Have you ever found yourself getting more and more busy doing what you love, but you feel that very thing is causing you anxiety?
A number of years ago I found myself arriving at the gates of a Buddhist temple just outside Bangkok on an island called Koh Si Chang.
The purpose of my trip was twofold.
- I want to deepen my understanding of meditation.
- I saw this as an opportunity to help overcome this constant overwhelming feeling of anxiety that was impacting my life.
When you arrive at such a place as a Buddhist Temple you are required to sit with the head monks and explain why you came and what you hope to achieve during your stay.
I clearly remember nervously explaining how my life was chaotic and very busy.
At the time I had a thriving personal training business that kept on growing. More and more people were seeking my services and I just didn’t know how to say no.
The result of trying to fit everyone in made me feel as if I had no time to enjoy life. I had this constant sense of overwhelm and anxiety that plagued my life 24/7.
The monks listened intently and their response caught me off guard.
They asked if I was greedy.
At the time I didn’t understand what they meant. I had never seen myself as a greedy person.
I felt judged and confused until I came to terms with what the word “greed” means from a Buddhist perspective.
Understanding the meaning of greed
“Greed is the salty water consumed by those who thirst for self-centered gratification. This kind of thirst can never be quenched and becomes the source of increasing torment.”—Matthieu Ricard
Within Buddhism the term “greed” has a very distinct difference from what we perceive in Western cultures.
Their contextual meaning describes the very human tendency of striving for more of what we want or as “never having enough.”
In an article on this very subject they suggest: “human beings have a tendency to attach themselves to “things” – sometimes material objects, sometimes “possessions” like prestige or reputation”.
Greed denotes our selfishness, desire, attachment, and grasping for happiness and satisfaction from things outside of ourselves.
This relentless pursuit of more disrupts the tranquility and contentment necessary for human happiness causing anxiety.
Our behaviours are influenced by unwholesome roots buried deep in our mind.
We can experience the symptoms of our greed appearing in even the most trivial of situations. We can typically see this play out a number of ways in our lives:
- We want to get done today everything on our to-do list
- We want to take on more clients or projects
- We want to say “Yes” to everyone else’s requests, even if we know we’re already too full
So what can we do about this predisposition called greed?
Finding a solution to the problem of greed
Gaining a wiser understanding of greed can prove to be positive and empowering when we can clearly see and feel the factors that are causing the confusion, unhappiness, and suffering in our lives.
With this clarity and insight, we can then make the choice to eliminate those factors!
So if we consider my situation, my suffering came about from not setting healthy boundaries. But was that problem caused because I didn’t know how to say no or because I didn’t want to say no?
Is it a need or a desire?
The gap between desire and need is very small and reminds me of a great story:
A rich businessman was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat.
“Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he asked.
“Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” said the fisherman.
“Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?” the rich man asked.
“What would I do with them?”
“You could earn more money,” said the businessman, “and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you’d have a fleet of boats and be rich like me.”
The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?”
“You could sit down and enjoy life,” said the businessman.
“What do you think I’m doing now?” the fisherman replied.
The guaranteed antidote to combat the need for more!
Indulging in this relentless hunger for more will never satisfy our craving. It just creates a greater wanting for more.
More! More! More money, more stuff.
With that wanting comes a build-up of tension. A sense of overwhelm and a feeling of panic in the form of anxiety.
Is there a solution to overcome this inclination?
For every poison or problem, the Buddha gave an antidote or solution. He offered ways to turn around unwholesome mental attitudes that would benefit ourselves and others.
From a Buddhist perspective the customary approach to combat greed comes in the form of generosity.
To be generous is to be liberal in giving.
In one sense generosity may be seen as giving money or things to people who might need it. However that’s just one form of generosity.
To gain a greater appreciation and clarity around what it means to be generous consider these words by Norwegian-born, American Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal:
“Generosity is not limited to the giving of material things. We can be generous with our kindness and our receptivity. Generosity can mean the simple giving of a smile or extending ourselves to really listen to a friend. Paradoxically, even being willing to receive the generosity of others can be a form of generosity.”
The Practice of Generosity
One of the reasons generosity is so effective in overcoming greed is that it makes us aware of the needs of others. When I’m greedy, I’m thinking only of myself; when I’m generous, I’m thinking of others.
Generosity can be practiced in many ways.
It could be the way we turn our attention away from our own selfish needs and turn our attention 100% on others around us.
A good example from own life if my mourning rituals.
I have a tendency to do a number of things to get my day started.
One of these things involves spending time reading. However, what regularly happens without fail, to disrupt the process, is my wife’s timely need for a chat.
I’ve learnt overtime that resisting is fruitless. I’m better served being generous and giving my 100% focus to my wife.
It becomes a win/win. She feels valued and I do not get frustrated trying to read when it’s virtually impossible to do so.
How to let go of greed in favour of generosity
In a white paper by Greater Good Science Center called “The science of Generosity” they looked in-depth at the art of giving.
A growing body of evidence suggests acts of generosity relate directly to reducing psychological problems and boosting subjective well-being.
In short, people who give are generally happier in life.
If we can open the tight fist of greed, the hand of generosity will always be revealed.
This practice can be applied to all of the types of greed mentioned before — wanting to do everything, read everything, and say yes to everything.
So how can we learn to overcome the greed tendency in favour of generosity as our go to ever time?
The 5 step process:
Step 1- Identify the craving: Recognize that your greed tendency is starting to raise its ugly head. Notice your tendency to want more and more. Creating awareness around this creates the opportunity to change things.
Step 2- See the consequences: Acknowledge the effects of the greed tendency that is impacting your life. It may be causing you to feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious trying to get more things done. Indulging might satisfy a temporary itch, however it’s not a habit that leads to long-term happiness or contentment.
Step 3-Practice non-indulgence: Notice the craving to indulge in greed and consciously choose to actively not participate in chasing more. Notice how the craving feels in our body as an emotion or sensation. Become the observer of the stories you are mentally telling yourself.
Step 4- Bring attention to being generous: Rather than trying to do more and more, choose to be present and bring your attention to just one thing. Preferably, choose something that’s important and meaningful, that will have an impact on the lives of others, even if only in a small way. Let this be an act of generosity for others. Let go of everything else, just for a few minutes, and be completely with this one thing. Generously give it your full attention. If someone needs your attention stop what you are doing and give them 100% of you.
Step 5- Work with the resistance: You have become conditioned to do more and more, therefore make sure you adopt an open awareness around the inevitable feeling of resistance and wanting to rush and do more than just one thing. There will be a distinct feeling of disdain or dislike that will diminish with time and practice.
Take away message
Greed demands satisfaction by driving us to continually gain more.
This constant craving or desire comes with a health warning.
We need to let go of our greed tendencies, let go of whatever you’re clinging to (having it all, doing it all), let go of the urge to rush.
Whenever there’s a tendency towards greed it’s so important to our well-being we choose to counter with an approach of generosity.
What’s your experience of greed and generosity?
Is this an area of your life you struggle with?