The Hungry Ghost
This past weekend I was up in Boston helping to facilitate intenSati leadership training. While I’ve helped at previous trainings to various degrees over the last two years, this training was a huge milestone:
For the first time ever – for the first time in a real way that was not contingent upon external circumstances – I said, “I am enough” and I meant it and I believed it.
While it may not seem like much, the story of not-enoughness is something I have carried around since I was six years old. It’s a story I have invested a great deal of time and energy into maintaining and it’s only in the most recent years of my adult life that I’ve been questioning this belief.
This weekend was also incredible powerful because six years ago – to the day, I might add – I was at my intenSati leadership training and the words, “I am enough” were the furthest thing from my mind. I remember being at my training consumed with how I looked and how others saw me. I came to the weekend ready to prove my worth by demonstrating my skills, waiting for the praise to let me know I was somehow enough, thinking the certificate I would receive at the end of the weekend would verify my enoughness. Instead I left that weekend feeling so not enough, questioning how someone like me was even allowed to “pass” training weekend.
I would spend the next six years trying to “find” my sense of enough, hoping the number on the scale or how many people were in class would in some way say, “Hey! Congrats! You’ve finally made it. Now you’re enough and you can go about your life!” But no message ever came. No matter what weight I hit, no matter how packed classes were, it didn’t feed this insatiable desire.
To a greater or lesser degree, we all carry a story of not-enoughness. Whether it’s in our relationships and our belief that we are unlovable as we are – in our careers that we aren’t smart enough or talented enough – in our bodies that we aren’t thin enough or muscular enough – the story of not-enough is the hungry ghost we all live with.
The hungry ghost is a concept from Buddhism and it represents this need within us to seek more – more money, success, love, etc. – because somehow, we aren’t enough as we are. The problem with the hungry ghost, as the name suggests, is that the hungry ghost is always hungry: no matter how much success or love we accumulate, it is never enough.
During this weekend, my teacher, Patricia, was talking about her own struggles as it related to the hungry ghost and what she said stuck me deep:
“The hungry ghost never goes away. There’s always some iteration of it in our lives. Sometimes we repeatedly find it in the same area of our life, usually the one we feel most strongly about. Other times, it will present itself in additional life areas. But, it’s always there and it’s not about getting the hungry ghost to go away. It’s about being with it.”
This was so poignant for me because in some ways I believed that once I got rid of the hungry ghost, once I believed I was enough, the “I am enough” story would be the only one I carried. Each and every time I have thought and believed, “You know what, I am enough”, I secretly thought I had conquered it all and I was done with not feeling good enough. That is, until some outside event would trigger this less-than feeling inside me and I would be right back in my not-enough story. It sounds silly, but I believed if I still had moments of accepting my not-enoughness, even if I had moments of believing I was enough, that I wasn’t “there” yet – as if enough was a place you arrived at and once you got there, a million soldiers surrounded your head and guarded your mind from unwanted thoughts. It was an either-or kind of situation.
But, the idea that I could be enough right now and still have moments of doubting myself – that I am enough right now and will have times when my enoughness is triggered – was eye-opening. It meant I didn’t have to carry around my old story waiting until I got “there”. In fact, it was thinking I had to get to a certain level of enoughness to feel enough that was feeding my hungry ghost.
This weekend I meant it and I believed it when I said, “I am enough”. And it felt so good because it wasn’t contingent upon anything about the weekend. It felt good because I was aligned, I was doing the work I believe I’m meant to do. Not because I need to get anything, but because I get to give something and create impact. That being said, I also had my moments of doubt, thoughts of, “Who are you to be leading this? Look, they’re not even getting it. They’re confused and you don’t know what you’re doing.” But, in those same moments of doubt, I also found myself reframing the situation, “OK. How you’ve done this before isn’t working right now. How else can you break it down? You’re creative and resourceful and you are a great teacher. You can do this”…and I did.
Reframing in the moment isn’t always easy. Trust me I know. When someone else’s class is more packed than mine, the not-enough voice is loud and it’s hard to hear anything else.
