Chapter 1 Embrace Hunger
I will inspire myself to never be satisfied with superficiality and always hunger for depth.
Everything in today's culture seems designed to satisfy some urge or whim. After all, Americans are called consumers for a reason. For us, consumption has become a religion, indulgence a new god. Yet how strange that half of the population seems prepared to squander everything important in the pursuit of material success, while the rest are content to gorge themselves on junk food in front of reality television. At issue is the most basic urge of all: hunger.
Simply stated, Americans will do anything to avoid being hungry. We hunger in order to eat. We hunger in order to become satiated. We focus on feeding our lesser desires. Yet we reject hunger as a state of being.
As a result, we lose our appetite for more important things. We spend our money on ephemeral objects that bring us instant but not lasting joy. We squander so much of our valuable time on activities such as television and Internet browsing that serve no real higher purpose. We are rarely content in our larger lives, but rather than address our discontent we simply stuff ourselves full of junk that temporarily masks our deeper cravings.
Dennis was married to Shirley for eleven years. They lived in Toronto, but Dennis spent the weekdays in Montreal, where he ran his own business. One day Dennis's secretary came into the office with a black eye. Her husband had hit her. Dennis sprang into rescuer mode, counseling the woman, persuading her to break up with her husband, and helping her move into a new apartment with her kids. It wasn't long before Dennis and his secretary developed deep feelings for each other. An affair ensued, and Dennis was living a double life with a new family in Montreal.
When Shirley found out, she went ballistic. After calming her down, I said to Dennis, "There is no merit in saving one family while destroying another. You chose to rescue a woman while hurting your wife. You have to cut off the relationship." He said me, "But I care about her. I can't just get rid of her."
Then I had to explain to him, "I'm sorry, Dennis, but you just don't know yourself. You lost your hunger to be a hero to your own family and to achieve one of the greatest accomplishments a man is capable of, namely, to raise a stable and loving family after emerging from an unstable and broken one. Instead, you decided to play the great Hollywood hero who rescues a damsel in distress. You lost your deeper, lifelong desire to have a positive effect with your life, and in the process, you created deep pain for two families."
Dennis took my words to heart. He told his secretary he was sorry for the mistakes he had made but that he could no longer stay in touch with her. He paid a few months of her rent and cut himself off from her. As of this writing, he and his wife, who has forgiven him, are still struggling to save their marriage.
Our culture may tell you to indulge and satisfy your cravings, but I have a very different message: we all need to embrace hunger. Not every attraction a man or woman has is meant to be indulged, and not every item we see on sale at the department store is meant to be bought.
Admit the truth to yourself sincerely and seriously in deep self-talk. Consult your inner voice of inspiration, which motivates you to be more than you are and calls you to greater things. Then speak aloud,
I'm looking at my life, and I'm wondering why I find it so difficult to be disciplined. I'm not at the weight I want to be. I live outside my means. My kids' lives are passing me by, and I'm too busy watching TV to pay attention. I love my spouse, but we could be a lot closer. We don't speak as much as we used to. Our conversations are about all of the practical stuff and never about romance. In fact, the practical things seem to be taking over my life completely.
I have to stop rushing to fi ll every need. I have to recognize that desire is the essential engine of my life, and by immediately satiating every need, I not only expend my precious resources, but I also lose the capacity to want.
I have to learn to embrace hunger.
Hunger is so much a part of our everyday lives. To seek out its roots, we must return to the first and most profound story of the Bible.
In Eden, Adam and Eve live in a beautiful garden. They have youth and health, and, best of all, they have each other. But then, in a climactic moment, everything changes.
A serpent approaches Eve and tantalizes her with a morsel of fruit she is not permitted to eat. If she would only take a bite, it hisses, the fruit would bestow on her knowledge she never knew she lacked, satisfying desires she never guessed she had. Tragically, Eve takes the bait.
So, what is this fruit (so often presented as an apple, although it was probably a fig)? It symbolizes all of the pleasures in life that are outside our reach: the dress we can't afford, the vacation that is too expensive for our family budget, the woman whom you're not married to who is off-limits. Yet it's more than that. It also represents the mistake of trying to live other people's lives. It's the envy you feel when watching Entertainment Tonight. It's the voice of jealousy that whispers to you when you read People magazine and see the house where Lady Gaga lives or the plane John Travolta flies. It's the thought in your head that says, "Why can't I have that? Without it, my life is so incomplete."
