Tag Archives: philosophy

Desire is the root of all…something or other

The major religions and philosophies generally advocate that people need to knock off all the desiring – that it is desiring and its pals coveting, wanting, and greed (greeding?) that cause us so much misery. That, and keep us from attaining higher states of consciousness.

As a creature of wants and desires, I’ve given this quite a bit of thought. And it bugs me. Why? Because to be human is to desire. Even if someone is so evolved they no longer succumb to the impulses of the flesh – they don’t need sexy time – and they’re content to subsist on next to nothing in terms of money and material goods, they still will have human needs for food and companionship. Oh, you could argue that the evolved person just eats rice and forgoes shrimp cocktail and frozen gelato, but even that doesn’t work, because variety is needed to satisfy nutrition and sustain life.

And the companionship part… sure, there are people who choose to live in isolation, and others that vow silence, but these are the exceptions. Even people who avoid others often secretly, deeply, need human interaction and they’ll pay the price for its absence. Further, shunning and solitary confinement are the grievous punishments they are because we humans so need that connection.

What I’ll concede is that desiring has a way of feeding on itself. You get one of something, them you want two or a bigger something. I’m going to paraphrase this old idea loosely, the one that says the man with no feet wants feet; the man with feet wants a pair of shoes; the man with a pair of shoes wants two pairs of shoes; and so on like that (I’m pretty sure I don’t have it exact, but that’s the general idea). Get one need met and another pops up. Why, life is one long, drawn-out game of Whack-A-Need! Git me a mallet, by gum.

I just need to rest a minute. I want to swim in the ocean. I want those people to shut the hell up already. I want more money. I want to run my hands across that man’s shoulders. I want a chocolate-iced donut with cream filling. I want a nice, worry-free retirement. I want these aches and pains to go away. I want those dogs to stop barking. I want a bowl of popcorn and a DVD. I need to sleep for two days. I want this traffic to start moving before my head explodes. I want all the cellphones to go back to where they came from. I want the neighbor to go smoke somewhere else. I want to be somewhere beautiful in nature. I want more closet space. I want a microwave that has a nice old-fashioned bell and not an insanity-inducing horrid long whining digital buzzer. I want cute tie-up ankle boots. I want heat. I want air conditioning. I just want a shower. I want my hair to look right every day. I want a really good book to read and get lost in. I want to never hear anything more about crime, murders, violence, wars, and terrible sickness again. I want to live without fear. I just need to get over this cold. I want pasta and garlic bread. I want people to act right. I want decent customer service. I need a hug. I want a break. I want to eat breakfast in a real diner, not some corporation’s idea of a diner. I want my writing published. I need more security. I want a big seafood feast. I want sane, non-creepy landlords. I want leggings that don’t pill and sag. I want it to be sunny. I want to breathe clean air. I need to think. I want disturbed people to leave me the hell alone. I want a snappy little red sports car. I want a handy little pick-up truck that never breaks down. I want good coffee not watery swill. I need a decent night’s sleep. I want to be taken to dinner. I want a raise. I need to be appreciated. I want people to do what they say they’re going to do. I need allergy medicine. I want to stay independent till I die. I want the people behind me in the movie theater to shut their yaps and stop kicking my %#&$ seat. I want to make art and get paid for it. I want to stay healthy. I need to eat NOW. I need to get up early. I need to be more productive. I need to go the store, to the DMV, to the doctor, to the repair shop, to school, to work, to the awards ceremony, to the funeral, to the graduation, to the meeting, to the appointment, to the wedding, to the gym, to the class, to the training, to…

We often get caught up in comparison and I think it’s our nature to compare “up the ladder.” We look at people who appear to have more or better than we do, and covet what they’ve got, whether it’s youth, beauty, material goods, health, cars, homes, spouses, kids, jobs, or money. Rarely do we compare ourselves to people who have or do less. I don’t talk around thinking, “Well at least I’m not a meth head.” And yet, I have been considering that if we’re going to play the Comparison Game (perhaps when we take a brief break from Whack-a-Need), we SHOULD look not only at who is standing on the rungs above us, but also at those below.

See, a thought came to me two days ago that offered a useful boost in perspective. It is that there are people who could be envying me or what I have. Generally, if this isn’t the last thing from my mind, it’s still pretty damn far away. And yet, it occurred to me when I’m thinking about everything I want, there could be people looking at what I have and thinking it looks quite good to them.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate what I have – I really do, increasingly, try to keep my focus there – but I expect I think MORE about my desires and wants. If I lived out in the woods here in the U.S., and quite honestly, there are people in my community who do, or I lived in an overcrowded hut in a third-world country, I bet my life, my things, my existence, would look awfully nice. As I write that, I’m taken aback. I need to remember that more.

