Fedup: Why I’m Done With Wanting Things
“One loves ultimately one’s desires, not the thing desired.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Let me rephrase this jewel from Nietzsche, “A person loves their desires, not the thing they desire.” I cut this jewel into my own image and way of speaking, but the truth behind it has not been lost. It was written over a century ago and still rings loud in today’s consumerist society. I have always been told the futility of basing one’s worth on accumulating wealth and possessions since my Christian youth, but I was never really warned against desire itself until I started reading books from Stoic philosophers and cross-referencing them with Buddhist teachers.
An interesting similarity between Stoicism and Buddhism is that they both place much emphasis on the present moment:
Throwing away then all things, hold to these only which are few; and besides bear in mind that every man lives only this present time, which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest of his life is either past or it is uncertain. Short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago. ~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Death is only a thing of terror for those unable to live in the present. ~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The Buddha said, “The past no longer exists, and the future is not yet here.” There is only a single moment in which we can truly be alive, and that is the present moment. Being present in the here and now is our practice. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment.
My biggest takeaway from these teachings is that everything we need for happiness and fulfillment is in the present moment, but what happens when you throw desire into the mix? I didn’t see the effects of desire on me personally until after a few months of studying these books and allowing the brain-food to digest.
One thing that was startling to realize was how frequently I went through my days wanting something, anything. From food, money, status, sex, degrees, songs for my music library, an electric car to be done with gas stations, a new house, a stronger body, longer hair, a new phone, new clothes, better sleep, etc., the list was an endless maze that had no end.
From time to time I would catch myself by remembering that desire itself is problematic, but it wasn’t long before I would go right back to obsessing over my list of desires. It was maddening because I knew in the back of my mind that as soon as I crushed one desire by satisfying it, two more would replace it like the head of a hydra. This was very demoralizing and often left me feeling paralyzed from the abundance of noise in my mind and uncertainty about which way to go. My mind was everywhere but in the present moment, and this is what desire is good at doing: taking us out of the present moment.
Recently I made the commitment to be done with chasing after my desires. This is not a destination however, it’s a practice. If I say that I will reach a point where I never feel the tug of desire, I’ll be seeking after my own “psychological Atlantis” as author Mark Manson calls it. Like a dog chasing after its own tail, the desire to be free of desire is a desire in itself. It’s a catch-22. How can I be free of desire without desiring said freedom?
The best tool I have in my arsenal for now is one of non-duality, i.e., not being at war with myself. I first came across this concept from the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh in You Are Here:
In Buddhist meditation, you do not turn yourself into a battlefield, with good fighting against evil. Both sides belong to you, the good and the evil. Evil can be transformed into good, and vice versa. They are completely organic things. If you look deeply at a flower, at its freshness and its beauty, you will see that there is also compost in it, made of garbage. The gardener had the skill to transform this garbage into compost, and with this compost, he made a flower grow.
I’m not going to fight myself by struggling to be free of desire, or become a slave to my desires by letting them dictate my actions. Acknowledgement will be the only thing given to my desires, and when I do this, I’m actually acknowledging myself. In the end, my peace and clarity of mind will be preserved.