Monday, August 12, 2013

This is not what I want!

Every day, all day, from me and others come desires, plans, goals, aims - it's a give-and-take world, not a one-way street of control.  I see that we desire A but we get part of A.  We wanted all of it but that is not what we get.  

We can try again.  We can restart, begin again, sometimes.  We can't live our lives over again.

I was surprised when I learned that the master psychologist, Siddhartha Gautama, the Awakened One, the Buddha, fixed on human desires as the source of human suffering. I think he made a distinction between pain and suffering, feeling that pain is part of life.  It is usually a signal or reminder, as in not to put your finger in a flame.  But suffering multiplies pain, uses the mind to keep the feeling of unhappiness on top, that you were so dumb to do that, especially after you promised yourself that you would never do that again, self-disgust that you would act so silly, so unconsciously, so irresponsibly.

In the hospital recently, I had plenty of chances to see goals and desires stated and examined.  Then, I had opportunities to see that the goal wasn't reached or the desires not fulfilled.  I didn't get what I wanted!  I heard of quite a few other people who also did not get what they wanted.  I am developing new respect for the Buddha's insight: desires are a fundamental source of human discomfort.

One of my favorite Western writers who works at integrating Buddhist concepts and those of Western psychology and psychiatry is Dr. Mark Epstein.  He has been a psychiatrist for decades and a Buddhist practitioner for as long.  He has only written a few books but I have found them especially helpful.  He wrote "Open to Desire", in which he included a sketch of a group of young professionals, including himself, who were learning how to apply Buddhist ideas to their lives.  It was a Friday evening and they desired (oh no!) to have dinner together but they needed to agree on a restaurant.  Their reading of Buddhism lead them to conclude that a real follower of Gautama who be free of prejudices and desires.  Each was determined to restrain himself and not express a preference, to not betray any flaw in his application of the ideas.


Epstein wrote the book to emphasize that all living things have desires, that they are normal and necessary, that life is not lived without them.  He says what the Buddha was referring to, is better translated as craving or obsession.  This position reminds me of what I heard was Sister Teresa's advice for living a good life:"Accept!"  She didn't mean just be a doormat for life's challenges, but that when it is clear that you are getting what you did not choose, realize that life is only partially under your control and that you are going to be dealt hands that are miserable.  Doing the best you can with them is using your best tools, advancing your cause to the extent possible.

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