To want, or not to want: the unanswered question.

Yesterday I had a great meeting with one of my Buddhist teachers, a man whose wisdom, guidance, humor, and kindness mean a great deal to me. It’s incredible to spend time with someone so very clear-seeing and un-deluded. After talking with him I feel like cotton-wool has been pulled away from my eyes, and I can see reality (I think) so clearly. Walking home I felt almost raw (in a good way) because of how clearly I was seeing my mind. And the world, too – I felt that everything was literally more vivid and detailed, because I wasn’t looking around through a haze of desirous/aversive thoughts.

One very helpful thing he helped me see is how it would be helpful if I could practice being more allowing:

  • More allowing of other people
  • More allowing of life itself/reality unfolding
  • More allowing in my meditation/mindfulness practice – he suggestedsitting down to meditate with an attitude of “I’m just going to see what happens.”

Most challenging of all, though, is to be allowing about the things that I see in myself and don’t like (insecurity, ego, neediness, social awkwardness, irritation, anger, loneliness, etc.). I have such a strong and instantaneous reaction to judge and reject those mind-states, and to dislike how uncomfortable they feel. Furthermore, my ego has this image of who it wants me to be, and those mind-states are not in line with that image. (I’ve written about that before.) Discomfort all around! But my teacher helped me see that you have to be with those mind-states, not try to find a way around them. You can’t flush them down the toilet. You can’t dump them in a trash bag and put them out on the curb. You have to be willing to be with them fully.

He also helped me see the importance of remembering to periodically take a look at my practice as a whole – especially my approach to it, and my attitude about it. As soon as he said that, in my mind I stepped back and looked at my attitude toward my practice, and it was amazing: I saw clearly how my practice has gotten caught up in my attachment to becoming – specifically, my Ego’s desire for me to become someone it likes and approves of. A little bit of progress along the path (deepened concentration, peace, diligence, faith), like I’ve seen in the past two months, is good in itself, but very easily it becomes fodder for the Ego’s desirous dreams of becoming. “Yes! I’m finally on my way to becoming that person I want to be!”

There’s so much wanting there. Walking home, I suddenly had this thought: What if I didn’t want anything of myself? What if I didn’t want anything of life? What if I didn’t want anything of other people?

Asking myself this made me see how almost-entirely my existence is driven by wanting. Try to imagine a life without it, and there’s only emptiness. Silence. Stillness. Utter mystery, because I simply don’t know what that’s like.

Interestingly, this led to a feeling of anxiety/fear/sadness/existential crisis, showing me the comfort in the familiarity, the dependability, of wanting. As incredible as it sounds, the feeling really was, What is life if not to want? In that imagined emptiness of not-wanting, there was fear and sadness, and a feeling of being very isolated, which lasted the rest of the evening.

I feel calmer now, and I’m interested that isolation was the strongest feeling that arose. I wonder if maybe we’re often bound to others (friends, family, partners) by our desires and their desires, and the relationship between the two. It made me look hard at my friendships, and see how there too, wanting plays such a huge role in why I am friends with certain people: because they give me what I want. It’s not the only reason, but it’s certainly there. Some of that’s unavoidable in relations between people. But it’s something I want to be conscious of.


About Kestrel Slocombe

I like writing, meditation, art, reading, riding horses, playing guitar, watching trees in the wind, ferns, the smell of woodsmoke, Mozart and Bach, long walks in the wilderness, and the sound of the cello.
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