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Both Individual and Collective: Meeting Rapaciousness

By Fiona Robertson.  

When we engage consistently and deeply in inquiry, our experience of it changes over time. Embodied inquiry develops and evolves, the process itself deepening as we individually and collectively deepen. True to its name, this inquiry is indeed living.

I’ve been inquiring for over seven years now. While self-focused beliefs took up much of my looking in the early years, what comes up now is often collective as well as personal. There’s a sense that what I’m looking at isn’t just mine; sometimes it’s obviously from my family system or ancestry, and sometimes it feels like an aspect of the archetypal human pattern.

Last week, for example, I was aware of some strong energy that felt like a residue from the old beliefs about myself. I sensed that it belonged to my creature-self. (When I’m inquiring, I often find words and descriptions arise that I wouldn’t ordinarily use, and which I may not understand intellectually). As I stayed with this residual creature-self energy, little spurts of emotion or thought sprang up, then quickly faded into almost-nothing.

After a while, the word ‘rapaciousness’ came and fitted the energy perfectly. Not entirely sure of its exact meaning, I looked up the dictionary definition:

Rapacious: from the Latin rapare, to seize. Grasping, extortionate, given to plundering or seizing by force, predatory.

Yes. This was the energy of never-ending rapaciousness, of covert, manipulative wanting, of taking what you are not entitled to, the energy of predation. As I felt it through my body, I sensed how I had cut off from it, how consciously I abhorred it, yet here it was within me, as it is in so many of us. As I felt it, I began to see memories of times when I’d taken more than my fair share, times when I’d lied to get what I wanted or to conceal my greed. I had to acknowledge this rapaciousness had manifested in me over the years in all kinds of ways. Taking that extra doughnut while no-one was looking. Lying to myself that the brief dalliance with a married man was justifiable because we hadn’t had sexual relations according the Clintonian definition. Staying in relationships that I knew weren’t right because having something felt better than the nothing I assumed would result if I left. Minor crimes by comparison to the more extreme expressions of this energy, but expressions of it nonetheless.

After a while, it became apparent that the rapaciousness tries to magnetise things and people, pulling them towards itself. It wants to take things without having to make any effort to earn them. Recognising this rapaciousness as the energy of abusers, predators, conquerors and takers – the energy that fuels capitalism, putting profit above all else – I began to sense that monks, nuns and their ilk withdrew from the world in an effort to control this energy, attempting to rein it back by taking vows of chastity, poverty and simplicity. As we know from the history of the church, both ancient and modern, this strategy didn’t work too well. We cannot simply lock out or deny the rapaciousness, because it gets through in whatever ways it can, and will not be naysaid.

More insights came as I continued to feel the energy of rapaciousness. Envious of others, it is underhand and conniving, finding loopholes, justifications and get-out clauses, sneakily framing events or situations in ways that allow it to believe its actions are okay, or even noble. It has no idea what or where ‘enough’ is. It is very different to desire; desire feels simple, natural, gentle. Rather, this energy is greed and avarice, unchecked appetite which knows no limits. I saw that some people who are bad at controlling their rapaciousness end up imprisoned or vilified, while others, equally bad at controlling it but afforded privilege by dint of their class, race, gender or background, end up in powerful positions, feted around the world. A question came with a wave of emotion: How did it come to this, that we are run by our rapaciousness?

Suddenly, I noticed: the rapacious energy is utterly desperate for attention. Its mantra is like me, like me, like me, with the emphasis on me. But however much attention it gets, it remains insatiable; in fact, giving it unquestioning attention seems to make it even more pronounced. I sat with the energy for a long while, unsure how the session would unfold. Even though it was deeply uncomfortable to feel, I began to feel grateful to have identified it, to have seen it for what it is. Gradually, another part of me emerged, a part that can’t bear the pain the rapaciousness causes. My sense is that more and more of us are connecting with this part within us that cannot countenance what the rapaciousness gives rise to, both within ourselves and the world.

Over the next few days, the rapacious energy itself began to change. An insight into its origins came; when I was young, my creature-self needed support to be itself but no support was forthcoming, so it became rapacious as a way to support itself. The rapaciousness developed as a way to deal with the pain of not having my dependency needs met. It is a distorted outgrowth of that original, natural need for support. Only by becoming more fully conscious of it, and meeting it as it is – neither denying it nor feeding it – can we hope to integrate it and so end its excesses, however great or small those excesses may be.

Fiona Robertson is the author of The Dark Night of the Soul: A Journey from Absence to Presence and a Living Inquiries Senior Facilitator/Trainer.

To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.


By Melanie Balint Gray.  I’ve been exploring deprivation as I walk through the twists and turns of my convoluted path from unconscious overeating to… to simple, joyful eating:  eating that is easy, enjoyable, and restorative.

A sense of deprivation has been a core experience throughout this journey.  It was what I told myself sometimes—since you can’t have such and such go eat because you can always have food.

But, an attitude of deprivation also informed my approach to food.  Deprive yourself of sugar so that you don’t get fat from all those empty calories.  You can substitute zero-calorie, artificial sweeteners instead.  Deprive yourself of this fat, but allow yourself that kind of fat. Stop eating sugar and flour.  And on and on and on.

I hoped that cleaning up what I ate would leave me feeling satiated after every meal.  It did begin to physically satiate me.

But, this pesky deprivation kept creeping back in.  I can’t have this.  I can’t have that.  I can’t do this.  I can’t do that.

I sat with this gnawing deprivation awhile and memories floated upward into plain view; memories not of when I’d been deprived by my parents or by some circumstance, but memories of when I had deprived myself.  Of what?  Of allowing deprivation the room to fully express itself.  Of squashing deprivation, making it wrong, alienating it.