The fruit is always something outside your reach.
The serpent, on the other hand, represents a new and dangerous form of insatiable hunger. He points out Adam and Eve's deficiencies, making them feel incomplete and inadequate. Thanks to him, for the first time Adam and Eve have to look for material objects to fill the void.
After the serpent dangles that apple in front of Eve, all of her satisfaction with life turns to despair. She becomes fixated on satisfying her urges. Eve moves away from ordinary human hunger, and indulgence becomes the order of the day. Unrequited desire is now consuming her, and all she can think about is satisfying her lust.
I once counseled a wealthy businessman named Jeremy who was loyal to his wife but felt that he suffered from never-ending lust. "You don't know what sacrifices I make to be faithful," he said to me. "There are so many women. So many. And they're interested in me, flirt with me, and make it known that they're available. I suffer so much."
I told him that I found it fascinating that he found hunger to be a form of suffering. "Isn't the whole reason you're successful because you hunger? While others are satisfied with a nine-to-five job, your hunger for great success led you to be an entrepreneur. And while others would have been satisfied starting one successful business, you sold that one and started another. Now you're telling me that hungering for women is something that is supposed to be indulged and the only reason you don't is that you don't want to cheat on your wife. On the contrary, this lust you have for the feminine is supposed to be redirected toward your beautiful wife so that you never get bored in your marriage. You simply have to learn how to harness hunger in your marriage."
The story of Eve and the serpent began an endless historical cycle of consumption in human history, with people rejecting the urge to hunger. Humanity, after being evicted from the Garden, pursued a path of sensual indulgence, forever seeking to satisfy every desire, to indulge every whim. From Alexander the Great to Napoleon to so many in between, humanity has demonstrated that even all of the earth is not enough to satisfy their hunger. And now, as we consume all of the oil, coal, and mineral wealth the world has to offer, we are demonstrating
that our never-ending quest for complete satiation knows no bounds.
We should know better. We're not supposed to fill ourselves with every last material object until we are stuffed to the brim. And we're not supposed to have sex with every available partner until we've lost the capacity to share true intimacy. Everyone knows this innately, even if we often choose to satiate ourselves rather than act on that knowledge.
Yet here's the part that will surprise you: give the serpent his due. That's right. Even the serpent has seeds of holiness. He is tappinginto a genuine human need. He understands that the real enemy ofhumankind is complacency. He knows that human beings dare notstagnate. Their curiosity, their desire to expand, to want, to know,their essential unrequited desire is their greatest strength. By offeringup a forbidden treat, he taps into a genuine human need, twistingit just enough to catch us off guard.
Hunger is not only real, it's an essential and natural impulse. The serpent's true genius was tricking Eve into thinking that hunger was merely an itch to be scratched. The serpent convinced Eve that her goal in life should be to expand herself horizontally. His voice--which is identical to society's voice today--whispered in her ear, "You want more possessions, more success, more fame. More sexual conquests."
Does it never occur to us that perhaps hunger is meant to linger in perpetuity? That maybe hunger exists to push us to rise to greater heights and achieve ever-greater things? What if we get hungry in order to expand not horizontally, but vertically? To become wiser, to go ever deeper, to lift ourselves higher? The truth is that we are supposed to hunger in life in these ways, not merely satiate ourselves. I hold that satisfying ourselves is precisely what we should not be doing. Instead, we should all embrace our hunger for greater things.
The first step to taking back hunger is looking in the mirror and using your inner voice of inspiration to conduct an unflinchingly honest self-talk. As you gaze at yourself, speak the truth and say,
From the stuff I eat that's not healthy for me, to all of the Sundays spent at shopping malls rather than at a park or on a hike, to all of the stupid, mind-numbing TV I watch, which prevents me from ever having a proper conversation with my spouse, I've got to stop filling my life up with junk.
