Dani Shapiro
August 30, 2010

On Grasping

We know when we’re competing and comparing, don’t we?  When our focus is not on our work, not on what matters, but rather, on what we don’t have.  What we think we need, or want, in order to be fulfilled and happy.  The Buddhist term is, of course, grasping–a word I’ve come to love.  It’s so vivid, so visceral, the whole idea of it.  When I’m in this state I picture myself, my hands outstretched, grabbing at air.  Coming up empty every time, because this kind of grasping has nothing to do with true ambition, but rather, with a stupid and meaningless pecking order and our need to assert ourselves.  Our need to win.  It’s a lousy feeling, isn’t it?  Especially since there’s no such thing as winning.  There is no finish line.

I’m writing in the plural because it’s easier, of course.  I can hide behind the fact that all of us feel this way at one time or another.  But the truth is, I fall into this grasping state more often than I’d like to admit.  I have to be very careful.  Lately, a lot of good things have been happening.  And while in some ways I’m aware of this, I’m also aware of’ a hunger driving me, an uncomfortable desire for more, more, more.  The rungs on the ladder, the achievements we think we need–what are they, really?  Every time–honestly, every single time–I have reached one of those rungs on the ladder, my sense of joy and satisfaction has lasted, at the most, for a few hours before that little whispering voice starts up again.  There are more desires lined up being that one.  Higher rungs on the ladder, and always someone ahead of us, as if life is a race.

When I am in alignment, when I am at my my most centered best, I am aware that there is only one person I am competing with: I am competing with myself.  I think it was John Irving who once said that we writers are lucky, because it’s possible for us to get better as we get older.  I took this to heart, years ago, and resolved to get better with each book.  I want everything I write to be a greater creative achievement than the last.  Me, in competition with me.  Learning, growing, reaching–rather than grasping–or perhaps better yet, digging deeper for the places I have yet to go, the lessons I have yet to learn.  When I’m focused on my own work, minding my own business, there’s nothing to grasp for.