So I played a little mental game of envying myself. What do I have that I’d be wishing for if it was not mine already? I’m no Pollyanna (“Let’s all just look on the bright side and sing a happy little tune!”), but doing this mental exercise was – is – instructive. The reality is I’ve got more than a few things I’d be wishing for if I didn’t have them. I’m determined to do this more. To think about what I have in terms of if I didn’t have it.

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Short Thought 76 (jerks)

Sporadically, probably not often enough, when someone is being a jerk to me, I pretend not to notice. It can be effective because it strips them of a target and it feels kind of good to not allow myself to be engaged at that level. It isn’t my first instinct, though. Or second.

Working my way back to “you”

I like being active; whether it’s exercising, or gardening, or making stuff, or going out and doing things from recreational to cultural to sight-seeing. I diligently keep up with my obligations, commitments, shopping, cooking, paperwork, and chores. But I have to say my favorite thing is achieving that feeling when everything I need to do for the time being is done, when I’m caught up, and I can stop and simply relax with nothing on the agenda (“free time” is one of my all-time favorite phrases and concepts).

Even though there are many things I enjoy doing and I’m energetic by nature, the state of all-is-done-and-all-is-well, is the one I am repeatedly working my way back to. It’s not an achievable constant – the place I’ve described isn’t one a living person can kick back and stay in, nor do I think I would want to. I expect its value comes from its fleeting nature and the fact I have to earn it. Over and over and over.

Summer 2014

I liked this summer, when all was said and done. It wasn’t perfect; I had things I was dealing with that were taxing at times, I didn’t do anything particularly amazing, and I felt a potent sense of loss at the recent death of Robin Williams. Still, I felt like I was “in” it, you know? That I didn’t wait around for summer to start or weigh it down with a raft of expectations before it got going. I attribute this in part to a philosophical shift. Instead of waiting or hoping for an optimum this-or-that, I’m more attuned to what is right in front of me. This has nothing to do with seizing every moment or living life to the fullest or any such hoo-ha – I don’t, never have, confident I never will. More a matter of paying attention, maybe, to what is accessible to me now, and working it, if I have it in me to do so. I remind myself that whatever I may think of the present, there may come a time when I am nostalgic for it.

I find myself revisiting the theme from my older post because I’m still exploring it, seeing how it plays out in my life. This summer was a good example. It was different than I thought it might be for a couple reasons, but I liked that I adjusted, focusing on what was working, and not as much on what wasn’t. There will ALWAYS be things that aren’t “working” but maybe I see that age in and of itself has brought me a bit of resiliency. Oh, I do my share of inward (and some outward) railing… tilting at windmills, but more selectively, i.e., just because there’s a windmill, I don’t have to auto-tilt.

I suck it up more. Many a time I tell myself in response to something I don’t like or would prefer different: Tough. Not to be mean – I’m mindful of that – but realistic.

“Suck it up” and “Tough” aren’t going to be too many people’s versions of feel good mantras, but I find them useful notions. The world – my world – isn’t a place that runs ever smoothly, nary a glitch or problem in sight. There is simply nothing to be done about a lot of it, but to adjust one’s thinking, if needed, and if possible. I’m reminded of the saying that success, or something like that, is the result of continuing to get back up. That ties into resiliency for sure, continuing to try, which, in the end, is usually all you can control.

It was a good summer.

Pleased and disappointed

I am easily pleased and easily disappointed. I’ve always been wired up this way, although I will say that age has filed down the edges of both to a degree. Both used to exist in such relief and what I see now – as I write these very words – is that these feelings dovetail with an overall tendency toward responsiveness in general to external stimuli, be it people or events.

Who wants to be the person perpetually responding to every which way the wind turns? I’m in absolutely no danger of becoming a nonresponsive automaton, so bringing the easily pleased/easily disappointed trait down a notch or three can’t hurt. Age in and of itself helped, yes, but maybe consciousness about being too responsive factors in as well.

Taking the edge off is good but that’s probably about as far as I want to go. I know that if I wanted to be all Buddhist and Zen, I’d strive to become dispassionate, centered at the same level of calm mindfulness no matter what happened around me. Yeaaaah. Not a chance. Not only will I never be like that, I don’t want to be. I like my passion, I like being plugged in.