True as it is of my appetite for food, it applies to my marriage as well. I used to have such a deep sexual hunger for my spouse. Now, whenever I feel a sexual need, I immediately satisfy it with quickie sex that fulfills neither of us. The same is true with masturbation, which I recognize is nothing more than a means to simply purge sexual desire within me. I have to learn, when I'm feeling lustful, to sometimes just hug my spouse and fall asleep in his/her arms. To delay physical gratification so that its steam can build and we can then have the magic of lust restored to our marriage as the Tantric masters have taught [about which I write a great deal in my book The Kosher Sutra].
It's not easy to say this to yourself, but in doing so, you're using your inner voice of inspiration to silence the ceaseless voices in modern culture that urge you to spend as if there is no end, shop till you drop, and watch TV until you pass out.
It is but the first step on your journey to letting your inner voice be the guide to a new and ravenous hunger for greater things.
In this country, it seems we've found a perfect cocktail of unhealthy remedies for human hunger--whether it's Hollywood fiction, so that we always live in someone else's story; whether it's pornography, so that we get to have a sexual climax without sexual intimacy; or whether, as seems to happen most frequently of all, it turns out to be food.
So many Americans gorge themselves on potato chips, desserts, and fast foods of all kinds (at times, I, too, am one of those Americans). Of the many examples of the phenomenon of denying hunger that I can give, overeating is the most straightforward and yet the most profound. America rejects hunger--and we have the expanding waistlines to prove it.
When you find yourself opening the refrigerator one too many times, you need to ask yourself a question: "Am I a person who resorts to self-indulgence every time I sense that my belly isn't quite full? Or do I have the potential to be something better, someone with the willpower and the wherewithal to resist my urges?" Answer from the heart: "I refuse to satiate myself with comfort food; my life could amount to so much more if I redirected my hunger toward greater things!"
For many people, the impulse to gorge themselves springs from unsatisfied emotional hunger within. I once counseled a man named Timothy. He and his wife, Laura, had three children and were living a happy life. But there was a catch. Laura had grown up in a financially strapped household and couldn't face living in poverty again. During the economic downturn, Timothy lost his job, and Laura flipped. She said, "You know what? I'm sorry, I know this is wrong, but this is not what I signed up for. I can't do this." And she left him. She was a pretty, charismatic woman looking for a guy with means, and soon enough she found one. The guy had no children, but he loved kids, and it wasn't long before she had moved in, and all of her children started calling him Dad!
As you can imagine, Timothy was crushed. After Laura left, he put on a significant amount of weight. When I went to counsel him, he was large--very large. He told me, "I hate the way I look, I hate myself, I'm miserable, and it's all because my kids are calling some other guy Dad . . . I feel like there's nothing left for me."
Obviously, he was eating to bury his pain. Yet above all else, he had lost touch with his real appetite. Like all men and women, Timothy had a hunger to be important, to be necessary to the world and especially to his own children. When that hunger was left unattended, he papered over the void with a shallower consumption. What else can we expect from a culture that fi nds it easier to satisfy hunger with unhealthy distractions than to embrace that hunger and the yearning for something deeper?
All men and women hunger to be necessary. The great Jewish thinker Maimonides distinguished between a contingent, inessential existence and a necessary existence. We all yearn for the latter. But Timothy was necessary to no one. He used to support his wife and children. He used to come home and his children would throw their arms around him. Now someone else was acting like a father to them. Timothy had been replaced utterly. So he transformed that hunger into a literal hunger. This is precisely why we must explore the essential difference between horizontal and vertical hunger, lest we fall into the trap that ensnared Timothy's appetite.
We all hunger; that fact of life will never change. The question is for what, and whether we do so vertically or horizontally. The quintessential posture of the dead is horizontal. The dead and the sleeping are the only humans who don't hunger. And animals hunger only for that which is below them; their posture makes them look at the ground. When humans are alive and awake, however, our natural posture is vertical. We look to the heavens. We're supposed to indulge our hunger in the quest for wisdom, understanding the secrets of ourselves and of the universe, going deeper into our own souls, our minds, and our God.
The best example of a collision between the two hungers is found in the story of Alexander the Great and Diogenes the Cynic. Alexander was the archetype of those who hunger horizontally. After a childhood in which his philandering father, Phillip II, left his mother for another woman, Alexander was forced to grow up in competition with his half siblings. As a young man, he was plagued with tremendous insecurities and was determined to prove himself. He acquired an insatiable hunger for power and fame. All of the earth was not enough to sate his horizontal lust. As a military leader, he became the model for every other power-hungry man who followed him--Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon. No wonder: Alexander was the first to conquer the world on horseback.
