I have a confession to make: I am almost completely (and unashamedly) driven by desire. The desire to fill my life spending time accumulating more knowledge and experiencing more beauty – which broadly covers fulfilling the desire to be happy, to be free, to be desired, to be loved and ultimately, one day to become spiritually enlightened. Fairly normal human experience stuff, but I am curious about it and how much it drives me.
Much has been written on desire and I hope to unlock some of the lessons and see how I can apply them, so I can learn and grow. In the Consolations of Philosophy Alain de Botton quotes Epicurus in the Consolation for Not Having Enough money:
To highlight what is essential for happiness and what may, if one is denied prosperity through social injustice or economic turmoil, be forgone without great regrets, Epicurus divided our needs into three categories:
Of the desires, some are natural and necessary. Others are natural but unnecessary. And there are desires that are neither natural nor necessary.
Viewed under the Epicurus lens, I have desires in all of these categories and perhaps it is a good way to start this investigation. Natural and necessary according to me, is the desire for accumulating more knowledge. My thirst for knowledge is seemingly boundless. I value learning so highly I sacrifice a multitude of things in order to satisfy the desire to learn, adapt, grow, change and ultimately be a better person today than I was yesterday. I hope that through this investigation – in reading, researching, reflecting and talking it over with a friend I will really come to understand my desires and the role they play in my life.
Several years ago, after months of significant challenges, both personally and professionally, I turned to a couple of Mark Epstein M.D books for guidance: Going to pieces without falling apart, and Thoughts without a thinker. After a bike accident my life was in turmoil, I took on too many projects, and I lost my self. I could feel my heart and mind closing in to protect me, yet I sensed it would be more useful to stay open to experiences lest life pass me by while I wallowed in self pity. Epstein put it eloquently when he explained the importance of staying open:
The next important quality of bare attention -openness- grows out of this ability to take whatever is given. Requiring the meditator to scan with a wide lens, not a narrow one, this openness establishes a receptive intrapsychic environment for exploration of the personal and private.
And so bare attention -mindfulness – and openness are all key features of this exploration. No matter where it takes me, it requires me to be open. Open to the idea that I could be wrong about which desires are necessary and the prominence I give them. We shall see.