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?