It is said that when Alexander heard that the philosopher Diogenes was the smartest person in the world, he decided he must meet the man. So he went to Corinth, where Diogenes was contemplating his theories as he lay in the sun. Alexander stood over him and said, "I am Alexander, conqueror of worlds; put forward your request and it shall be done." Diogenes squinted up at him, shook his head, and said, "Just get out of my light."
What Diogenes was really saying to Alexander was: "What could you possibly do for me? You live in a different realm. Yours is a horizontal modality. But mine is purely vertical. I yearn for deep thought, philosophy, books, and wisdom. I'm not so insecure that I need anything from you. So just get out of my light. I'm trying to ascend vertically; I'm trying to think here! I'm fathoming universes while you have this petty conversation with me."
It's crucial to maintain Diogenes' vertical hunger in your life. If you engage your inner voice of inspiration, it will remind you of the time when you still heeded that vertical hunger. Start a self-talk to remind yourself and say,
I remember how much hungrier I was as a child. I felt so curious about everything around me. I used to ask so many questions. From the shape of clouds to the animals and plants, all things were engaging.
I remember how much I loved reading books. I remember looking out the car window as my family took long drives. I found the trees and the leaves endlessly fascinating.
My own children still have this hunger. They ask so many questions, but I deflect them with trite nonsense. I find their questions tiresome and intrusive. It's a pain. It seems that all I want is for them to be quiet so I can make a phone call in the car, listen to the radio, or watch my favorite TV show.
It's clear that I've lost my intellectual and emotional hunger. It's been so long since I went to a great class, read a challenging book, or had a deep conversation with my spouse about the direction and purpose of my life. Even when I go to synagogue or church, it seems perfunctory. I'm discharging an obligation, rather than hungering to really connect with God. I'm allowing my mind to rot.
It's time to change my life's course. I will choose a vertical hunger over a horizontal hunger.
It's truly admirable to make this declaration--but it is, nonetheless,one of many self-talks you must have. There are still other appetitesthat you must confront, and the next one may hit you rightwhere it hurts the most: your pocketbook.
In our lives today, it seems the only thing we really care about is cash-- how much we're making, what we're buying with it, and when we can get more. Yet when it comes to things that really matter, we make do with so little. We're okay going through life with little knowledge of the history that defines us. We're okay working nine-to-five jobs that neither bring out our best qualities nor force us to take risks. We're even okay with marriages where sex happens at best once a week for no more than ten minutes. Hey, at least we're still having it, right? And if we sense a void inside us, a feeling that we are somehow unfulfilled, what better solution than to head for the mall for a little retail therapy?
It is all too easy to be deceived by the voice of our consumerist culture. Magazines, television, advertisements--all of them barrage us, urging us to buy expensive clothes, acquire meaningless objects, and spend our money as soon as we get it. Materialism is truly one of our society's most dangerous hungers. Left unchecked, it can wreck our lives.
I have found that this kind of profligacy is often a substitution for another hunger. I once met a woman named Natalie who was desperate for affection from her husband, Mark. He loved his kids, but he never really played with them, nor did he put in any time with them. Similarly, he said he loved Natalie, but he never showed it. They never had real conversations. He was always at a distance, and her hunger for intimacy, for a deep and fulfilling connection with a soul mate, was left to languish unfulfilled.
How did Natalie respond? By spending crazy amounts of money. When she bought a new handbag, it would literally make her happy for days. She'd show it to everyone and talk about little else, saying bluntly, "This is what makes me happy." My response was that this sort of thing is what makes kids happy! If you give a child a trinket, the child is temporarily satisfied. That isn't and shouldn't be true for adults. And yet, to a great extent, our inability to hunger properly has made us all into children.
We all know people like Natalie. Some of us may even recognize her characteristics in ourselves. If we are to advance in life and convert our baser impulses into greater things, we must interrogate ourselves, taking on our inner voice in fierce debate. Ask yourself:
Where did my hunger go? As soon as there is money in my pocket, I've already spent it--and on what? Nothing of value. My problem seems to be that I no longer hunger for a better life. The petty, short-term satisfaction of material goods has served to keep me distracted from the legitimate hungers I have neglected. I have become all too complacent.