I learned quite early that displays of emotions other than happiness were not welcome.  I grew up with training from that song “Put on a Happy Face.”  Even as a young child, no matter what feelings lurked beneath my façade, I was to smile, say I was fine and be cheery.

So, early on I received advanced training in keeping a cheery veneer.  It’s as if there was a lockdown underway inside, disallowing any other feelings. If they did venture out, some feistiness or some sadness, a scolding resulted so I put them on lockdown again.  I cheated myself of feeling them.

Deprivation keeps knocking on that thick, metal prison door these days.  And now, I’m beginning to attend to it.  It wants release and it wants to bring all of its prison mates along.  A total breakout!  The list of prisoners is long, too—spanning the spectrum of feelings from ecstasy to despair. You see, happy, is only one, small sliver of the spectrum of emotions.  So many emotions were cut off then and are blunted these days out of habit when they do escape for a bit.

There is one night in my childhood that deprivation still inhabits and it has taken me back there few times lately.  I’m beginning to feel into the depth of the aloneness I felt that night when there was no one to turn to for help, only myself.  There is fuller understanding of how everyone involved was crippled by this “Put on a Happy Face” command, so that no one could begin to untangle how they felt, revise how they behaved or have any shred of a healing conversation about it.  Deprived.  We were all totally deprived of the capacity of allowing genuine feelings to emerge.  Feelings that could open hearts and heal wounds.  That was just how it was.  It could not have been any other way.

So, this feeling of deprivation has kindly led me to compassion; compassion for all of us.

It seems that deprivation still has some life within me.  I’m more ready to sink into it now.  What else will it show me?  What’s the next gift it holds?

Are You Feeding A Story of Deficiency or Nourishing Yourself?

By Fiona Robertson.

I realised during a recent self-inquiry that I had been feeding my deficiency story – literally.

As I sat down to inquire, I saw the words there is a choice. In that moment, the choice was palpable. It can sometimes seem – particularly when we’re in the grip of fear, compulsion, or intense feelings – that there isn’t a choice. When choice becomes an option, however, we get to see in intricate detail exactly how we make our choices. I saw the moments in which I choose deficiency habits; I reach for the chocolate, or watch yet another episode, or leave the washing up until the next morning.

None of those things are – in themselves – a problem. I don’t have anything against chocolate, television or mess per se. The point is that as we continue to inquire, our ability to discern the difference between compulsiveness and non-compulsiveness, deficient or non-deficient behaviour, gradually increases. The piece of chocolate brownie shared with my sister over a cup of tea and warm conversation the other day? No shred of compulsion or deficiency. The two pieces of chocolate I had after dinner every night the week before? Definitely compulsive and linked to a sense of inner lack. Don’t be fooled by amounts or degree. Yes, the magnitude of the compulsion may be large or small – three family-size bars of chocolate versus two squares of 75% Ecuadorian – but the underlying movement of compulsion is the same. When a deficiency story is running, we make deficient choices.

More words came: There is a choice in each moment. Heaven or hell. It’s in my/your hands. I saw that – when choice is available to us – we can access true self-discipline. This isn’t the punitive, masochistic discipline of should, ought, or must, the inner critic task-master, but the kind discipline of a self that transcends and yet embraces all the stories we tell about ourselves, a self that knows what we truly need or desire because it knows that we are completely whole exactly as we are.

Suddenly, the original intent of commandments and precepts became apparent; they give us a supportive framework to keep us in integrity whenever we are tempted to indulge the deficient self in ways that may harm ourselves or others. Just at that moment, my deficient self (keen to emphasise its deficiency, in case I’d forgotten) said Yes, but I made the wrong choices. Despite its protestations, it became very clear that all that matters is now, where the choice is being made. What are we choosing in this moment?

The deficient self is often lax and indulgent. It wants to treat itself because life is so _____ and it deserves more ______ (fill in the blanks). It has a tendency to talk or think endlessly about its past suffering or inevitable future calamities. It is good at indulging, justifying and punishing itself, often in equal measure. And our cultures cater to or even reward such behaviour. Expensive cosmetics ‘because we’re worth it’. Constant temptations – based on blatant appeals to our deficient selves – to have or get or be more or better.

As I inquired, it became clear that it is time for me to stop feeding or indulging the deficient self, and that this requires a modicum of self-discipline because the deficient self is, in part, a habit. A well-worn groove of choices made over and over again from a simple lack of awareness, a misunderstanding about who I really am. As I stayed with my experience of the deficient self in that moment – a feeling of immense hurt throughout my body – it became very clear that this feeling didn’t want cake, chocolate, television dramas, or any other kind of indulgence. It wanted goodness and a major change in perspective. It wanted to no longer be defined as a self. A sense of self-discipline or ‘moral fibre’ arose, a sense of being able to discern where goodness really lies in any given moment. I saw a cartoon-like image of a cage in a zoo, complete with the caption Do Not Feed the Deficient Self.

Since this session, I’ve noticed significant changes. The uneaten chocolate is sitting here on the shelf and the ‘I’ve been working hard so I need a reward’ snacking has ceased. I’ve had unexpected surges of physical energy and I’ve been moving and holding myself very differently – more upright, less apologetically, more solidly.

Inevitably, each time we unravel a sense of deficiency, we grow up a little more. We have fewer excuses to not be who we really are. We no longer feel as if we’re on the margins, defined by our suffering. We act in integrity much more of the time, and yield to the temptations and indulgences of the deficient self far less often. Our long-suffering bodies no longer have to bear the burdens of deficient choices and behaviours. We learn what it is to truly nourish ourselves. We come out of the cage of deficiency and fully into being, into life.