Who desires?

My stepson gave me a CD for Christmas from a band called the “Manic Street Preachers”. I had heard of them before but was not familiar with with their music. As I was nosing around on the internet looking for a little background information I stumbled across a BBC documentary about them called, “From There To Here” that I thought was quite interesting.

There was a charismatic but troubled lead singer that captured my attention with something he said. In one interview clip he talks about how life seems to be a never-ending series of disappointments. He observed that he would pursue something he thought he wanted only to find that he eventually lost it somehow. It would go away or he would lose interest. Either way grief or suffering was the result. He told the interviewer that he thought surely rock stardom would provide a lasting sense of satisfaction but like everything else it lost its luster. “Everything in life is like that” he said, seemingly resigned to this fate. I felt a deep kinship for this man. He was an astute observer of the human condition and had come to a realization many of us never get to. We are motivated by desire and aversion and desire looks like this: “I saw it, I recognized it, I wanted it, I pursued it, I got it, I enjoyed it, I lost it, I grieved.”

Many of us get hung up on the way to the lead singer’s revelation. Either we don’t exactly know what we want or we want things that hurt us over and over and we don’t know why. We pursue what we want but cannot get it. We get it but we cannot hang on to it. We hang on to it but it is torn from us or we lose interest. Stumbling along this path we may decide other people or circumstances are responsible for our failure or that we are responsible for our failure or that what is happening IS failure. Alternatively we may be extremely successful at the cycle of desire and repeat it over and over in an effort to accumulate material things or a sense of peace, happiness, or accomplishment. Some people are happy with this state of affairs, content to continually find something new to chase after.  Some people I think are not calibrated to be particularly self aware, and this is OK. Others like myself and apparently this troubled singer suspect the game as it is being played is rigged. With this realization one arrives at what I call the jumping off place.

Some spiritual lines of thought suggest desire itself is the culprit but I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure desire is the solution to a problem but that is for another blog. I think that the troubled but perceptive lead singer of the Manic Street Preachers unfortunately decided to give up on life with his realization of the never-ending cycle of desire. He disappeared one day without a trace and has never been seen since. I wish I could have known him and told him that I have been a prisoner inside the cycle of desire for many years. I’ve gotten stuck at almost every place there is to be stuck. I’ve known failure and I’ve known success, and at last I knew that I was on an endless cycle of desire and much if not all of life is this way. Then by luck or grace, and with the help of compassionate others I discovered a way out, or better put, a way IN.

“I saw it, I recognized it, I wanted it, I pursued it, I got it, I enjoyed it, I lost it, I grieved.”

What if the problem were not desire itself or the notion of a never-ending cycle but the conception of an “I” that is repeating this over and over? Exactly who is the “I” that desires? This is the ultimate question that meditation and mindfulness practice seeks to engage. Notice I didn’t say “answer” but “engage”. I’m not suggesting here that you don’t exist – I’m suggesting that you consider taking up the exploration of who the “I” is that desires. If you find the notion of deconstructing your sense of self alarming then by all means go back to the cycle of desire – have at it. But maybe you are at the jumping off place too. Maybe you are ready to pay close attention to this “I” in an effort to see what it really is, and see how it lives and loves and loses and ultimately, IF it is.

I wish I could have told the lead singer of the Manic Street Preachers that yes, human beings are driven by desire and aversion, endlessly, but this fact need not resign you to a life of being unfulfilled.  When I exhausted my search for a way out of the cycle of desire I began to question who was experiencing the cycle to begin with. That exploration continues to this day and I cannot shake the feeling that somehow I jumped the tracks. I can See the part of the mind that desires and have compassion for it.  I gained a perspective of myself as not separate and therefore at home and at peace in the midst of striving. John Lennon, perhaps talking about something closely related, put it a great way when he said, “no longer riding on the merry-go-round, I just had to let it go.”

Take a close look at the mind. Learn to See the mind with intention, curiosity, and compassion and watch your desire lead you to freedom.

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