In place of self-development, it seems that I hunger only for information about other people. I have become a Facebook addict, constantly searching out other people's updates.
I devour People magazine and Us Weekly to find out what Angelina Jolie wore to the Oscars.
I no longer hunger to read classic literature, to understand what's going on in the world, to discipline myself and become a better person. I'm ashamed to admit that my hunger to raise wonderful children has dwindled as well--all I am left with is a compulsion to satiate myself with material goods, comfort food, and short-term stimulation. Well, no more. I intend to embrace hunger anew.
Instead of throwing my money away on material things, I'm going to make something of it. I'm going to embrace hunger, save, and even give to charity when I can. The way that I spend will be one more opportunity to change the course of my life.
Our lives are nothing but a short span of time. And if we spend tons of time earning money that we simply throw away, then we're throwing away part of our potential.
A friend of mine named Tom is an incredibly humble man who happens to be a hedge fund manager making hundreds of millions of dollars every year. He could easily throw in the towel and kick back on a tropical island for the rest of his life. But not Tom.
I once asked him, "What motivates you to keep working? Don't you already have it all?" His response was that when he gets to the office every morning, there are already thirty messages waiting for him from charities, requesting that he contribute. He shook his head, saying, "If I made thirty billion dollars, it still wouldn't be enough." And so, Tom works and works and gives and gives. He has enough money to live comfortably, and then he gives away more than a third of what he makes. His hunger is always there.
It only stands to reason: once you have it all, what is there left to hunger for? Say you have the Maybach, the yacht, the private plane, the mansion, and a harem of pretty girls--what's left to live for? That's when people start turning to drugs, because nothing in life can satisfy them anymore.
Keep Tom's hunger to give in the back of your mind, and act in kind. Spend your money on things of real, lasting value--and save the rest. If you do so, your hunger will never burn out.
Perhaps the most important relationship in your life is that between you and your spouse--and hunger is absolutely necessary to keep that connection alive. I maintain that the death of marriage is nothing more than the loss of hunger. Yet even when the spark of love in a marriage seems to have been extinguished, all that some couples need is a little push to renew their hunger for each other.
Don and Stacy had been married for about eleven years when they came to see me. Don had lost all hunger for his wife. He thought their conversations had become boring, and he claimed that she was much more interested in the children than in him. Clearly, something needed to wake him up. So, in front of Don, I asked Stacy, "Are you lonely in your marriage?"
"Desperately," she said.
"How long have you been lonely?"
"Probably two to three years."
As Don sat uncomfortably next to her, I told her, "There's not a man alive who can't spot a lonely wife from far away. Male astronauts can spot them from space. So let me ask you this: is there a man who's been showing you a lot of attention?"
At this, she froze up. "I can't really discuss this in front of my husband." Yet after I asked again, she finally admitted, "Well, there is a guy at work, but it's completely innocent between us. We talk, we giggle, he tells me about the things I missed on TV the night before because I was taking care of the kids. What's so wrong with that?"
"Have you ever felt sexually attracted to this man? Have you ever fantasized about him sexually?" About three minutes passed in silence before she nodded her head. "How often?"
"Not that often," she said. "Maybe two or three times."
Here's the interesting thing, though: her husband was originally devastated by the prospect of a new man in her life. But in the long term, this discovery reawakened his interest, albeit in a very painful way. It kindled in him a new hunger for her.
So, why didn't he hunger for her in the first place? Well, as far as he was concerned, she had become monolithic. She was nothing but a cook and a cleaner, seemingly uninterested in sex or in intellectual pursuits of any kind. He couldn't follow her through her transition from woman to wife, wife to mom. When he discovered that he actually knew nothing about her, his curiosity was completely reawakened. It came in a painful way, but eroticism and pain are inextricably linked.
If you engage your inner voice of inspiration in a serious bout of self-talk, you will admit the truth about your own life. Say to yourself,
When my spouse and I first dated, I wanted to know everything about her/him. We talked and talked, and we never got bored. I was so hungry that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this person. I could never have enough.
