It is hard to comprehend the power of craving and the countless ways it interferes with our happiness. We don’t see it for much of our existence seems to depend on having cravings, desires and aspirations. As much as I feel that a sense of urgency and fulfilment are required to live a long and happy life, it can also be the greatest enemy of happiness.
Okinawa is a so called ‘Blue Zone’. These blue zones are places across the world where people live the longest and are considered to be the healthiest. The people of Okinawa claim that one thing in particular is the reason for their long and healthy lives. They call it ‘Ikigai’. This roughly translates to: “a reason for being”. A more western approach would be to say: to have a reason to get out of bed every morning.
As much as I love this approach to living, there is danger in it as well. Not for the people of Okinawa, but the western societies seem to have misinterpreted the word ‘reason’ or ‘meaning’. We have developed a kind of ‘reason’ that entails consuming more than the day before. It’s also in most cases toxic consumption rather than wholesome or mindful consumption. With food we all realise this but consumption of the senses is a different story. We are much less aware of the amount of toxic consumption leading to internal failures (physically, mentally or spiritually).
June 7th I turned 31 years old. It is only now that I become aware of my many cravings of the past and present and the various ways I have developed addictions to fulfil these cravings. I must add that I am one those people that never drank alchohol, smoked or did any drugs. From a young age I have realised the dangers of these substances but what I did not know was that more everyday consumptions would turn out to be just as harmful mentally as any of the above.
A few months ago I made a few changes. I quit Facebook and Instagram and dialed down the amount of Netflix and so on. Mainly focusing on the time of day. So for example, I turn off my screens (phone, laptop, TV) at least thirty minutes before bed. The main reason for this was meditation and reading. I wanted to end my day with either (or both). What I noticed was that, even when I did not meditate or read, I was still more at ease and less anxious. This feeling of calmness increased when I turned off my screens an hour before bed (you can see the pattern here).
Eventually this led to taking on decreasing the amount of time that I spent on Youtube (but more so the content that I followed) and admittingly watching less porn. Two things stood out:
- The amount of effort it costs to change these habits;
- and the effect it had when I succeeded.
I can honestly say for myself (but in all fairness, for many others as well) that these are addictions. And they are toxic. But because they are widely accepted, they do not come across as a threat to your happiness. They are.
It is hard to pinpoint what aspect is addictive and/or toxic but a common thread throughout my realisations is that all of the above cause craving. It is so accepted and even stimulated to crave some-thing, some-one or some-feeling that it feels alien to stop craving as if to say you’ve given up on aspiring to anything. We are programmed that aspirations and goal-setting are the foundations of giving meaning to our lives, but is it fair to say so?
During the (still ongoing) period of changing these habits, day by day, I felt that life became more clear and simple yet more valuable. What struck me most was the feeling when I failed to change my habits. Moments where I encountered Youtube channels that I previously followed (on a daily basis), that immediately caused a feeling of unease and unfulfillment. It has been these moments where I realised that I was constantly feeling this way since I had no idea I was feeling this way (the fish in the ocean who asked where he could find the ocean). It is by taking myself out of it, that I realise I was and still am, in it.
The biggest change that is occurring is that I feel less desire to consume more (meaning every kind of consumption) and that where I am right now is the right place to be. Even when it isn’t. I’ll explain.
What I think the people of Okinawa mean with Ikigai is that what you do has meaning but not the other way around. You are not doing something to create meaning. Meaning is there in what you do and how you do it. When you look at the early Hinduism, they used the word ‘Dharma’ to explain that whatever role you have in life, is your role and it is your obligation to fulfil that role and not acquire something more than that. That is considered to be wrongdoing. Now, I must add that I feel this is a very obscure hierarchy but the essence of it appeals to me. It is not by acquiring something ‘better’ (by who’s standards anyway?) that we create meaning but by playing our role to the fullest extend and doing it as good as we can.
Back to modern day society, how do we change this? I don’t think WE can change anything. There are always people that have no other desire than to create desire inside others as a means to attaining wealth. But by opening up to our senses and realising that many of our physical and mental illnesses have their root in desire and cravings, we can become happier by changing that within ourselves. Unwant what you now want so badly and start finding joy in what you have.
As far as my own story, I find that dealing with these urgent cravings is difficult as they are rooted deeply in my being. But the changes that I experience when I do succeed, cause some sort of momentum which makes it easier to sustain these habits. At the same time I started taking these steps, I also started journaling which helps me stay on track. The ideal outcome would be that defying these desires will no longer be a struggle, but on the other hand, sometimes the solution is simply avoiding temptation. As is the case with social media for me which I simply deleted to not feel the need to participate. But also, turn off your devices at times you want to feel at ease. Go sit somewhere where there are no devices if that helps you.
But whatever you do, don’t think you are not affected by this.