Buddhist philosophy argues the familiar aphorism that the root of all suffering is desire. So, don’t desire, and your inner suffering will come to an end…
Well, that was a short article.
But I’m still depressed. After all, how do you cease desiring? If you really think about what that means, a troubling problem seeps to the surface.
If your goal is to live a life free of suffering by not desiring, and you work really hard at achieving that goal, then don’t you desire not to desire? The desire not to desire is a desire in it of itself.
How do you stop desiring if the process itself to alleviate suffering is a desire? How do you not desire to desire to not desire? Is your brain hurting yet?
This problem is exacerbated here in the Western world — a society driven by gaps created between who I am right now, and who I should be according to others.
Buy the latest smart phone, or you’ll be ridiculed as a Luddite. Buy face moisturizer made from caviar, or your face will wrinkle up like a raisin. Buy name-brand clothes to wear at the club, or no one is going to fuck you.
Advertisers are constantly telling me that I need to desire something that I’ve never heard of before, and that fulfilling the desire is essential to a happy, complete life. Otherwise I’ll be a lonely, sex starved, raisin faced Luddite with an antiquated flip phone that can’t even download d*ck pics.
If only I made more money. If only I had partner who loved me. If only I was single and had more time to myself. If only I lived in a bigger city or a smaller town. If only that hot blond would talk to me (it must be the non-name-brand clothes I’m wearing).
The gap maker runs amok in my mind, constantly cultivating desires of all the things in life I don’t have, reminding me of what is lacking, churning up my depression like digestive juices in my chest.
But no matter how hard I work at filling those gaps, new gaps open at my feet, and I stumble forward yet again, trying to fill those new gaps — feeding yet again the underlying anxiety and depression.
In the words of the philosopher Alan Watts:
“To succeed is always to fail—in the sense that the more one succeeds in anything, the greater is the need to go on succeeding. To eat is to survive to be hungry.”
There’s no escape from the gap maker, just like there’s no way to completely eliminate desire — which in itself is liberating. It’s a matter of me choosing not to fill those gaps because I realize I’m already a whole, complete person before I even try to fill them.
“All ideas of self-improvement and of becoming or getting something in the future relate solely to our abstract image of ourselves,” Watts writes.
I’m already complete, with or without a partner, with or without the latest smart phone. My wholeness isn’t contingent on filling those gaps, but on how I choose to define what it is to be whole.
And what is it to be whole? The person I am, right now, drafting this article. The person you are, right now, reading these words.