The Ebb and Flow
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | April 2012 (edited 2018)
The Unrelenting Drive for More
Satisfaction comes and goes like the waves of the ocean. Savor the moments; guard against unrealistic expectations and flourish.
We want more. We never have enough. When we perceive lack, sorrow invades, disrupting peace. We push to achieve, possess, and control more. Are we condemned to endure the sorrow of lack? Achievement and possessions aren’t evil. We should push ourselves, not gently coast. The human drive has accomplished great feats and uncovered many mysteries. Humans have developed sophisticated systems of beliefs, government, transportation, and security in their never-ending chase for more. We enjoy comforts unparalleled in the history of the world. But even with the great achievements (larger houses, fantastic gadgets, and faster transportation), the anxiety of deprivation has not declined. We still don’t have enough. Inventions haven’t stopped. iPhone will have better versions, cars will provide more luxuries, and entertainment will continue to thrill. There is much more to create and discover. But not all is well in modern society. Mental illness, destructive relationships, racism, war, environmental decay and crime continue to plague the earth. Is life better today than a hundred years ago? In many ways, “Yes,” but in other aspects maybe not. We are still grappling for more.
The nagging feeling of lack interrupts the pleasures of the present. We are blessed with the gift of dissatisfaction—an inherent part of humanity. If I have one hundred dollars, I want a thousand. If I have a thousand, I want a million. Perhaps feeling satisfied is uncomfortable. Deep in our cellular construction, we desire more regardless of what we have. I believe these feelings are normal; We must create space for the pesky feelings of dissatisfaction, recognizing their existence, and thoughtfully managing with healthy limits. Finding peace requires effort; purposely seeking gratitude. Perhaps we should consider satisfaction differently, more like waves of the ocean than a plateau on a mountain; an ebb and flow, coming and going.
Many flaunt achieving enlightenment, satisfaction and peace. They discovered this utopia of feeling and want to sell you a book or a program. They proceed to market their discovery. I’m skeptical. I believe that becoming rich from selling their flaunted wisdom will actually achieve the satisfaction they seek. I’m certain some are sincere; but most, after spending time with them, we discover they stumble, struggle and hurt just like the rest of us. They preach a path to the perfect life, hoping to satisfy their own sense of lack. False prophets, greedy entrepreneurs and optimistic dreamers prey upon humanities unrelenting drive for more. As long as we sense lack, others will try to capitalize on those feelings.
Biological drives pass from generation to generation because they serve a purpose—a survival value. Driven for more, people develop spiritually, physically and intellectually. We become more competitive than those who settle. Driven to succeed, we become more viable, gathering resources and mental capacity to manage a complex world. The feelings of inadequacy motivate some creative solutions. But this drive must be tamed. Often, we seek more than we need, sacrificing other enjoyments and necessities for flourishing.
The compulsion to achieve and accumulate is only momentarily satisfied when goals are reached. The slight breath of relief is quickly engulfed with another project, preventing prolonged enjoyment; the thirst is only temporarily quenched. We want more money, status, power, security and peace.
But is that what life is always about, constantly chasing a bigger and better dream, a fatter wallet, and a bigger office? The pursuit may serve as a distraction to other broken areas—social ineptitudes or critical self judgments. The healthy drive then morphs into an unhealthy adaptation. Instead of encouraging development, it blinds and misdirects.
"Driven to succeed, we become more viable, gathering resources and mental capacity to manage a complex world. The feelings of inadequacy motivate some creative solutions. But this drive must be tamed."
Desires, impulses and emotions encourage healthy action; but sometimes our internal guidance system is battered from the storms of living, and broadcasts faulty markers. With wisdom we can still navigate the mazes of helpful and hurtful emotional pulls. We can view our thirst for more, as other emotional tugs, as information to be examined. Sometimes a deep breath, or quiet contemplation can reveal the rascal impulse for what it is—a blend character and past programming.
The feelings that motivate to act, often don’t demand immediate action. We can pause and allow wisdom to intervene. The urges for action, like waves of the sea, come and go. They ebb and flow back and forth. We see much clearer when the wave of emotion recedes, and the yearning no longer demands immediate action. We don’t have to be a slave to every craving. As our relationship between feeling and action matures, and we gain a wider perspective, the momentary crashing of desire loses some power. We know the momentary demand for action is an illusion. The decision can wait for a calmed mind and practical evaluation.
We benefit from drives to improve—better relationships, more self-esteem, increased compassion and security. We should pursue growth by refining skills and chasing opportunities. But personal growth, doesn’t promise perpetual satisfaction; the biological urge to obtain more continues to prod and push; underneath our emotional system continues to influence behaviors. We can adjust some emotional settings through mindful thought—but not eliminate vexing emotions. We must live with our biological inheritance. If we don’t, we will constantly fight the unmovable walls of existence. By realistically accepting the parameters, we comfortably move with the flow of life, experiencing the ebb and flow of emotions without responding with destructive reactions; by balancing our emotions with healthy behaviors, we experience more joy.