I have just received a Major Award! For meritorious service, I have just been awarded The Golden Bedpan! No gold watch for me – an honest-to-god Golden Bedpan! (miniature facsimile.) 24k over pewter. Had I known I would receive this, I’d have retired sooner!
How does it feel to want?
I used to manage a housing project. As part of that job I supervised a maintenance crew, since I couldn’t do everything myself. I would get there early, check the maintenance requests that had come in overnight, balance those with the ongoing maintenance that was due, and any projects we had working. When Tom came in to work, I’d say, “I want you to…” and name a job.
Tom would reply, “How does it feel to want?” On the surface, this was me giving him a job for the day and him giving me shit in return. But what was below the surface? When I asked, this truly was what I wanted. As a human being, he had autonomy and could say no. We could talk about all of the work that needed doing, or something he had noticed the day before. We could have had that conversation first, in which I laid out all the work for the day and we chose together. He also was used to a boss who gave orders, not one who stated wants. Ultimately, he could refuse (whether an order or a want). Ultimately, I could fire him. He wanted the job and I wanted a staff I could count on, so we worked it out each day.
But on another level, he was offering me a spiritual/ontological lesson. I could actually take him up on the offer and feel what it was to want. I wasn’t paying him for that. It was a bonus.
There was someone else I was paying for that. We’ll get into that soon. So what is it to want? One meaning of want is to lack. Another meaning is to desire. If we smash those meanings together, we get desiring what we don’t have.
The Buddha taught that all life is suffering and all suffering arises from desire. Chew on that a bit. A lot of us will chafe at the notion that all life is suffering and insist we are happy. Buddha didn’t demand that we believe him. He demanded that we experience for ourselves. To get that suffering arises from desire might be a little easier but even that might get you thinking about how much pleasure you get from wanting something, planning and saving for it.
We bring a lot of passion to the quest. Passion comes from a Latin word which means “to suffer”. [It’s now a small leap to recognize that compassion means “to suffer with”. That’s a topic for another day.] So you want something. Depending on your personality, maybe you rush out and buy it. Maybe you read Consumer Reports and product reviews. Maybe you go try it out or compare different options. Maybe you save money for a long time, or maybe you just go into debt.
Now you have the thing. Then what? You go onto the next thing to want. My teacher asked us to consider the possibility of wanting exactly what we have. I suggested this to someone recently and they said “You can’t really ‘desire’ what you have though you can desire to maintain it. You CAN be content with it.”
Notice that there isn’t a lot of “juice” in contentment – it’s nothing like wanting, desiring, pining for, coveting. What if my friend is wrong? What if you can want what you have? What if you can bring the same intensity of experience to what is, as you can to what isn’t? Wouldn’t you suffer a whole lot less? Try it some time. (I’ll wait. Let me know how it goes.) Want what you have, not what you lack. See if it’s possible. See how you feel.
We like to complain about what we “have to” do. How would the experience change if we thought of it as what we “want to” do? You might object and say that is lying. But is it? When we make a choice, there is always at least one alternative. Let’s say I told Tom to trim the hedge. He could say he “has to” trim the hedge. He could also say he “wants to” trim the hedge. What is the alternative to trimming the hedge? Obviously, not trimming it. What are the consequences of not trimming it? The hedge doesn’t get trimmed, people get upset because the property looks run down. Someone else trims the hedge and resents Tom for not doing it. I fire Tom and he is out of a job and has no income. There are certainly others. But Tom has chosen to trim the hedge rather than accept the consequences of not doing so. He wants to trim the hedge more than he wants the consequences. How would the experience be different if it started with wanting to trim the hedge?
Top of the World!
Sunday’s ride with the Bombay Bicycle Club included the “Alpe d’ Huez option”. While that is a considerable exaggeration, it did include 3 consecutive climbs over a ridge in the driftless area.
After picking someone up at the airport, I hit the road an hour after the group left, so I didn’t see anyone. The forecast said warm, windy, and cloudy. There was no mention of rain. Twenty miles in, the sky to the north looked ominous. The radar showed it moving southwest to northeast and that it would miss me entirely, just giving some dark sky to watch. The wind was strong out of the south, so that seemed like a safe bet. Thirty-some miles in, it started to rain. There was no cell service, so I had only the sky to go by, not radar or a revised forecast. It was cooling down. With no access to a map, I guessed on a shortcut. It turned out to be more of a detour than a shortcut, only cutting 1.5 miles from the total ride. The good news is that it cut some descents that would be hazardous in the rain. The bad news is that it cut a couple of favorite climbs, substituting straight and flat miles in the valley.