The Best Part of Not Getting What You Want
And then… I didn’t get it. I didn’t get what I wanted. Things didn’t go the way I had planned.
And so it hurt. There was mental pain. And even physical pain, it seemed, in my chest. It ached, it burned. Reality wasn’t lining up with my plan. It was like two pictures were suddenly superimposed and didn’t match. In fact they clashed painfully.
Being fresh out of a month-long retreat (where I had plenty of time — when I was distracting myself from meditation — to dream up this fantastical idea), being fresh out of a month of deep immersion in Buddhist philosophy, I saw this as my first significant post-retreat opportunity to practise in the “real world.”
I knew on an intellectual level that getting or not getting didn’t lead to any lasting happiness — that in the grand scheme, it didn’t really change my lifetime happiness levels. But boy does it sometimes take some inner work to truly realize this.
It’s always humbling (and not at all annoying) to follow the flowery advice I had given out so many times. A deep sigh, and
I began to examine.
What is the thing that I want, really? What are its qualities? Why do I want it so much? What did I think would happen when I actually got it?
I reviewed objects desired and successfully obtained in the past. I recalled that possessing them in fact brought no true lasting satisfaction and that after a brief high, soon there was a new object of desire. Soon, the chase was on again, for something different, something new…
This illustrates so clearly that the object itself is never the source of true happiness. Any idea of a dual world, where we need to obtain or avoid things to be happy is a complete delusion, and only leads to suffering and more empty chasing. I think we all know this on some level, but the delusion is so damn convincing, that we keep buying into it, keep getting tricked into the chase and the imaginary carrot dangling ahead, that inevitably disappears soon after we reach it. It doesn’t help that at every turn, we are being encouraged to engage in this drama. That the entire framework of our society seems to depend on it.
Yet with this wisdom and understanding, the chase loses its stinging intensity. I still have desire and longing. I still reach for things. But it’s not like it was before. The desire is softer, the plan and the pursuit is a lot lighter, and it doesn’t hurt so much when it doesn’t work out. And maybe true, lasting happiness and deep, unshakable peace arise when desire and its stories dissolve. When the chase slows down, from a manic, desperate sprint, to a soft trot, and eventually, stillness. When we realize we don’t need anything and that we are already complete, whole.
That. That is the best part of not getting what you want.