Posts Tagged ‘desire’

Sometimes it can be scary to want things.

I just read an Ask Polly advice column, and the whole thing is pretty interesting, but here is the passage I want to look at today:

You don’t know what to do about it, so instead of throwing a fit or walking out the door, you become someone who exists in the margins, someone who can tuck herself into the background and make do with whatever leftovers come her way.

The problem is, that kind of passivity tends to bleed out over the rest of your life. You are willing to wait and see where you’ll live, and wait and see whether you’ll ever have kids, and wait and see if you’ll ever find a better job, until eventually you forget that you have control over these outcomes and everything else in your life.”

This kind of passivity is also a way to avoid commitment, to avoid figuring out what you actually want. What you want enough to really invest in it. What you want enough to risk sacrifice for it. What you want even though you might not get it.

In the last few years, you all watched me go through the decision of where I wanted to live. Before, I felt like I’d just ended up living in the Bay Area. It wasn’t so much that I’d made an active choice to live here as that life events pushed me toward it and I hadn’t resisted. So then, for me, part of learning who I am and what I want was really looking at where I was living and deciding if it was what I actually wanted.

And I have to say, while going through that process wasn’t the most fun ever, I am much more satisfied with my life having come out on the other side with an actual well-thought-out decision. Yes, I want to be here. Yes, I am committed to making certain sacrifices in order to stay. And sure, at some point those sacrifices might be too high and I might change my mind, but even if I leave at some point in the future, it feels good to know what I want right now.

Photo Credit: Shenghung Lin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shenghung Lin via Compfight cc

Part of the reason I am writing this now is because it can be easy to fall into passivity. Especially for a recovering people pleaser. It can be easy to wait and see, all the while hoping for the best. And it’s not always wrong to do that, that’s not what I’m saying. Optimism can be a beautiful attitude to adopt. But sometimes it can also allow you to hide from certain realities and steer you away from being fully yourself.

So right now I am trying to embrace the experience of wanting things in active ways. It is terrifying, because once embraced, it makes it feel like I have so much more to lose. I feel vulnerable. And I realize the wanting means I have to take risks. I have to write things I don’t know if I can write. I have to do things I don’t know if I can do. I have to be myself even when that might lead to the necessity of letting go.

I write about this kind of stuff all the time. I write about it because I think it’s important to talk about it, and I also write about it because it is hard for me. Here on the blog it is easier to be clear. It is easier to take an idea and distill it down and develop an understanding of it. And then I carry these ideas out into the world, which is a murky, messy place at the best of times. I get confused, and sometimes I get frightened. Sometimes my ideas don’t seem so easy to implement anymore, and sometimes I forget what I actually think. But even so, I’m better off with these gems of ideas in my pocket, and I hope you are too.

So then, here is today’s gem: Sometimes it can be scary to want things. But that is who I want to be: a person who wants things and goes after them even when it’s scary and hard. A person who will choose risking failure rather than hanging out in passivity.

This isn’t always the person I will be. It certainly isn’t always the person I have been. But it’s the person towards whom I can aim.

Yes, I want things, with all my heart. Let’s see what happens next.

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I’ve been thinking about non-attachment.

When we discussed Buddhism in high school, I thought non-attachment sounded very sterile, like it encouraged people to not care about anything. This was a misunderstanding on my part, of course. Any religion that talks so much about compassion and loving-kindness isn’t about the not caring. It’s more complicated than that, and it has to do with our relationship with desire.

We are not always going to get everything we want. When we do get one thing we want, then we want something else. Sometimes we get caught in a trap of thinking, if only I had blah blah blah (where blah blah blah can be a certain type of career, a certain type of relationship, a certain level of health, a certain amount of money, etc. etc.), then everything would be perfect. My life would be complete.

But that generally isn’t so. We get a certain amount of money, and then maybe our health goes down the tubes. We get a certain type of career only to realize we really want to go up another tier or do something else altogether. Our health improves, and then maybe a close friend gets sick, or she moves away and then we miss her and busy ourselves thinking, if only I had more friends. We desperately wish for something in the future, but we can’t be sure of the outcome.

And sometimes we simply don’t get what we want at all. We can’t quit that irritating day job. Our family won’t stop making demands on us that we can’t meet. We have a chronic health condition. We get laid off, we don’t get into the program that would have made all the difference, we can’t afford this workshop or that trip or those material goods.

Right this second my back hurts and I want it to stop hurting. Sometime soon I’ll stop typing and do a few stretches and exercises, and it will probably feel a little better. But that won’t last. Over time I can strengthen my back so it feels more better more of the time. But really I want the pain to stop now, and permanently, with no effort. I’m not going to get what I want. These little moments of not getting what we want happen all the time.

Photo by David Boyle

Which is where non-attachment comes in. I think of it as the acceptance of thwarted desire. It’s the awareness that this is our reality, that we want and yet we’re not going to get everything we want. And that it’s okay that this is true. We will want something, and then that wanting will eventually pass. It might take a long time to do so, or it might not. Everything changes, and changes, and changes again. And the more we can be aware of this movement, and even embrace it, the less suffering we will experience.

At least, this is what I’ve been thinking about. Sitting with the feeling of desire, which keeps coming up. Watching it, and the emotions it often comes with, and remembering this is just one moment. I think it helps to be aware of what’s going on and allow ourselves to pay attention to that experience. But if you want a whole list of great suggestions of how to practice and think about non-attachment, read what Lori Deschene has to say about it.

What do you think?

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All people are the same, and all people are different.

I think sometimes we tend to get into trouble when we forget one (or both) of these statements. Holding both of these ideas in mind at the same time definitely exercises our ability to doublethink, but they are not as mutually exclusive as they might first sound.

Photo by Leo Reynolds

All people are the same.

We are born, we grow older, we die. We get hungry, tired, hot and cold. We feel pain, both physical and emotional.

We want. We want to be loved, we want to obtain safety. We want to stop feeling scared and uncomfortable. We want meaning, whether that be through myth, religion, stories, or science. (Or all of the above.) Some of us want stuff, some of us want intangibles, but most of us want something. And what we think we want and what we actually want is only sometimes the same.

All people are different.

We come from different backgrounds, geographical locations, religious beliefs. We have different bodies, different skin colors, different hair, and different health problems. We have different eccentricities, idiosyncracies, passions, likes and dislikes, loves and hates. We’re skilled and unskilled at different things. Our brains don’t all work exactly the same way either.

We have different memories, even of the same event. We have different ways of communicating. We have different opinions, different eating habits, different ways of conducting relationships. We have different needs and different desires and different ways of expressing ourselves. We have different tastes in style and pets and child-rearing and financial management and music and transportation.

We have different stories, different baggage, and different wounds. All of which lead to different life choices, some of which work for us and some of which don’t.

We are simultaneously the same and different.

When we forget we are the same, we may feel alienated or isolated. We may turn another person or group of people into the Other. We may think we’re better than everyone else, or that we’re not worth the air we’re breathing.

When we forget we are different, we may impose our own life choices on other people. We may become visibly judgmental. We may make inaccurate assumptions and stifle other people’s voices. We may forget there are other points of view.

There is a universality to the human experience, but the details are always different–sometimes very different and sometimes only a little different. We try to understand each other with mixed success. And we forget the following important truth.

You are not me. But we are both human together.


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