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The Hungry Ghost is an archetype appearing in Buddhism and many Eastern cultures, which describes spirit beings or ghosts who are hungry, starving, and full of insatiable cravings. They are driven to consume more and more, never becoming full. They roam the earth and spirit realms, they inhabit people, and create misery for themselves and others in their frantic attempt to find what will soothe them.
When a person is overtaken by their own hungry ghost, it can manifest as addiction, eating disorder, and other destructive compulsive behaviors. We have learned that when we face our hungry ghost and ask what it needs, it will often tell us why it is starving and suffering. What it often needs is a recognition that there is an unresolved physical, emotional, or spiritual trauma from the past or that is now presently happening, that needs to be seen and helped it heal. We can then offer to feed it, with our attention, love, and forgiveness, acknowledging it and giving it all it needs to feel full. This allows the hungry ghost to transform from a demon that is sabotaging us, into an ally who can become a reclaimed part of us
In Native American culture, another belief emerges called Wetiko, a cannibalistic spirit that overtakes people, leading them to destructive acts of greed and selfishness. The spirit of Wetiko is believed to have taken over the western world in the form of colonization, genocide, ecocide, and capitalism. The compulsion that colonization and religion have to consume, convert, and conquer leads to war, genocide, and enslavement of human beings for profit. It displaces whole populations and threatens the highly valued and needed wisdom of indigenous lifeways cultures here in the Americas and around the world.
There is a widely acknowledged understanding that these two forces are acting within the human subconscious, and unconscious mind. These manifestations of imbalance are so prevalent today because of centuries of disconnection with the earth; the poisoning and polluting of her, the relentless competition and consumption that is capitalism, the unresolved historical responsibility that is waiting to be taken by the nations upon nations who perpetrated such acts, and the resulting cycles of governmental, familial, and self abuse we have learned to accept for generations.
Quite simply, the addictions we experience as a culture are a symptom of these phenomenons, which arise from our disconnection and lack of care towards the Earth, which which then affects our societal systems, our family systems, and our self relationship. These addictions and hungers are our misdirected efforts to soothe and bring ourselves back into balance. We grasp for whatever tools may be closest to take us out of the pain of this vast collective trauma we are experiencing.
My work with addiction and disordered eating centers around a freedom from shame and secrecy, and an invitation reminding us that we are not meant to do this work alone. We are not meant to white knuckle through resistance and will power to forcefully keep ourselves in line, and gain dominance over the substance or behavior. My personal story of healing from addiction to substances and bulimia has brought me an understanding of how to accept and integrate all parts of myself, how to offer these demons the nourishment that will truly fulfill and transform them into wise allies that are a part of our story of identity. I would love to share these liberating techniques with you that untether the fear of and struggle against a substance or behavior, and instead access what is deeper. The good news is that we no longer have to go to war against the substance or behavior, but instead can seek to witness, name, and offer to feed the underlying wounding and trauma that is asking to be seen and healed.
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