In the old city section of Jerusalem, there is a wonderful open-stall marketplace. It is a place teeming with life—a deluge of sights and sounds and goods for sale. When I was teaching in Israel once, some friends and I went there. As we were walking down an alleyway, one of the merchants called out to me, "I have what you need!" I felt a thrill go through my entire body. "Wow, he has what I need." I stopped, turned around, and starting walking toward him. Then I thought, "Wait a minute. First of all, I don't need anything, and second, how would he know he has what I need?"
In many ways the world is calling out to us all of the time: "I have what you need! I have what you need!" In response, we internalize those voices into: "I need. I need something. I'm in a state of deficit, of deprivation." It's as though we turn into some sort of cartoon figure, with our eyes popping out of our heads like they are on springs. "Where is it? Where is this thing I need?" Our arms extend, reaching out. The fingers flex, trying to grab and hold on to one object or another. Our heads rigidly fix in the direction of the object of desire, so as not to lose sight of it. Our bodies incline forward in anticipation. What an uncomfortable mess!
And yet we reach out time and time again, believing the voices. This movement, this constant reaching out, is felt as stress in the body and in the mind. "I have what you need," the voice tells us. "You don't have what you need. I have what you need." But what is it that we really need?
It is true that all beings want to be happy. We want to feel at home in our own lives. We want to feel a part of something greater than our limited sense of who we are. We need an internal feeling of abundance, to be able to give to others. We need the fulfilling knowledge of our connection to all that lives, in order to love others. But in our habit of reaching out to satisfy our needs, we miss where our deepest satisfaction lies. A Tibetan text puts it like this: "Beneath the pauper's house there are inexhaustible treasures, but the pauper never realizes this, and the treasures never say, 'I am here.' Likewise, the treasure of our original nature, which is naturally pure, is trapped in ordinary mind, and beings suffer in poverty."
All of those voices lead us away from knowing that we already have what we need. When we practice meditation, we discover the treasure of our original nature. We learn to let go of that cacophony of voices shouting at us about our seeming poverty. We learn not to get caught in trying to reach out and grasp after things we never really needed to begin with.
When we practice meditation, we see that we can put down the burdens we have carried for so long. The poet Rumi says: "How long will we fill our pockets like children with dirt and stones? Let the world go. Holding it, we never know ourselves, never are airborne." When we practice meditation, we let go. We let go of our addictions to certain objects and experiences, let go of believing in those voices that call to us. We let go of our limited concepts of happiness and of who we are and what we need. Discovering the treasure of our original nature, we can be airborne. We can be free.
Sharon Salzberg is renowned meditation teacher. Excerpt above from her book, A Heart As Wide as the World.