy inside us that never leaves. The source of true, lasting happiness is within us always. This is the object we should covet.

Maggie said...

"Let me read you what Theresa has written about greed and disconnection, it is so good" I said to Bob last night as I gobbled my soup and toast and sat at the computer.
We talked about the post and then I looked for my meal, some greedy person had gobbled it up, with out enjoying the lovely home grown veggies, the smells, the sight, the flavours, the precious moments with a loved one.
Okay tonight will be different! Well! now will to be different!
Thanks Theresa and other ponderers

Theresa said...

Green Bean - it was one of those infrequent moments when I made a connection about disconnection - I frantically started writing about it but it took a few days to flesh things out a bit. I'm still mulling it over, actually...

Cindy - it is a strange urge, isn't it? The problem for me is that I usually don't recognize being in the consumeristic trance until after I've bought something or eaten something! I'm getting a little better at pre-recognizing it though. Meditation helps.

DC - I'm think I know what you mean about the lasting source of happiness within, but I only just catch glimpses of it still. Nevertheless, it's good to know it's there, even if I don't always have it in clear view.

Maggie, that is too funny! It is so easy to to do things mindlessly, isn't it? I have a lot of work to do when it comes to gobbling things up, be they food or ideas or gadgets!

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments on this idea - I will be mulling it over for some time yet I think.

Chile said...

Really fascinating, Theresa. It really rings true to me.

kale for sale said...

I love how you summed up your ponderings with the Tao Te Ching. Reading it was a breath of fresh air at my desk at work. I've definately been in that consumer trance. Now I rarely purchase an impulse buy without first walking out of the store to determine if I still want or need it, okay want it, first. If the answer is yes after some period of time then I'll go back. For awhile I would get everything I wanted and then made a practice of putting some number of the items back. I never missed them. These days going to the grocery store is sensory overload. Before I go in I name what I need, go directly to it, buy it and leave. And still I often get sucked into the raw food refrigerator or the spice shelf or the latest end aisle promotion. Thanks for this food for thought.

Melissa said...

wow, what a great post. I think you are absolutely right. I think what dc said is also quite accurate. I wonder if a lot of feelings of incompleteness and inadequacy though don't themselves stem from a certain disconnect? with the your partner, your community, yourself? I also will need to think about this for some time :)

DC said...

Theresa, you may or may not always have a clear view, but you always have a pure heart. You should follow it and not feel guilty about your mind's dalliances with greed or any other negativity. The light of thousands of suns is shining within you. One day, it will break through completely, and the doubter and all of the doubts will cease to be a concern.

Rumi writes about this:

"I have lived on the lip of insanity,
wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door.
It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside!"

If you have a little glimpse and a little faith, that will more than do. Do what you feel you can, and let the power that knows the way do the rest.

More Rumi:

"Who looks out with my eyes?
What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord,
and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have
to take me home."

In time, we all find our way back home. Thanks for your insightful post. Be well :-)

Theresa said...

Melissa - yes, I get the sense that disconnection of some kind seems to be the base for most things that are not right somehow. It's a theory I've had for some time and I always seem to be able to find evidence for it, although that doesn't prove my theory of course! I do like to repair disconnection when I find it though, to the degree I'm able. I think that's been my dissatisfaction with western religion - the God's been taken out of everything and removed to "up there" somewhere to be imposed externally through some set of human-made (or at least human-interpreted) rules. That's why Taoism seems to speak to me more these days, because it just says that The Way/Tao/God/One is inherent in everything all the ti and we can all sync up with it. I find that a much more fulfilling and intimate connection with well, everything. I think the connection is always there, we just don't always notice it because it is covered up by things like greed and fear and stuff!

Like the poems dc quoted! (Those are amazing!) When you wake up for a moment and realize you're already on the inside of the door you've been knocking on all this time - wow! What a change in perspective all of a sudden! And then the dust of fear and greed are shaken off for a minute, and the connection to home, to right livelihood, to everything, shines bright for a little while.

There's been some blog talk lately about building the 'green church' - I think this connection thing fits in there somehow. Those flashes of insight into the abiding interconnection among all things is profoundly spiritual, and profoundly practical at the same time. It changes how we think, feel AND how we act.

Thanks again everyone for your insightful comments, encouragement and your willingness to ponder along with me as I fumble along and figure some things out...