I sometimes ponder the concept of desire. I think about what it means to me to want something, something outside of myself. I then consider the object of my desire and ask myself what I’d do if I actually got that thing. Would that thing, the one that I’ve pined away for, longed for, fantasized about, would that thing actually make me happy?
Desire is a strong will or want for something or for some condition to happen. Desire is a state of impasse. Desire means you’re still waiting for something. You want something, but you don’t know how to get it. Or maybe you lack the means to get it, but still, you want that thing, outside of you.
There is a certain peril or, discomfort about looking outside of ourselves for happiness. That peril is a lack of control over people, places and things. For when we want something outside of ourselves, we place ourselves at the mercy of that other thing. As long as that desire is in our minds, it’s private, but we are made vulnerable when we make our desire public and known to others.
I know. You know. We’ve all been there, drooling over some shiny, pretty thing we can’t have. The gorgeous hunk that Taylor Swift could not have became the object of one of her songs. The perfumes, the dresses and the luxury cars with the bows on top for Christmas, they play on our desires. The fast car, the diamond ring, the house on the cliffs of Malibu, the power of status, or the intimacy of someone we hardly know. These are objects of desire.
Few of us have really ventured into the depths of our desire. As Billy Joel notes in his song, “The Stranger”, the object of desire is unfamiliar territory. It is only when we have that thing, that we discover the true cost of possession. For it is easy to see the work that goes into getting that thing. What is hard to notice or even predict, is what we must sacrifice in order to get it.
Ambitious men and women have pursued power and wealth for a lifetime, and if they’re lucky, they figure out before they’re dead, that those possessions don’t love them. They can’t. The luxurious, the ostentatious, the obscene and the petulant possessions we covet are not designed for love, they are designed for narcissism.
The TV doesn’t love you. The car doesn’t love you. That 10,000 square foot home in Beverly Hills doesn’t love you. Even the banks who gave you the loan for the house — so sorry, they don’t love you. The diamond ring doesn’t love you. The dress doesn’t love you, no matter how flattering you think it fits on you when you wear it.
Political positions don’t love you. Power doesn’t love you. Money doesn’t love you. Bribes don’t love you. The 2nd or 3rd wife you married, after you made your fortunes, how do you know she loves you for you? Where is the love?
I used to think I wanted sex. Then I got it and didn’t know what to do with it. I used to think I wanted to be married, well, I’m married now, and I look back on how I used to think about sex to see that I had no clue what sex was really for. I used to think that I wanted money, but there is real competition for money. I’m not sure I want to while away my life in overtime just to have more money. I used to think I wanted a fast car, but the insurance payments are nuts. I could have bought a house for payments like that.
After awhile, you know, like getting into middle age, I began to realize that I could be happy with what I have, right now. More to the point, I began to see that I really didn’t know what I wanted.
I have this little mental exercise that I sometimes take my friends into, when they tell me they’re unhappy. Sometimes I do this number on myself just to remind myself that the true gifts in life are not what I know now. Here it is:
- Take a sheet of paper, a letter size sheet will do.
- Draw a small letter ‘o’ in the center.
- Now imagine that the contents of that ‘o’ is everything you know.
- Now draw a somewhat bigger concentric circle around the small circle.
- Now take note that everything you know you don’t know is in that moat around the stuff you know.
- Everything else, outside of that murky moat, is what you don’t even know you don’t know.
- Now consider the possibility that what you really want is probably out there, somewhere beyond the moat.
I like to call this exercise, “Set Theory”. Most people assume that what they want is what they know. Oh sure, they could count their blessings and be happy, but counting them only makes them the lesser. So they look outside of themselves.
They slobber over the car, the diamond, and the toys behind the glass, and the pretty humans, leaving a trail of desire that even Google could follow. Often we truly believe that if we could just shove all that shiny, glossy, sexy stuff in front of our faces, then that stuff would make us happy. Our advertising culture has led us to think that happiness is a passive experience. That if we just got X, we’d be happy.
I know a guy who has 3 McLaren supercars. He got a nice dopamine hit on the first one. Then, for some reason, he got another one. And another. I guess 3 cars, each with a purchase price north of $300,000 is enough, right? That could make anyone happy. If you’re blind and can’t drive, probably not. If you lack empathy, then I can see how such gifts might make you feel. But no matter what you get in life, you still have to make a choice to be happy. That choice is a decision.
I may even know what I want, but I also know that if I get that thing, I will want something else. You know, like accessories, tools for maintenance, or a maintenance plan, and training on how to use that newfangled thing. I would want to get every last drop of joy I can pull out of that thing, right?
I don’t know what I want because even if I got what I wanted, I’d still have to have a consciousness that can embrace those worldly possessions. Worse, if you can call it that, I’d have to be aware of every contingency that goes along with that prize or gift, as the case may be. Some of us who have been blessed with a gift, also know that that shiny thing owns us as much as we own it. We know how much time that thing would suck out of our lives at the expense of something else we already enjoy. You know, like family, friends and less expensive hobbies.
Finding and living with the love of your life includes all of the good and all of the bad. The shiny car requires maintenance. The shiny diamond requires secure storage when not in use. Political power requires a lot of butt kissing, kissing that perhaps we’d rather reserve for someone closer to us, someone we trust. The trophy wife is still just a trophy, unless you take the time to get to know her. Then you might find love, not so unrequited.
Some of my greatest gifts in life came to me through serendipity, from beyond the second circle. My best friendships were a result of serendipity. My most treasured memories were completely off script, unplanned and totally improvised. Many of the things that bring happiness to my life are not even my own. The sun, the clouds, the green grass, the people…the people. Hmm. I can’t put them in a curio cabinet for adulation in the early evening hours while smoking a fat joint now, can’t I?
I have learned to tame my desire for things. I have tamed it so that I can have my eyes open for all that free stuff. Sunrises, sunsets and solar eclipses are still free. Smiles are free. Hugs are free. Puns are free. Accepting everything exactly as it is, is free. That acceptance makes our mind open for the myriad of little gifts that still lay ahead of us. Accepting everything as a gift is an extraordinary act of discipline in a land of consumers. Allowing all of that to be enough, just for a day, now that’s piety.
Gifts in life are like buses. There’s always another one coming. One only needs to keep their mind open just long enough to see the gifts going by. In that context, it’s OK to not know what we want. I live for the uncertainty of living.