Somewhere along the way, I’ve gotten it a bit wrong.
I started practicing mindfulness about five years ago. I have found it so helpful—in falling asleep, in coping with difficult emotions, in enjoying small things in a big way. On my path to healthfulness, mindfulness has been my greatest guide.
However, during my studies in this vein, when I was learning about how desires so often cause suffering, and about how we take false refuges in food and drugs and busy-ness, and all of this was making a ton of sense to me, I started to tell myself that I shouldn’t want anything. Because wanting was, at best, unhelpful and, at worst, lethal. I began to read all wanting as dangerous—including any inner spurring toward the pursuit of joy or a well-lived life. This too, I decided, would cause the same kind of suffering as always wanting just one more cookie.
Somehow, I forgot that it’s not so much about desire, but attachment to how things turn out. I also forgot that it’s not just the body or the mind that wants things; it’s also the soul. And all the soul really wants is to express itself, in the words of a movie from 1990 title: Truly, Madly,(and) Deeply.
Our souls whisper different things to us. They give us dreams of being star athletes, successful bakers, or great parents. They tell us these things so that we may experience life to the fullest, so that we may share our light with others. And, yeah, we can distort our souls’ desires. We can become so attached to them that we begin to believe we are less than nothing if we don’t achieve them. We can become so consumed by their pursuit that we have little mind for any of life’s other beauties. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important.
I have spent quite a lot of my life—even before I started studying mindfulness—trying to make myself smaller, trying to quiet my soul’s messages, telling myself: these are things I should not want. After all, happiness isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you have. Right?
On the other hand, as I start admitting my dreams to myself, as I begin to know that believing in them is not only okay, but right and proper, I find that I do want what I have. I want these dreams. I want the work they ask of me. I want the fulfillment they bring. Even if it doesn’t all have a storybook ending, I find that they are not bringers of suffering, they are deliverers of life.
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