Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

February 26, 2014—March 11, 2014

February 26, 2014
True, we see what we are looking for. Still, more and more I’ve been seeing what seems to be evidence of the primacy of our Little Person’s need to be seen. (“Primacy” because she must first be seen—in her fears, hungers, griefs, rages—if her most basic physical needs are to be met.)

I was wondering why “kissing it and making it well” can be so instantly healing for a child. It really makes no sense—children are not stupid. However for the child the pain of her cut knee can be a metaphor for her whole existence: I need to know that my parent will see my pain, that is how I am safe in the world. As we come into adulthood, we may without knowing it find ourselves echoing that need, as when we feel a need to complain whether someone else can help or not—maybe standing in an elevator we let a stranger know that our shoes are hurting us. We may even find ourselves complaining out loud when we are alone in the house. We are still calling out, not for the pain to end, but to be seen in our difficulty.

This might be why placebos work—the doctor really sees that we are hurting, he takes our hurting seriously and that satisfies the Little Girl. It’s not that we were inventing the pain before, it’s that we are no longer adding the second arrow of suffering so we actually are at ease.

The need to be seen also may explain hypochondria. The adult complains to everyone or goes from doctor to doctor carrying with her her little girl who in childhood was not seen, hoping finally to have someone take seriously her difficulty, although the new medication, the surgery can never quite meet the deep need of the child for her parent’s caring attention. With Munchausen syndrome and Munchausen-by-proxy, desperate means are used by the adult to try to meet her inner child’s desperate needs from the past, displaced onto a real child, needs that can’t be met this way.

February 28, 2014
I have been paying attention to wanting when it arises, and how our want can so easily feel like a need. When I observe very closely I am aware that what we are really looking for in our wanting is not the satisfaction—it is that moment when the wanting thinks it will be satisfied, it is the glory of that single moment. In that first instant of taste, of sexual pleasure, of owning something beautiful, comes the powerfully pleasurable message to the child that her larger needs will be met. With certain experiences, the wanting and so the special delight keeps renewing—different chocolates in a box, different moments in sexual play. It’s the sweet spot over and over again.

The sweet spot also explains what I observed some time ago—a small stab, or not so small, of fear that can accompany the craving, even if it is only for a chocolate. The fear makes sense if we think of the small child frightened that her most basic needs will not be met.

March 11, 2014
So I can’t prove it, still I think that when we are wanting something (rather than needing it to maintain the bodies that house us), what we are really wanting is not the ding an sich, the thing in itself, the cup of hot chocolate, the new shoes. What we really want is that moment, that inexpressibly lovely sweet spot when the wanting and the satisfaction meet.

That “first moment” experience can continue—though usually with steadily diminishing pleasure—with each sip of hot chocolate, each time we decide to wear the shoes. With sexual experience it is: “want—get,” “want—get,” “want—get” (you can hear it in the urgent, “Here! There! More! Now!”). With technological devices our addictions become so powerful because the instant we want we get—”You want?—Bingo! You get!” “You want?—Bingo!” “You want?—Bingo!” More than with sexual experiences, technology provides those sweet spots immediately, reliably and with the promise to give us these pleasures endlessly. It’s less that technology offers us such wonderful experiences or that we want so many different things—maybe it’s that we want, over and over, our wanting to be met with immediate response.

What is so especially powerful about wanting—this is my notion—is that the sweet spot sends an important message to our Little One, not that life is full of pleasure, rather that when we need something—the breast originally of course—our need will be met. Our unmet needs of childhood make us adult wanters—of hot chocolate, shoes, sexual thrills, information or connection, whiskey, heroin. We long to repeat, not so much a static pleasure but that first moment of the child’s bliss.

This may be why people often say that they eat less when they eat truly mindfully—each taste satisfies the sweet spot and lessens our child’s hunger to be reassured.