You know that feeling? The one where you have a bit of salad, because you want something but you’re not sure what it is. So then, you have a bit of pie, but that’s not it either. Is it the handful of raisins? No, that just isn’t satisfying right now. Or maybe for you, it’s when you look at your facebook page, and then pace around for a bit, and then pick up a book you should be reading, and then put it down, and then text someone, and then pace a bit more, and then look at your e-mails and then decide to check out what’s new on twitter? You might be the type to start sewing something by getting out all sorts of sewing things and then realize that wasn’t it and find some craft supplies to make a bracelet, and then leave both mixed together on the work table and go upstairs to start making a cake.
It’s that nagging underlying sense of dissatisfaction with the universe. I want something. I mean, I want it. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t that. It’s whiny, and constant, and persistent. It is one of the nasty voices that underlies addiction (which shuts it up the way a soother shuts up a baby,) it is occasionally a way to procrastinate although not always. Sometimes, it’s even a way to release enough nervous energy to let one study or work. It has connections to craving and to anxiety and to distraction. It’s that first whisper of the yetzer ha-ra (the evil inclination, the push factor) saying ‘do something – but not that’.
It can drive you crazy. I’ve often sat there trying to ignore it. “I don’t want anything to eat,” I say in a logical fashion, “I had a healthy lunch just recently.” “I don’t need any electronic or entertainment devices at all, I have a simple mundane cleaning job I should start.” “I don’t need new clothes, jewelry or desserts – I need to finish a homework assignment.” I say these things. I repeat them to myself. I say them the way a parent talks to a child. I am nice and polite, I am sweet and cajoling, I am firm and determined, I am grim and annoyed, I am hysterical and frustrated, I am loud and insistent by turns. But the voice, like an annoying three year old, continues to whine. Just as I’ve finally shut it up (I think,) I have that feeling at the back of my head – “but maybe just one or two raisins, pages, stitches or whatever? It will help me focus…”
Sometimes, I give in, hoping that one or two raisins will get that whine to stop. Anyone who has had a three year old knows exactly how effective that is. “Just one more?” The voice whines “and it wasn’t raisins I actually wanted, it was a piece of toast with butter. That’ll do the trick, definitely.” By now, the yetzer ha-ra is having a heyday and my afternoon will be filled with distraction after distraction. I have found only two ways to deal with this annoying voice, and I don’t use them often enough and I put them here as a reminder to myself that I can do better.
They both have as their underlying truth that the yetzer ha-ra is important. That whiny voice is trying to tell me something I need to listen to. If my neshama – my soul – has a need to search out satisfaction, maybe I should honour that search. So, how can I do that? The first way is simple and immediate. I plan the search. “Fine,” I answer the whiny voice. “I’ll read my e-mails – in 15 minutes. I’ll look at facebook after I finish this blog. I’ll read my novel right before bed. See? It’s OK to want all these things and you will get them shortly. Now, be quiet and let me work.” While this may not work with the average three year old, this actually has a great effect on the voice in my head. I am over three years old and I can wait. I just have to remember to plan instead of mindlessly following the whims of my desires.
The second is to stop trying to finish my homework, do the dishes or whatever other useful task I’m trying and failing to accomplish and to really pay attention to my inner need. If I am dissatisfied, if I am searching for something that isn’t there, if the sewing and the bracelet aren’t it, then maybe I need to do some of the self-care things that tell me what it is. Maybe what I need is to write, to meditate, to talk to someone or engage in whatever reflective activity works for me to tell me what I’m searching for. Often, (yes, I know – here I go again) at the core, I’m just searching for more meaning, more spirituality, a deeper connection to God. The writing and meditation help with that, I remember that God is and I am, and I can focus on that darned French essay without any raisins or Facebook whatsoever. Sometimes, the need is for something I had and can have no longer and I need to mourn a loss (whether it’s the loss of a family member to a horrible illness or the loss of my favourite flavour of cookie from the grocery store) and take time to acknowledge my feelings about a situation. Sometimes I need to to look at my life and see if it’s actually my life tasks and goals that aren’t satisfying me. All of this takes time (and sometimes needs to be planned too – need to do the dishes now, will find an acceptable cookie substitute tomorrow) but it can lead to life changes and to bursts of creativity I could never have imagined while hunting for that raisin. It was that persistent nagging voice that finally got me to start blogging for example. It was partially behind my last career change.
The yetzer ha-ra, that whiny nasty search for some form of satisfaction, that craving – that is an important and useful tool that God gives me to learn more about myself and the world. When I listen appropriately, I realize that my inner three year old is whining due to a need that I can do something about. Oh, not by succumbing to the surface item being asked for but by being mindful of the need and responding to the true nature of the search.