Now that hunger has been stymied by the endless noise of the TV. And in the bedroom, no less. I watch so late into the night that I wake up tired most mornings. I have to admit it, I'm an addict. I'll watch things that I'm not really even interested in. I'll channel surf through endless coma-inducing programs. I find it soothing. It makes me forget my responsibilities and problems. It fills the emptiness. Yes, it quenches my hunger.
But I now understand--hunger is crucial to our relationship, and I must commit myself to finding it anew. The survival of my marriage hangs in the balance.
It's not only you--our entire society seems to array its forces to stamp out hunger in marriage. In 2003, a woman from Texas named Joanne was hosting "passion parties," gatherings where she gave sex advice, offered up lingerie, and generally counseled other women from her church. The result: she was kicked out of her church and arrested for indecency. I thought this was utterly ridiculous; what could be wrong with advocating for husbands and wives to have a
deeper sexual connection?
I invited Joanne onto my radio show to discuss her story. To represent the opposing viewpoint, I invited my friend the Reverend Flip Benham from Operation Rescue to comment.
I asked Flip, "What did Joanne do wrong?"
Flip jumped in--"Shmuley, she was trying to make men objectify and lust after their wives."
I was shocked. "Flip," I said, "are you seriously suggesting that you don't lust after your own wife?"
He demurred, "Absolutely not. I would never turn my wife into an object. I feel sorry for your wife, Shmuley. You've made her into an object." In response, I asked him if he knew the tenth commandment. "Of course I do," he told me. "It's 'thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.' "
"This is exactly my point. The tenth commandment is telling us that the right thing to do is not to lust after other men's wives--but to lust after your own wife. If the commandment meant for you to do otherwise, it would have asked you not to lust after any woman at all. Lusting after your wife is not only natural but necessary and condoned by God Himself. Lust and hunger in marriage are holy."
Naturally, there should be contentment in marriage and intimacy as well. But no marriage can survive without passion, which is the opposite of contentment.
To save your marriage, you need to come up with ways to create hunger for your spouse. Sometimes, sexual separation is the key. In the Jewish religion, a married couple separates sexually for the five days of menstruation and the seven days afterward. This period is called Niddah. The principal reason? So that there will be hunger. Instead of instantaneously satisfying our desires, we should instead build a dam against them. Relationship experts call it "the erotic obstacle," something I wrote about extensively in my book The Kosher Sutra. If we do this, our hunger can build up until it overcomes the dam like a river in flood. This is the essence of embracing hunger and a crucial step in preserving the erotic spark in your relationship.
So, strike up a self-talk and admit the truth by saying to yourself:
I want to embrace hunger and learn to lust after my spouse again. We love each other, but I freely admit that the lust is gone.There was a time when we couldn't keep our hands off eachother, when every inch of our bodies and our being was terrainfor endless exploration. Now we both get into bed at night, andit's barely a minute before either the TV is blaring or one of usis asleep. The direct consequence is that so much of the excitementin our lives has been lost. And maybe that's why we watchso much TV in the bedroom, to fill the void of monotony andboredom.
One of the first things I'll do to embrace hunger in my marriage is get the TV out of the bedroom. Our bedroom is too private, too intimate, to be invaded by external forces. My connection with my spouse is too precious, too important, to be overtaken by artificial entertainment.
I'm going to elevate the level of conversation between me and my spouse. From now on, 10 p.m. and afterward will be a function-free zone in our relationship. Nothing practical will be discussed--only the emotional and the intellectual. I want to ask my spouse whether he/she is satisfied with our life, what dreams we still have to explore, and what he/she thinks life has taught us during the last year. My marriage is too holy, our connection too deep and spiritual, for me to be satisfied with it as a mere partnership.
And in the process of learning to explore my spouse anew, I'll make a real effort to get know him/her on a deeper level. I'm going to find a place in his/her mind, penetrate his/her heart, and discover my spouse anew.
If you are vertically hungry and guided by your inner voice of inspiration, you will always be fulfilled by enriching your life with new relationships, experiences, ideas, and books. If you have vertical emptiness, you will seek horizontal happiness, and you will never be full.
