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