In rural Appalachia (the penultimate syllable pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘apple’, not like the ‘a’ in ‘staple’), self-sufficiency is not an essential characteristic of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, the divine unmoved around which everything else moves. Nor is it the intrinsic property of Spinoza’s substance, that which is ontologically independent for its existence. For generation after generation in these parts, self-sufficiency has meant the ability to take care of oneself and one’s kin without the aid of foreigners.
Time was when these self-sufficient people knew how to name the same tree across summer and winter; could build gardens and make wheels of cheese; concocted home remedies by using local roots and herbs and, on occasion, sold these to the people in the surrounding cities; spoke a language all their own. ‘Are you peart?,’ one used to ask a neighbor who moved in 39 years ago. Meaning: are you in good health, in good spirits?
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You are caring for your children while thinking of the work you’ve yet to finish. You are in the middle of a conversation and longing for release. You meet another and already you are making plans for the next. Your book is in hand, you thumb its pages, your ambition for all the rest runs away with you. The past you recall or regret; the present is a conduit; the future a promise, plenitude, the promise of plenitude.
Every drop of wine coats your gums with the not-quite. You itch and when you do not itch, you ache. Or you do not ache, actually; you crave. Your life is the life of craving.
For Augustine, man is a craving being, and craving is born of lack. I want what I do not possess. Therefore, so long as I want, I shall be dependent on what I am not. I will not be self-sufficient; I cannot be. Craving says that man lacks or is lacking and also that he goes in search for it outside himself. Man roams.
Man’s craving is for some good, yet this craving leads him into fear or boredom: fear of not possessing or of losing what he possesses, boredom with the possession of what no longer satisfies. Craving is future-oriented; regret is past-oriented. Man roams still.
Can we conceive of a life without craving? Suppose you meet someone, no matter who it is. Or suppose who are involved in an activity, regardless of content or end. Imagine, for the moment, living this and only this threefold thought:
- That this is all there is. (This is not a first or a last meeting; this is the only meeting; this is it.)
- That this is more than enough. (This is not a well of infinite craving. This is desire reaching fulfillment.)
- That there need be nothing more or other or else. (This is not in the service of another. It is itself and no other.)
Now imagine living this thought as fully as possible at each and every moment. What would be the life-implication? It would be that there could be no better human life conceivable. For would this not be a life of which nothing greater could be conceived?