Evading Desire: Learning How to Not Want

Desire isn’t all that bad. It can be a good thing. For instance, if I desire to be better and to become a better person and version of myself

Evading Desire: Learning How to Not Want
Photo by Tai Jyun Chang / Unsplash

Desire is quite a stubborn thing in the human experience. It’s such a beautiful word though, Desire. Desire, however, can be the root of all suffering. Desire can bring down empires and create new ones. It’s less concerned about the subject of desire or the object of said desire but more about what it causes Kings and subjects alike, to do. By desiring something we all put ourselves up for likely suffering if and when we do not get it. As such, we ask isn’t evading desire the solution and if so, how then do we learn how to not want?

Wanting Confirms Lack

The act of wanting something or someone inherently confirms that you lack that thing or someone like that. For instance, if I want a lover then I am inherently confirming that I do not have one and intrinsically that there is no romantic love in my life. That may not be necessarily true but this desire for a lover creates the misery of lack and knowing that this is what I lack and do not have. Similarly, if I want or desire a job then I am saying to myself that I do not have a job and that my projects may not be worthy of being referred to or regarded as work or my job.

Is Desire that Bad?

Desire isn’t all that bad. It can be a good thing. For instance, if I desire to be better and to become a better person and version of myself, then I am admitting that there can be a better version of myself and that I have the ability to attain it; which I think is a beautiful thing. Therefore, desire can be a thing of beauty, and come to think of it, desire and beauty are heavily intertwined.

Desire and Beauty

We naturally desire beautiful things. Imperceptibly, when we believe something to be beautiful, we develop a desire for it. This thing of beauty could be a lifestyle and sometimes the beauty we desire could be that of a person.

Desire and Suffering: The Marilyn Monroe Dilemma

I think of Marilyn Monroe and how instantly those who saw and knew her desired her beauty and light. The sad thing, however, is that being the one desiring someone can be as painful as it can be for the person being desired or the object of said desire. For instance, Marilyn suffered a tumultuous love life as did the men who fell in love with and married her.

Late actress Marilyn Monroe
Late actress Marilyn Monroe. Source: Vogue.

On her part, she felt this deep sadness of being admired and desired by the masses but still unable to find true long-lasting love in her private life. On her husband's part, they suffered the reality of marrying someone who is so beloved and famous that they probably felt they shared her with the world. As such, this closeness between desire and suffering brought a kind of dilemma and conundrum to the star’s life, explicable of the negative side of desire.

Should You Want Anything?

The question then becomes whether you should want anything. Is it okay to want a big house or a beautiful bride?  Yes. The simple answer is yes. However, there is the philosophical question of what it is you regard as a big house or a beautiful bride. Is a 3-bedroom loft a big house to you? Is a petite model-like woman beautiful to you? In comes the suffering, the not-knowing what to really want, what you actually want, and what that wanting could mean for you and your life. Wanting isn’t inherently bad, but the desire for something or someone, while constrained to factors beyond our control, is what causes suffering.

A Lack of Control Over Factors Relating to Our Desires

I think we can all remember being young and desiring a certain toy. The toy itself was beyond our reach and we didn’t have control over certain factors relating to it. For instance, as a child, none of us could outrightly fathom or determine the price of the toy or its availability. We also couldn’t control when our parents would see fit to buy us the toy or even whether they thought it was an appropriate gift altogether. Therefore, this lack of control over such factors led to suffering and the uncertainty of waiting to see whether we’d be bought said toy and how soon, if at all, that would happen. The same is true for all desires.

Lacking Control in Desire and Suffering

Lacking control over factors relating to our objects of desire is a pain point or a cause of suffering for all of us. Maybe you want a good job but suffer because the job market is in a downturn or there are more qualified people than you. By wanting this job, you put yourself at the mercy of these factors beyond your control and that begs the question: is it better to not want or desire anything at all?

Is It Better to Not Desire Anything at All?

Not necessarily, no. Desiring something can be a sweet thing. It’s like being in love. Yes, you really want this person and want to be with them and just because you are aware you could get hurt, it doesn’t mean you’ll stop wanting them altogether. As such, we cannot, not desire just because of what we don’t know or the probability that things could go wrong.

Learning How to Not Want

Learning how to not want can be arduous. Imagine teaching that child to not want a certain toy. It is nearly impossible. Despite that, we can learn how to not want, as adults, to a certain extent. My approach to this would be to shift my view of what really it is that I tie to my desires and the certain features of said desires that I have subconsciously dictated that need to be present.

A pug looking at cupcakes placed on a table in a desiring way
Desire can be such a slippery slope. Photo by charlesdeluvio / Unsplash

For example, if I am looking for a job, I can learn how to not want one by lowering my expectations for the job I want. This could be to think of a lower-paying job, one necessitating fewer qualifications, and also one where I have to compromise in terms of the roles that I would be performing.

Alleviating Suffering by Managing Expectations

By doing this, I avoid the suffering that would come with not landing my dream job. It would also allow me to embrace the job that I get regardless of whether it meets the idealism of what I originally wanted or desired.

Is it Okay to Not Want?

Yes. It’s totally fine to not want or desire something or someone. I may choose to not want a partner in life as a way to avoid all the unnecessary pain and heartbreak that comes with looking for a life partner. This doesn’t mean that I won’t find one; it only means that I won’t suffer the pain and struggle of looking for one. Moreover, it also means that I will be mentally and emotionally prepared in case I don’t find a life partner at all. My not wanting in this case shields me from the suffering that comes with desire but by no means removes me from the path of getting what it is I desire.

Why Does Desire Exist?

I honestly do not know why desire exists. Maybe it was one of the most potent contents of Pandora’s box that was meant to be locked away for all eternity. Maybe it was created to show lack or give lack meaning. Whatever the case, desire does exist and we humans suffer for it and out of it. Even so, all hope is not lost and we can all find ways to minimize or evade our desires if need be; to try and alleviate some of the pain of wanting or desiring something.

Is it Okay to Evade Desire?

Yes. In my humble opinion, yes it is okay to evade desire. Evading desire may sound so foul but it’s something to consider in this life where sometimes desire causes more pain and grief than joy and happiness. I think it is a worthwhile endeavor to learn how to not want or desire as a way to try and avoid suffering out of our endless desires as humans. You probably won’t die because you’re single, a big house isn’t really everything it’s made out to be and if you love what you do, then you have the best job in the world. As do I.

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