Quelling our “howling appetites”

Our life task is calming the savage beast that lives within, that dimension of life which W. H. Auden described as, “our howling appetites.” This is a battle that we fight individually and collectively. As a nation, for example, we should ask, “How can we satisfy our hunger without becoming rapacious?” And with our colonial past, we definitely have a history of rapacity as does most of the rest of the “developed” world.

The 8th century Indian poet Shantideva put it this way:

Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But (just) leather on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it

Likewise it is not possible for me
To restrain the external course of things
But should I restrain this mind of mine
What would be the need to restrain all else?

The writer of Proverbs captured the truth in these two verses, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (25:28); and, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (25:28)  Or, as someone else has said, “We can’t change the world, but we can change the eyes through which we view the world.”   And I conclude with my oft-quoted word from Auden, “We wage the war we are.”


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