Sinking into craving

For some of us, craving is not just a feeling, but a source of purpose.

We're all born with this capability to crave. We crave all kinds of things. We crave food, sugar, connection, power, money, respect, knowledge, prestige.

At its core, craving is a sense of lack in what is here and a desire for what is there. Using neuroscience, we can describe craving as a physiological mechanism, an amalgamation of dopamine and neural interactions.

But as we grow up, we don't treat craving as just another experience or as a physiological process. We attach moral value to it. We infuse it with meaning. We imagine our craving as the purpose of our existence.

When I was in high school, I really wanted to go to Harvard. I developed a craving for an acceptance letter the exact same way that one develops a craving for a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. As I saw more and more of my peers caring about college acceptances, and I observed the weight that colleges held among teachers, parents, and society at large, my craving developed into an obsession. Harvard was good. Getting into Harvard was good. Me getting into Harvard would make me good.

The whole time, I never really questioned this. I never questioned how useful it is to allow this craving to consume me. To actively feed it by looking at stories of people's acceptances, fantasizing about how great it would feel to tell all of my teachers and friends about getting in.

This didn't really stop in high school. It continued throughout college, and if it wasn't for Harvard, it was for something else—acceptance into a club, acceptance by a crush, acceptance into some society, acceptance into an internship. While all of these cravings relate to other people, a more important common thread between them is that every time, I allowed myself to sink into the craving.

Only recently did I learn that a viable alternative exists. There is a whole religion, an entire philosophy, entire swathes of humans who actively try not to be consumed by craving, not to be identified with it. By paying attention to what craving and its fulfillment actually feel like, they’ve learned something. They’ve realized that the satisfaction you get from a craving being met is always temporary, and most of the time, it's not even that great in the moment. And paying even closer attention, you realize that there’s a deeper sense of well-being that is already here instead of over there.

What I've learned over the past few years is that craving can be something we live with, without becoming the central force that we orient our life around.

Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash.