Wanting Is Suffering — Resistance Is Pain
After a decade plus of reading and meditating, the Buddha’s summarised philosophy of ‘wanting is suffering’ never rang true. It was massaged and toyed with in my mind but never hit home. One day it did and I realised that the decade of meditating or reading or pondering really is pointless:
Spirituality cannot be understood, it can only be experienced.
The above is true for everything but, for me, the revelation came with the wanting being equal to suffering angle. In the pit of despair and sorrow, I realised everything that caused unhappiness was my desire for things to be something they were not. So, built-in any wanting there is resistance to what is and there is lack.
If I want control, approval, to be right, to be safe, to be whole, I’m also plugging into awareness not of what is but of what is not. I want to be at that party = I’m not at that party and I’m missing out on the fun I should be having. I want this girl = I’m not desirable to this girl. I daydream about some fantasized and idealised future = I don’t want to be here and now, or, here and now is lesser than what I think it should be. Someone is obnoxiously late and I want to be more respected or not be stuck here waiting = I’m being disrespected, the world and people are treating me unfairly.
Ironically, all those are somewhat valid concerns, from the mind’s perspective, looking at it from ego, they’re still the core error and source of pain. In an of itself, the not being at the party, the not closing the deal with the hot girl, the daydreaming, the late person… they’re not problematic in an of themselves, they represent an unsuccessful outcome or an undesirable situation but, also, they are -they just are.
The mind gets into trouble thinking that it resenting reality, this moment, it can resolve this moment, make this moment whole, blissful, perfect. That can never be the case, ever. The negative inner dialogue only adds a layer of pain onto an otherwise neither good nor bad ‘moment’… it just is reality.
A simpler way of defining ‘wanting’ here is: to have an expectation about what life should’ve been or should be. When you’re present and choose what you want, there’s a preference or a desire but there’s no problem or inner conflict because there was no expectation/mental construction of what reality should’ve been or should be.
In one of his books, Eckhart Tolle gives the example of stepping in a puddle. Most people have the erroneous idea that being free of desire, of ‘wanting’, would leave the man stuck, not able to move his foot because moving out of the puddle would mean he resists being in the puddle, that he wants to be out of the puddle. This is of course missing the point entirely, and mistaking the kind of wanting that creates a problem, an internal dialogue of negativity about what is instead of what should be, as opposed to a natural desire to choose the best available option/state at this point in time. A tiger that lays in the shade of a tree rather than in the sun isn’t ‘resisting’ the sun or the heat, there is no pain, anguish… there is no problem, there is no resentment about what is… there’s a patch of sun filled grass and, next to it, a patch of shaded grass… and the tiger goes to the shade. Similarly, the man takes his foot out of the puddle, without having made the stepping in the puddle a problem in the first place, there is no anger, no blaming or victimising, no problem: I stepped in a puddle, this is not nice but it is as it is, I’m taking my foot out and jiggling my foot to dry it as much as I can, then go on with what needs to be done.
There’s something remarkable that happens when this realisation hits you -as opposed to being understood only mentally: things become lighter. So, if an interpretation of the situation remains, if there’s mental chatter instead of stillness, it at least isn’t negative (there is no big drama), you can accept what is and make the best of what is even as seen from the mind. It’s a more conscious way to think, if thinking you must do.
From that base, the more miraculous thing that happens is: life becomes cooperative. That part, I can’t explain. And it also might be a question of perspective, maybe life was about to be smoother or endeavours more successful anyway. But I just notice that periods of bliss arise from and are surrounded by acceptance, which fundamentally is a non-resistance to what is, which fundamentally is the absence of wanting what is to be something different, which is fundamentally the absence of ego-based desires.
Not wanting anything, literally nothing, to not dream of some idealised future, to no reminisce on a conversation wishing a different outcome, to not create worry about a potential negative event that might take place in the future… to just be there, ok with what is, open to what flows into this moment, to almost just observe, to let oneself be a channel or a pawn in an otherwise grander game of life, to go with and not resist what this moment is.
It truly is liberating and there is presence, and so peace and harmony, in there.