The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, poet, and peace activist has said that the United States is a land of "hungry ghosts." These are mythic creatures who have huge bellys and pinhole mouths; they can never satisfy their desires. Their cravings. Their hunger.
Today is Day 13 of my first long-term all-juice fast. (And it's 18 days since I last had fast food, soda, processed foods, red meat, sugar, and wheat!) I'm learning something about hunger. About craving.
As I cook dinner for my family I suddenly realize that whatever it is that I'm cooking -- last night it was rotissery chicken, alfredo noodles, and salad -- is my all-time favorite food in the world and that without a little taste of it I will dissolve into nothingness like the Wicked Witch when faced with water.
And when I'm getting ready to leave a nighttime meeting at church I become accutely aware of how delicious the Quarter Pound Big Bite hot dogs taste at the 7-11 I pass on the way home. There is no finer cuisine on the planet, and my body is telling me that I desperately need something from the oversized, overprocessed meat-like food group in order to maintain optimum health.
One of the things I keep trying to teach my kids -- now 10 and 8 -- is the difference between "needs" and "wants." "I need a new beyblade," one will say. "No," I'll reply, "you want a new beyblade. You need food, clothing, shelter, and love." I think it's part of my parental duty to pass on such important information.
And yet I am discovering anew just how much I need to take my own life lessons to heart. In this immediate instance it's food -- I need some crackers! I need something to chew on! But it's becoming clear to me (again) how often I make the same mistake my kids do.
- I need more financial security.
- I need this or that person's respect.
- I need to attain this or that level of professional achievement.
- I need . . .
Through the process of this juice fast I am learning to differentiate between my food needs and my food wants. And when I'm able to do this I'm also able to see that I actually want to be healthy more than I want the taste of a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Needs must be attended to; wants can be weighted against other wants and decisions can be made. We have at least some measure of control over our wants.
This is one of the great gifts of fasting -- whether it be a food fast, a media fast, a fast from negative-thoughts. It can help us remember the difference between wants and needs, and help us (re)gain control of our living.