Want Not (or You’ll Be Sorry)

Okay, I think I’ve got a handle on the wanting/not wanting/Buddhism thing. Thanks, Mr. Markowitz, for the explanation.

If you want stuff, you won’t have serenity, because you will never get everything you want and there is always more wanting and maybe the stuff you want isn’t even good for you. Not that I would know anything about that.

However, if you explicitly don’t want stuff because you know that the wanting of stuff chases away the serenity, you are still out of luck, because you still want something: serenity.

Granted, serenity is probably a better thing to want than things that are not good for you or even things that are okay for you, but you still can’t go around wanting it or you will never get it.

Not only do you have to not want anything, you have to ignore the whole business of wanting/not wanting and just go about your life, working and taking care of your kids, and let the serenity sneak up on you.

Have I got that right, Jeff?

But now, I don’t know, it’s starting to sound a little too sacrificial, like it’s wrong, somehow, to look after you own interests or even notice what your interests might be. And as someone who has now spent 18 years looking after the interests of others and is only beginning to contemplate what my own interests might be, I’m a little resistant to that message.

The other day, after we ate my birthday tiramisu, one of my coworkers asked what I’d wished for. My birthday wishes are always the same: for my kids to be happy and healthy. That will never change. But maybe one of these days I’ll make a wish all my own.


14 thoughts on “Want Not (or You’ll Be Sorry)

  1. Off the cuff, I’d say there is serenity in oblivion. There is serenity in gnosis. I think there is also serenity in love. And there’s nothing serene about love.

    I should really quit while I’m behind.

  2. I’m sure there are many people who would agree that surrendering both the wanting and the not wanting, that going about your daily life without wanting/not wanting implies a life of sacrifice and self-denial. Perhaps they’re right, but I don’t see it that way. Quite the contrary. For me it implies living fully in the moment, whether that moment is spent analyzing changes in medicaid rates or cleaning dog shit off the carpet, whether the moment is spent dancing like no one is watching, helping my son move into an apartment or sipping scotch and drawing to an inside straight. There’s nothing wrong with wants or not wants unless you allow them to control your actions, your emotions and your relations.

  3. Yes, it seems to me, and I’m just thinking out loud here, that it’s easier to dispense with all wanting and not wanting and allow yourself to drift through the current of your life, living in each and every moment of your life regardless of what that moment brings, if you feel you have some agency in the shape of your life. For example, master Bankei says, if I’m hungry I eat, and if I’m tired I sleep. Of course that implies…no, necessitates…that master Bankei has agency over what he does. He can choose to eat when he’s hungry or sleep when he’s tired. I would like to know what master Bankei would do if he is hungry, but he is prevented from eating. How would he avoid wanting to eat? How does one respond to a situation when one has no agency? This is a problem in fiction AND in life.

  4. It seems to me that you need to start reading Ayn Rand. Her philosophy of Objectivism was based, in part, on the right to care about yourself, and in most instances, the right, if not the duty to put yourself first. Mostly, people are horrified by that, since we are all taught, especially women, to put virtually everyone else before ourselves.

  5. I don’t think I’ve been recommending an aimless sort of drifting through life. Quite the contrary, I believe in a goal-directed, purposeful sort of drifting. I want to be a New York Times bestselling author. I want to be able to afford retirement. I want to eat bacon and eggs without worrying about my cholesterol. But my serenity is not connected to the wanting.

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