Long ago I heard the idea that people have what amounts to an invisible wall around them that monitors or screens incoming stimuli. My “wall” is very, very low. EVERYTHING comes in. By contrast, I have a sister who is quite different. When we were kids, she could sit with a book or in front of the television and I could repeatedly say her name in an attempt to get her attention, and she wouldn’t look up or hear me. (No, in this case, she wasn’t just blowing off her younger sister.) I was dumbfounded and would actually take to waving my arms around to snap her out of it. She was somewhere else. Her stimuli screening wall was very high.

I sure wouldn’t want to be my opposite: hard to please and hard to disappoint. Maybe some would say that is being calmed, but to me it sounds like being deadened. Giving up. I’ve written before about how excitement winds down with age and I expect that there’s a natural progression in most people to shift on the pleased/disappointed spectrum toward less of both. Go around the block enough times and you get a pretty good idea of how things work and what to expect. No sense getting overly excited about any of it. I know there are older people who belie my generalizations – the older lady who gets more appreciative and pleased with what life has to offer in her “twilight” years; the old man who’s more ornery and displeased with everything he sees (feel free to swap out the genders on my examples) – but I’m thinking of how most people age.

Yeah, I suppose it’d be nice to be easily pleased and hard to disappoint, but the people embodying that particular trait combo must be like unicorns. I personally stand no chance of being one, but think few are. I come across people who persistently play at it in a manner of speaking; uttering vague niceties and saccharine clichés that suggest being easily pleased, but I don’t believe them. These are the autopilot speakers, who always say things like “Isn’t that nice?” Or “What an adorable baby!” And “Every day is a gift from God.” However, their talk might as well be on a loop tape for all the more depth and sincerity it has. (Like they could look at a random baby and accidentally blurt, “Every day is a gift from God.” Oops, reboot.)

It’s an interesting thing, trying to find this balance and working with or against one’s own innate tendencies. I know how I’m wired but I realize also, given a few years behind me, that the feelings of being easily pleased and easily disappointed are transient. I can expect neither to stick around too long. I can’t or don’t hang onto them, which sounds a bit Buddhist after all.

I feel like I was born knowing certain things

There are concepts or ideas I feel I was born knowing. It’s been quite awhile, but when I went to college I took plenty of Social Sciences classes where I studied the basic theories and philosophies of personality/character development. None of them truly addressed what I mean.

I have long been profoundly interested in the ideas of truth and fairness. We can rule out these being emphasized in my childhood at home or school, because they weren’t, not really – I heard oodles of rhetoric and dogma, but in relatively short order saw and experienced the hollowness of both. I didn’t know the word then, but had a front seat and a bowl of popcorn for repeated viewings of Hypocrisy 101. Even though I was a child, many things I saw didn’t sit right.

A second obvious possibility is that I became interested in truth and fairness as a reaction to their absence, i.e., I witnessed or felt impacted by their lack, and so made the search for them my life’s mission. I’m not going to toss anyone out of the room for suggesting as much because there IS an element or three of that at work in my psyche. I experienced things then that I’m still trying to correct now as I go about my life in the greater world.

What I’m talking about however, transcends mere reactionary railing against perceived wrongs, whether against me or others. There are just certain…things, for lack of a more eloquent, spot-on word, I feel I’ve always known. For some readers, that assertion could skew too closely to Mysticism or New Age beliefs. I don’t think of myself in those terms and don’t typically relate to much of what I hear from their respective camps. (If nothing else, my skeptical, smart-assery and irreverent natures would deny my membership.)

Whatever that quality was in me, whatever I was born knowing or being, I can tell you there was no guile in it. I was like a little laser when it came to all things true and fair, and it never occurred to me to hide it or otherwise be manipulative. My life probably would have gone smoother if I had been slicker because adults, the ones I dealt with anyway, were not so enamored of these particular qualities. Let me revisit that last statement. The adults were okay with it so long as they thought I was reflecting their mantras and dogmas, so long as my qualities, including this profound attraction to truth and fairness, “passed” if you will, for something that fit into their schematic. The older I got and the more I threw off the (artificial to me) belief systems that I was surrounded by, the more obvious it became that this kid isn’t like us (and is therefore wrong). I never believed it. The power of feeling you’ve always known something, were born knowing something both right and good, is sturdy stuff.