April 13, 2020

On Desire.

Most of our desires, when you boil them down, turn out to be desperate pursuits by our selves to be something different - and better - than we are.

On Desire.

I've spent the last few weeks reading some of Pema Chodron's books on Buddhism wherein she discusses the practical application of Buddhist philosophy in our modern lives. Chodron talks about how clinging to our desires brings pain and can cause long-term damage to us - both from living with longing that cannot be fulfilled (which leads to depression of spirit and escapism/delusion), and by achieving our desires only to have them disappoint us (thereby undermining our values and our understanding of reality as a whole).

I recognize that this is legitimate wisdom, because I've lived as a slave to desires for most of my life. Desire for things, experiences, achievements, relationships - and I've seen how it plays out both ways - in the achievement and non-achievement of desires that don't resolve. I am especially familiar with the sweet and agonizing pain of unrequited desires that have been such a persistent pattern in my life that it has become a part of my self-identity. I carry these "failures" around and have almost developed a sense of pride about it.

So I've been thinking about how to address this. What does it look like to stop the addiction to desire? Initially, the picture that came to my mind was an absence of desire. To just be, without caring what happens or what comes and goes in and out of my life. To accept everything I've been dealt and find ways to lean into the discomfort instead of trying to "fix" it.

This is, perhaps, the Buddhist ideal. But I'm not sure it's realistic. At least, not for me. My desire - for all the pain and suffering it's caused - has also been the thing that has allowed me to grow and learn and develop in ways I never dreamed were possible. It's allowed me to experience life in ways that I think are profoundly valuable, simply because I reached beyond what there was and allowed myself to agitate toward goals and people and circumstances that many would have said were beyond my reach, or undeserved.

Humanity has desire baked into us. It's in our DNA to want, to strive, to seek and explore. But I think the reason we meet with discomfort in our pursuit of our naturally-occurring desires isn't the desires themselves. It's the dissatisfaction we feel about who/what we are and our false believe that fulfillment of those desires will make us better people.

We are what we are, and we are as we should be.

The things we can change are few - and mostly involve our responses, actions and thinking about ourselves and our circumstances. But most of our desires, when you boil them down, turn out to be desperate pursuits by our selves to be something different - and better - than we are.

We believe we can be better if we do better, acquire more, or achive something great. And THIS is our folly. It also belies our deep-seated belief that not everyone deserves the same things. That there is a heirarchy to humanity that those who work to achieve things (physically, economically, spiritually, whatever) are actually better people who deserve better.

But if we don't love ourselves as we are, we'll never be happy or fulfilled and no amount of chasing and achieving our desires will make it so. On the other hand, if we do love ourselves, our pursuit of legitimate and healthy desires that arise within us are done purely for the joy of the pursuit - exploration for the sake of exploration! A better job for the sake of being able to do/contribute in different, interesting ways! A relationship that allows us to explore love in new ways that we are not able to do right now! None of these things, when pursued for the right reasons, will change us. But they are things that allow us, as we are, to expand our service to the world and engage in a deeper exploration of our unique gifts.

This idea that we are already as we should be, and that we can and must love ourselves fully as we are before we can even begin to think of achieving and chasing our desires is so antithetical to my indoctrination in Abrahamic religions that I've had to devote serious time to unpacking all the ways 'original sin' and the inherent 'need for grace and forgiveness' have been used to keep me on a treadmill of seeking desires for the wrong reasons. And even if I know this intellectually, it's such a part of my psyche (having been drilled into me since infancy) that I feel intellectually destabilized as a person without it.

The belief in our inherent deficiency is what breeds addiction to desires that are unehalthy and place us in a cycle of longing / disappointment & dispair. This ultimately undermines everything we do or believe or produce.

And all because we think we can't be who we need to be, just by being who we are.