If we embrace hunger, we will not feel as if we have to satisfy every yearning and every lust. A married man who lusts after a stranger is supposed to keep on hungering, rather than seek to satisfy an illicit urge. It is precisely this hunger that will lead him back to his wife. A child who is given three meals a day is not supposed to snack in between. Keeping him from obesity means teaching him to embrace hunger. Not every urge exists to be satisfied, and not every whim is meant to be indulged. On the contrary, the more we embrace hunger, the higher we will eventually reach. But the more we focus on satisfying our lust, the less frequently that lust will propel us to achieve our goals. So let hunger retake its place of prominence in our lives, and we can rekindle the greatest vertical hunger of all: the hunger for spirituality.
If you ask your inner voice, it will answer. Say to yourself,
When I was a child, I always wondered about God. Where was He? How big was He? And did He really care about all of His human children? I want to rediscover that Godly hunger. I want more of God in my life, because I recognize that God is the source of all real hunger. That in His infinite expansiveness He affords an endless journey. That the real source of all true longing is the human desire to attach ourselves to something infinite.
I know that to hunger for God, I have to hunger for more of His revealed truth. I have to start reading the Bible on a regular basis. I remember reading how Abraham Lincoln, at the height of the Civil War, turned to the pages of the Bible on a daily basis for inspiration when it seemed that his cause was lost. I know that hungering for God also means giving more to charity and spending less money on myself, giving at least 5 and hopefully even 10 percent of my annual income to the needy. The more I hunger to make an impact in the lives of others, the less content I will be with satisfying only my needs.
Furthermore, I can't kindle this hunger alone. I will commit myself to seeking expert guidance in my path back to God. I will return to church/synagogue, no matter how long it's been since I last attended. They will be happy to receive me again and delighted to assist me in the service of my insatiable spiritual hunger. I will enroll myself in Bible study groups and classes on the great religious texts. Every new step will make me ever hungrier for spiritual fulfillment.
And, in the end, all of these hungers will lead me back to love, because God is love.
If you listen closely to the voice of inspiration, it will tell you:
I have lived long enough to know that there is nothing in life so special as love. To love and be loved. To give love and receive love. I recognize that I am the product of a wayward culture that substitutes people's hunger for love with a hunger for things. It claims that objects, rather than people, bring real satisfaction--that a man can be on his fifth marriage, but if he owns a private jet and a yacht he is still called a success and others seek to emulate him. I will never make the same mistake.
I remember so well what Victor Frankl said about love in his moving classic Man's Search for Meaning. Writing about the hopelessness he felt as an inmate in Auschwitz, he suddenly thought of his wife and was redeemed.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life l saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth--that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an honorable way--in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.
I, too, wish to know that glory. I, too, wish to rediscover love. Say to yourself,
Yes, I will embrace hunger. I'm too young and my potential is too precious to allow my life to pass me by without really living. I realize that those who do not hunger are as the dead. And I refuse to allow my existence to become like that of the living dead.
I will no longer be satisfied with the superficial objects that my culture puts before me as objects of desire. Yes, I want money, and yes, I want professional achievements. As with anyone, recognition is important to me. But much more important is the lifelong quest for meaning and purpose. And I now understand that it is a journey without end. Hunger is a positive and perpetual state.
I want to be intellectually curious. And I know that real intellectual hunger is also a lifelong pursuit. The oracle at Delphi said that Socrates was the wisest of all men because he was the only one who knew that he did not know. And Kabbalah's principal text, the Zohar, says that real knowledge is coming to the realization of what you cannot know. I want to peer into the infinite, into the endless expanse of the unknowable, so that my hunger remains utterly unsatisfied and my thirst utterly unquenched.
Over and over, say to yourself, "Through learning to hunger again, I will be born anew."
To develop a personalized relationship with your inner voice of inspiration, ask yourself the following questions. Respond to them, and let the answers guide you on self-talks of your own devising.
Am I satisfied with superficial responses to things? When my kids ask me questions, do I blow them off, or do I stoke our collective hunger for knowledge?
Do I read? Could I read more, attend lectures or cultural events, or engage my friends and my spouse in conversations about the deeper currents in our lives and in our culture?
When I watch the news or read the paper, do I simply take note of what is happening, or do I ask myself why things are the way they are and investigate further?
Do I eat constantly whenever I get the urge? Do I have quickie sex with my spouse that squelches my appetite but also diminishes our connection?
In sum, am I consulting with my inner voice of inspiration to change my behavior, and am I truly embracing hunger?
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