My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. – Psalm 130:6
Can’t get no, (da da daaa), Satisfaction … – Mick Jagger
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what was promised – Hebrews 11:39
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope. – Reinhold Niebuhr
It’s a universal human feeling to experience lack. Need, hunger, fullfillment, emptiness, desire; these are the drivers which push life onwards. Whether it is a basic drive like hunger, the persistent emotional pull of needing affirmation, the gnawing of unrequited love, or a lifelong vision for a noble truth such as justice, our lives are shaped by what draws us onwards.
What is the “opposite” of life: is it lack? Most people seem to think so. The prevailing view, at lest that perpetrated by the media and the commercial interests it represents, is that in order to experience “life” you need more. More things, more money, more time, more choice. Craving is specifically created by the materialist establishment.
This is largely via sexual desire, as a world weary Joni Mitchell remarked “Sex sells everything, sex kills”. However to target sexuality as the problem will miss the fact that it is part of an overarching materialist “purpose”. This is the battle waged by the corporate powers for the hearts and minds of consumers. It offers a vision of power, independence and wealth, together with the illusion of sustainability and immortality. It is the battle for short term profit at any cost, the cost, not least, of the Planet, and also dignity, and ultimately our hearts, for “what does it profit to gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”.
I have been moving towards the view, however, that the real opposite of life might just be the lack of lack. Firstly, too much of anything does not give satisfaction, but satiation. Eating too much of a great meal, for example.
And secondly, if we never experience lack, we will not have the space in which to appreciate what we do have, and to understand our drives so as to make choices that will sustain us. The space created by longing is a very pregnant one.
One of the key things to grasp regarding any lack concerns the “time to fulfillment” of that lack. A rule of thumb here is that the shorter the time to fulfillment, the less appropriate, or worthy, that lack is, to life.
To get to the synonyms proposed at the start, short term lack, we can call craving. And long term lack, longing (or yearning). It is no semantic co-incidence that longing describes the long term.
Examples of craving are drink, and food. Other examples include a variety of addictions: alcohol, sex, drugs, television. It is obvious that the cycle between need and fulfillment is short, only a number of hours in some cases.
A satiated society does not yearn, it craves. Over stimulation, over consumption drive out the space inhabited by Spirit.
In Maslow’s well known “Triangle of Needs”, he describes a continuum from the more basic Deficiency needs: Physiological (water, air, food), then Safety (security, health), then Love/Belonging (friendship, intimacy, family), then Esteem (respect and self respect); through to the Growth needs; Self-actualization (the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their unique abilities and to strive to be the best they can be) and Self-Transcendence (Spiritual).
What is clear from this analysis is that the “lower”, or deficiency needs, can be filled quickly, and will appear again just as quickly. The “higher” needs can go unnoticed for most of our lives, and can take our lives to fulfill.
What of longing? Without getting technical by setting up some sort of rule about where craving stops and longing begins, let us rather observe that the longest longing extends beyond death, bringing us into the realm of the eternal. Obviously other longings are intermediate, the dream to start a business, start a family, take on a big project. Maybe they concern becoming a certain type of person, generous, wise, loving, for example.
A long term drive does not however automatically sanctify that drive. Deep feelings of revenge can swallow up ones whole life, and even be passed down from generation to generation. Institutionalized customs are often tied in closely with religion and tribe. Ongoing enmity between Shias and Sunnis, Catholics and Protestants, Hutu and Tutsi, lead to very deep wounds which are near impossible to extricate. These toxic traditions are possibly harder to escape than any short term addiction.