The moments where our thoughts of not-enoughness are the loudest, we are being asked to listen.
The voice that’s the loudest just wants to be heard – and there’s power in listening. Only when we acknowledge something does it lose its power over us. By listening to the voice, we say, “I hear you” and we acknowledge the part of us that is scared, angry or upset. When we do that, we can get curious rather than consumed by the thought. The more we push away the difficult thought or uncomfortable feeling, the louder it gets, the hungrier the ghost grows. But, when we listen and lean in, we can examine the fear:
What am I really so afraid of? If I lose my ranking within the company because class sizes at Ardmore are smaller and I’m rebuilding from scratch, is it the end of the world? Does it mean if I’m not ranked 16 or 11 my skills and who I am as a teacher diminishes? If I never get to lead trainings at Life Time is that really the end of my career? Does it mean that I can’t do this work somewhere else?
When we really think about it, when we question our fears, we’ll see that our thoughts are highly exaggerated and quite irrational.
If you don’t lose the 5 lbs, are people going to run off the beach in horror at the sight of you? If you don’t get the promotion will your friends and coworkers stop hanging out with you because they’ll realize you really aren’t talented enough?
What would really happen if you never reached your goal?
That’s a hard one to swallow, right? But, it’s a valuable question to ask so that we can examine the why behind our goals. Even the most well-seeming goals can have not-enoughness lurking below the surface.
What would happen if I never reached my goals?
What would happen if I never became I master trainer at Life Time, or anywhere else? What if I was never able to create my own program? What if I never won artistry and had the most packed classes?
For some of these, like winning artistry, there’s definitely a not-enough ghost lurking below the surface, one that says, “IF I get this, then I AM this”. But, for others, like leading trainings, there’s a stronger why there, one that’s connected to a greater sense of purpose, service and impact. Even more telling for me that this is the right goal to have is the way in which I was able to shift my mindset this weekend. I was able to reframe my mindset so quickly from not-enough to enough because teaching teachers is not about me. It’s about helping others and empowering them to see their greatness. It’s knowing that this is the work I am meant to do. Teaching teachers or not teaching teachers doesn’t mean I am or am not enough. I am enough as I am and when I teach others I get to fully show up in that presence and lead from my heart. And knowing this allows me to sit with my challenges and to examine why I’m not “where” I want to be and why I’m not meeting that goal in certain places in my life. It also allows me to explore other avenues in which I can do the work I am meant to do.
When we feel a sense of connection to a greater purpose than ourselves, we can start to experience gratitude – something I reveled in this weekend. As I looked back six years ago to where I found myself this weekend, I realize just how much I’ve grown. And there’s nothing more healing for the hungry ghost than the natural upwelling of gratitude. Instead of this impoverished feeling that we’re not enough and what we have isn’t enough, we come to appreciate what we do have. This is the turning point.
We can have challenges and find moments of gratitude.
We can experience difficulty and hold the gratitude that all things are impermanent.
We can have moments of feeling not-enough and when we listen, our compassion opens the door for healing and it’s there that we’ll find a deep sense of gratitude for our pain. Our pain and the fear of not-enough is also our source of power and potential.
Gratitude truly opens doors and I’m beyond thrilled to announce that I will be facilitating an intenSati leadership training in Philly in the near future – and I would love for you to be there as the first group I lead through training solo.
During the training weekend, you’ll experience live intenSati classes, learn the history and science behind intenSati, learn how to teach and lead an intenSati class, and most importantly, you’ll open your heart, expand your mind and leave the weekend transformed. If you’re ready to take your life and leadership to the next level, sign up to be on the waiting list.
This week, listen to your hungry ghost – the one that tells you that you aren’t enough or that you don’t have enough. Ask yourself what’s really behind the thought? What the underlying fear? Even more, what if you never achieved your goal? Get curious about your why and see if there’s a hungry ghost lurking. And through it all, call up radical gratitude, something as simple as listing three things you are grateful for today.
May you be guided toward right thought and action. May you be guarded from thoughts of unworthiness. And may you continually be directed back toward your higher self who already knows how brilliant you are.
YOU are enough.