Desire, part 2

We’re looking at one of Marshall Rosenberg’s key distinctions in his teachings of nonviolent communication. It’s the distinction between demand and request. The distinction lies in whether you are upset if the answer is no. If you are upset, discombobulated, angered, annoyed – if reactivity is triggered when you don’t get what you want, then it was a demand. There might be a little demand energy in your desire, or there might be a lot.

When stoics and Buddhists say that desirelessness is liberation, they’re talking about desires with demand energy behind them – whether you’re demanding better service at a restaurant, demanding that traffic thin out, demanding that your spouse wash some dishes, or demanding that sun and sky provide some clear and warm weather. Demands become tyrants ruling our lives. Liberation deposes the tyrant.

We still have requests – of ourselves, of people around us, maybe, or the world – but if they aren’t met, we’re still OK. We’re still able to be calm, at peace, joyous. And when stoics and Buddhists say that desire causes suffering, again, they’re talking about demands.

Sometimes we don’t get what we want. Even when we do get what we want, Freud spoke of there being inevitably a residue of disappointment in it. There’s a residual disappointment in even the most satisfying experience. Freud wrote:
“There is always something lacking for complete discharge and satisfaction,” and he shifts from his German to a French phrase meaning, “always waiting for something which never came.”
So it’s not just that sometimes we don’t get what we want. In some sense, we NEVER get what we want – not all of it.

This fact is maybe not quite as mystical – or as sexual -- as Freud makes it out to be. Evolution built us to be organisms that keep ourselves alive in a world where dangers are always lurking. This requires finding ways to meet our physical needs, and always moving on to the next thing we can do to improve our safety, enhance our resources, increase the survival chances of our offspring. So, no, we can’t ever be COMPLETELY satisfied – unless we can come to see the residue of dissatisfaction as itself perfectly satisfactory.

When we don’t get what we want, if there was demand in that want, then we suffer. We’re irritated, out of sorts, ruffled – maybe even enraged. We are one form or another of wretched. As Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck put it:
"There are two kinds of desires: demands ("I have to have it") and preferences. Preferences are harmless; we can have as many as we want. Desire that demands to be satisfied is the problem."
Unwholesome desires are fundamentally demands. Even if it’s a desire for something that isn’t good for you, it’s the demand energy that makes it a problem for you. Without the demand, rationality can recognize that it’s not good for you and let it go.

Wholesome desires include preferences, as Joko Beck said. It’s OK to have preferences. It’s OK to prefer chocolate to strawberry ice cream, and it’s OK to put some energy into getting what you prefer. It’s OK to prefer being comfortable to being uncomfortable, and to put some energy into that preference.

But your energies will always need to be balanced. Energy here now, means you aren’t putting it to something else now. Demand skews that balance. Demand siphons off way more of your energy than you would ever, in an ideal setting for calm reflection, have said was really what you wanted. You can’t rationally and calmly discern where you want to put your energies if demand is driving you. Don’t get rid of desires, just get rid of demand.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, but saying it, resolving it, is a beginning toward diminishing the tyranny of demand. That’s liberation – that’s the freedom to put your energies where you want to. You can put them toward this preference or that preference – and toward something overarching that orders and prioritizes your preferences: what I’ve spoken of before as your great vow.

Wholesome desires also include your great vow, the mission of your life, the great purpose – the direction you point your life in whether you make much progress or not. The trick is not to bring demand to your great vow, either. Your vow is not about outcomes. It’s the overarching desire of your life, but it isn’t a demand. If it were a demand, it would be about outcome. In fact, the degree to which your vow is about outcome is the measure of the demand energy in it. Your life vow is not about outcome, but about orientation. It’s about pointing your life in a certain direction – and then just seeing where that takes you, where it takes the world.

With a Great Vow, there’s never a point at which you say, well, that’s done. Mission accomplished. You’ve pointed yourself in a direction: whether it’s “I vow to speak my truth,” or “I vow to embody true compassion,” or “I vow to live for the cause of social justice,” or whatever your vow is. And then you just see where that takes you. Maybe some days it didn’t seem like you were very compassionate, or did much for justice, but you just keep yourself pointed in that direction. The analogy I’ve used before is that it’s like flying an airplane through thick clouds, very limited visibility, and you have no instruments except a compass. Your vow is that compass. It keeps you pointed: East, say. There’s no question of ever arriving at East.

There’s nowhere to get to. There’s just being headed that way. Moreover, you have no speedometer (on the path of vow, there's no such thing as a speedometer), so there’s no way to know how fast you’re going East.

“Desire,” says Ram Dass, “is the creator; desire is the destroyer. Desire is the universe.” Let me now give the more extended quotation. Ram Dass has said:
“The first thing my Hindu teacher wrote on his slate in teaching me was the statement, “Desire is a trap; desirelessness is liberation; desire is the creator, desire is the destroyer, desire is the universe.”
As I hope you now see, the sort of desire that is a trap is outcome-focused demand. And liberation is a life oriented by our desires, pointed by them in the direction we want to go, but not dependent on outcome -- moved but not driven, laughing at every failure and at every success along the way – working, yet filled with appreciation; purposive, yet filled with gratitude; intentional, yet filled with joy.

No comments:

Post a Comment