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Excerpted from Being Black by Angel Kyodo Williams. Copyright 2000 by Angel Kyodo Williams. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"We have a habit of attaching ourselves to things, people, and situations, and holding on tight."

  Angel Kyodo WilliamsBeing Black, Part 5

As human beings, we have a habit of attaching ourselves to things, people, and situations, and holding on tight. In turn, that clinging becomes the single source of our conflict, tension, and frustration. Why? Because we really can't control all of the elements that go into making up life. And because we are human, we are self-centered, so it is heartbreaking to realize that things do not necessarily go our way and we are not the center of the universe.

Some days it seems like the world has it in for us, trying to ruin our days or plans in a series of bad events stacked up one after the other. But life really has no interest in whether we want it to turn left or turn right. It is only the fact that we view our own desires as special that makes us think we should have things exactly as we want them. Our desires must be more special than anyone else's. It may be perfect in our minds that the grocery store is open on a holiday because we forgot to get bread. But the cashier is miserable because he wanted to go to the movies in-stead of working. Had he not come to work, he may have lost his job. In that moment you are happy and he is not. But we are only concerned with the benefits that we get from each situation. That is what I mean when I say that we are self-centered.

Our wanting and desires are often in direct conflict with the reality of the current moment. No matter how much we want it to be dry and sunny because we have plans for our day, the fact is that it is raining. There is nothing we can do about it. So we sulk and curse and complain. If it hadn't rained, I could have done my laundry or gone to the park. Why did it have to rain today? How inconvenient this is for me. Nature goes about its business despite our plans and it continues to rain. We are inside, miserable and discontented. We can become intensely self-centered in these moments.

Sometimes, our wanting seems grand and altruistic, and we do not think of it as something that we cling to. All I want is to be a better person. I would become more spiritual if I went to temple (or church or the mosque) more often. I will speak quietly and keep my eyes cast to the floor. I will become a reverend, a priestess, or a nun. I'll be the perfect father. I'll be a Super Wife. Secretly, we may begin to think of the result. If I do these things, I will be better than these people around me. They will see me as special and I will be revered. We shouldn't fool ourselves, because before we know it, such a goal can become one and the same as wanting and desire.

In communities of color, we have lived for a long time without access to the material possessions that signify success in our country. We know that we are just as worthy, and we desperately want to have a measure of our equality with white people. This has contributed to a rampant, crippling case of a need for instant gratification. This may be the cornerstone of American culture in general, but it seems to be in overdrive where black folks are concerned, where there's an entrenched belief that who you are is directly related to what you have.

When persistent craving is combined with a need for instant gratification, the possibility for discomfort is doubled. If desire sends us on a journey toward accumulation, instant gratification propels us at light speed. By giving in to this need, we rob ourselves of thoughtful decision-making. We are more likely to spend recklessly. We do not save. We are even less realistic about what we actually need. The desire for instant gratification is at the heart of substance abuse. We want to "feel good," so we drink, or we smoke, or do anything to get a high. Soon we are unable not to want it, and an addiction is born.

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