Most days I have to walk through my local shopping mall to get from my flat to my co working office. On the way, I am inundated by things I could buy: clothes, make up, shoes, coffee, books…. The list is endless. I find myself wanting things very much: new trainers, these cool shorts for summer, new workout clothes, a decaf flat white, that interesting book on the human body. And then I become aware of other things I want: more clients, more yoga classes, to not have to rely on my savings, for my family and friends to be happy, to go to Ibiza this summer, Donald Trump to get annihilated in the US election.
The problem is, when I want things it makes me feel awful, and not just mentally and emotionally. I feel anxious, I feel overwhelmed. My heart rate increases and I start chest breathing, where your breath is shallow and not from the belly. This only makes me feel more anxious. I’m left with an unpleasant situation that is entirely of my own making – in my head.
Yes, some of these things I could just out and buy. But buying them wouldn’t solve the problem. And neither would getting more clients or more money.
Because once I had done that, I would start wanting other things. My own house, a new partner, more clothes, another holiday, my own studio… And if I got all of these things, I would want even more.
The thing about wanting is that it never, ever stops. I would love to write an article telling you how to stop wanting things but that’s not possible. This is because we are all driven by the egoic mind. There is not a human alive who is not, to some extent. Even the greatest gurus have an ego, and often a large one!. The ego wants us to want things, to feel lack, to fear, to feel separate, and to feel that nothing is good enough. So this is the operating system we have. And because our society is created by egoic humans, then the society we live in makes it hard not to want things, or feel lacking or to compare. Things are starting to change slowly, but even those traditions designed to help us move away from this egoic operating system are themselves at the mercy of the ego. Yoga, mindfulness and meditation are in danger of becoming, if they are not already, just another form of distraction, rather than a system of transformation and growth.
Suffering is wanting reality to be any different than it is
One the hardest things to communicate and for students to understand is that you don’t need anything else right in this moment, and that what you have and what you are doing now is what you are meant to be doing – with all the pluses and minuses that you’re experiencing. This is so important, because it is when we start to want something, that suffering occurs. This is because either we don’t have it, so crave it, and start to feel that sense of lacking; or we push ourselves into unhelpful behaviours in the pursuit of it – such as overworking. Alternatively, we want everything to stay the same as it is – and again suffering occurs through the clinging and fear that it will change (which of course it will!). So remember with wants – they exist only in your mind. What exists, what is real is what you’re doing now, today.
As I wrote here, a focus on anything but the moment is problematic, whether it makes you feel good or bad. When we want, we project into the future and with it comes emotional attachment to a future state – one that is idealised. That future time isn’t real, as the moment does not exist yet, except in our heads. As it’s not real, it easy to attribute thoughts and emotions onto a future state – about how it should be, how we would like it to be, how we hope it will be. When we live in the future, anything that threatens these thoughts is likely to make us anxious and fearful.
Understand that high and low are different sides of the same coin
I know some people get a real ‘high’ from wanting. In our western world it’s called being motivated. The excitement and expectation of being motivated, or getting something else or something more is addictive. To be motivated we use the hormones adrenaline and non-adrenaline. These give us a natural high. Just as addictive are the actions we then take driven by this focus on the future: working too hard, being busy, dieting, exercising – even doing too much personal growth work – all designed to get you somewhere. But the high is just as dangerous as the low. It is still focused on a moment that isn’t now.
Another factor is that we attach to the outcome of our actions. You might want to grow your business, and I could tell you to be mindful and focus on the actions you need to take today to do that. Great. But would you still take them even if you thought your business might not grow (because it might not). Will you feel lack, or failure because of this? Does the thought of doing something with no guarantee frighten you? This is attachment to the outcome – and it is suffering.
So what to do when you want?
The practice for me is not in Not Wanting. That is almost impossible to cultivate on an ongoing basis. Maybe in moments of meditation or when you feel that ‘everything is ok’. I can guarantee you that even those living ‘alternative’ lifestyles or who are in ashrams want things. The practice is to notice when you want something, and to examine how you feel when you want things to be different than they are right now. The worst you can do is to want something, then want yourself to stop wanting – double whammy!
When you want something, how does it make you feel? Excited? Motivated? Anxious? Can you feel the adrenaline rush? Can you feel the anxiety? Can you sit with the feelings without having to act upon them. This is especially true for immediate wants such as another glass of wine, or more chocolate, or buying those trainers. In modern mindfulness it’s called ‘urge surfing’. Allowing the urge to be there, embracing it, welcoming it, noticing how it feels, examining it with curiosity, without judgement. Breathing through the desire, the want. The urge will start to falter and eventually either go or settle down to a manageable level.
Finally, examine those wants. How much do you really want them, or is it the wanting or thinking about the wants just being used as a distraction from the present moment; day dreaming about those trainers again? If you really want something – then go do it. Today. Why are you not doing it now, if you really want it? And if its not feasible to do it now, for example I want to go to Hawaii but need to save up, then are you saving today? Did you forego your latte and keep the money? And if, when you’ve saved up, and you get to Hawaii and it’s OK, but not that amazing, can you experience this with curiosity, with equanimity, having enjoyed the journey of getting there?
“I want” never gets, because what we all deeply long for is to come home, to feel whole. That wholeness, that sense of peace can never be gotten by wanting it, or through focusing on external things such as material items, thoughts, ideas, personality, political affiliation. Wholeness, coming home to your true self, can only be experienced in each moment. And it is always there, once you unpeel the layers of nonsense that we abuse ourselves with daily.
Once you stop wanting, you’ll notice that you already have it.
Want to explore more? I’m taking private coaching clients via Skype or in person. More details at firstname.lastname@example.org