Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Wanting Matters

by Miki Kashtan

I am emerging from another hiatus in writing. This one was the longest since I started my blog. I just came back home 10 days ago from two intensive back-to-back trips, and I am here for a while. I’ve been missing regular contact with this medium which I have come to love. I seem to have increased capacity for writing, again, and I anticipate that as I begin to do more of it, the flow will resume.

After my previous post in which I wrote about some significant challenges, I received several responses. Most of them were expressions of understanding, support, and companionship. I was definitely relieved when I got those. And then I got another one which challenged me on the value of wanting.

Here’s part of what the person said:

“Maybe I’m am not understanding well what your identification with wanting is. However, what I have come to understand through my spiritual practice is that wanting, maybe more than anything else is a root cause of disappointment, restlessness, discouragement, and impatience. I have come to see that taking my wanting seriously has never contributed toward peace or happiness for others or myself.”

This is not the first time I have encountered this view, and I want to engage with it, again. My hope in doing so is to support ever-increasing clarity on all of our parts about the role of wanting in life, and about the relationship between wanting, attachment, and suffering. Two years ago I wrote a full-length article about it in Tikkun Magazine. I called it Wanting Fully without Attachment. My aha moment was discovering that it’s attachment that leads to suffering, not wanting per se. Wanting, I believe, is the core energy that makes life happen. When I look at small children, I see powerful and sturdy wanting, and the willingness to take sometimes enormous risks to move in that direction. It takes years and years of punishment and regimentation before we give up on what we want and lose track of that vibrancy of life within us. In my work with people, the surest way to rekindle aliveness and a sense of meaning in life is to reconnect with that passion that used to be all of ours.

Attachment, on the other hand, is the attempt to make life be a certain way. It makes us lose our openness to life, our creative and imaginative capacity to dance with what life presents without losing track of what we want, and our capacity to embrace the fullness of our experience even when it’s not what we want.

One of the key challenges in this unfolding and opening to what we want is that as we remove the lid on our wanting, it takes considerable spiritual fortitude to re-engage with our wanting without the illusory protection that comes with attachment to outcome. Because of this particular challenge, I see wanting without attachment as a deep spiritual practice. I am still learning, and will probably continue to learn.

The path of vulnerability, which I have been on for so many years, is not failing me, as the anonymous responder was wondering. I would say the opposite. The path of vulnerability has prepared me for the willingness to take risks. The new path is about applying that willingness to the actual process by which I make decisions. Despite my years of practice, this part is still challenging for me. On the big scale, I know what I want for me and the world, and am definitely mobilized towards these visions. In daily life, however, on the very mundane plane of existence, I tend to base my choices on what’s possible, on fear of consequences, and on some consideration of my limits. All of these considerations are in some way external to me. I have abundant clarity that I am more likely to live a rich and satisfying life when I learn to base my decisions on following closely what I want on the deepest level while staying clear of getting attached to any outcome. What else is there as motivation for action?


  1. I want to breathe deep into my tissues the crisp autumn air like the maple roots want to reach down and pull up their nourishment from the earth before the long chill.
    If I am attached to my breath I will suffocate.
    I want to reach out and touch another human being like the ocean wants to reach out and touch the sand, ever reaching, ever receding. If I am attached in my reaching I will suffocate the other.
    I want to sing the song in my heart like the evening cricket wants to sing hers. Just for the pleasure of the music in heart. If I am attached to being heard my song becomes a disappointment rather than a joy when no one is there to listen.
    There is always risk that the love I give will not be received or the song I sing will not be heard. But to refrain from breathing, loving, or singing is to shrivel up and die.
    I love wanting. Wanting keeps me alive and in love. Being free of attachment allows me to continue wanting and being alive and in love in a never-ending cycle.

  2. Spiritual teacher Byron Katie says there are three kinds of business in the world, your business, other people's business and God's business. And she says we are happiest when we stay in our business. Of course when I read about events in the world, I can become like a deer in the headlights and then I remember, stay out of God's business and go back to your own, the only place where you sometimes affect a change.

  3. In that place of wanting, we discover, I have found, another Wanting...God's. The scriptures are full of the Yearning of God as well as the willingness to be vulnerable, to take risks, and to pour himself out for that be for others. Non-attachment. Non-attachment, for me, at least for now, is this total selflessness I see modelled in our Creator, in parents, in people who take risks for others even at the cost of life.

  4. beautifully said. thank you.

  5. Hi, Miki. Ron, aka anonymous person from the previous blog. I am still not sure how to sign in to post a comment, thus, the anon label last time. I am so happy you have returned to this fine blog to share your rich and challenging thoughts and questions with your readers. I missed you.

    I would like to share some more on the theme and your engagement with it. The first thing that is important for me is that there be an understanding that wanting exists in many forms or different intensitities of attachment. There are low and high minded desires, cravings, wishing, having in mind, fancying (liking/loving), and “needs.” In my previous comment I included the phrases, “taking wanting seriously” and “identification with wanting.” I find I can be better aware of the level of attachment by how seriously I want something. Is it getting in the way of my flexibility or freedom to change? Is this particular wanting part of who I take myself to be? Has it attached itself to my limiting ego-self? Do I have expectations I should or deserve to get it and in the way I want to get it? Am I holding on to it for dear life?

    You are right when you say that wanting is what drives one through life (makes things happen). But it is not the only energy that can move us. As one matures and takes him/herself (life, the world) more lightly, new energies replace old habits as a driving force. Something is going to happen whether I want it or not. Maybe I can learn to welcome what comes. It is a slow process in most cases, at least that is my experience.

    The idea of children wanting in all their innocence is a two-sided priniciple, having both positive and negative attributes. One can be childlike (creative, innocent, courageous) and/or childish (impatient, inflexible, entitled).

    Lastly, this current American culture stresses the opposite of detachment. It sells us on wanting and entitlement with the notion that you will never have, do, or be anything worthwhile unless you want it enough. I have heard it called magical thinking. In a way this makes it more challenging, but maybe not, in that, we see outrageous suffering rooted in all the craziness, which could inspire one to stick with the process.