Why do we want what we want? One day we discover a new hole that wasn’t there before, a gap we need to fill, a want. It becomes a need we must satisfy. I don’t mean wanting water when one is thirsty, but the other things we want, the ones that look like choices.
What fascinates me is not that our unconscious strongly influences ‘our’ choices, or that we even feel that we are capable of choosing. What fascinates me the most is that the perception of free will is a trait that has been positively selected throughout our evolution in such as strong way that we fight for it, live for it, die for it. Other animals don’t have free will, they just follow their instinct. But we have this strong belief that we do. Personally, I doubt that we have much free will. Maybe we can make some small decisions based on our rational ego, but I would say that most of what we usually call ‘decisions’ are unavoidable choices that were already made for us (the ego) by our unconscious. One may of course wish to overcome the unconscious’ directives, but where would that wish stem from? Our ego shouts he is free and our unconscious laughs so loudly, we can hear it in dreams.
You can’t always get what you wantThe Rolling Stones, You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need
Do we really want what we think we want? A house, a car, a potential partner, a holiday destination, a job. As the song goes, we may sometimes get what we need. I would say that at an unconscious level we do know what we really need, which is often not the same as what we think we want. On the other hand, the wish for something in particular, the ‘want’, also stemmed from some region in our unconscious. So, one thinks why don’t you guys talk about this on your own and then let me know what is it that I supposedly really want or need. Because what I really want is not to want. To silence the incessant noise of those wants. To settle down and have some peace.
Who cares about those things I supposedly want, anyway? What do I want them for? A transient satisfaction, maybe even joy, that will pass as soon as my reward centre has been satisfied. Then it will want more, and off I will go again. A new want, a new road, a new struggle, a new victory. More joy. Then nothing again, and a new want. I can see that this vicious circle is what moved us humans to build cathedrals, land on the moon and sequence our genome. But this wheel is incompatible with peace. Maybe that is why we leave our space in the world to the next generation, while we focus on the second half of our lives and its demanding tasks.
What I want in life is not to want. To learn to conform myself with the small things in my life, which, incidentally, are by far the biggest and most beautiful things in my life. If I just knew how to look at them. If I really saw them when I looked. As I read in that book, it is like seeing colours for the first time. Yellow is more yellow… and it’s true, it really is more yellow. Plain for me to see all along. But I needed to stop, look, and see.
“To “look with the eyes of love” seems a vague and sentimental recommendation: yet the whole art of spiritual communion is summed in it, and exact and important results flow from this exercise. The attitude which it involves is an attitude of complete humility and of receptiveness; without criticism, without clever analysis of the thing seen. When you look thus, you surrender your 1-hood; see things at last as the artist does, for their sake, not for your own. The fundamental unity that is in you reaches out to the unity that is in them: and you achieve the ” Simple Vision ” of the poet and the mystic-that synthetic and undistorted apprehension of things which is the antithesis of the single vision of practical men. The doors of perception are cleansed, and everything appears as it is. The disfiguring figuring results of hate, rivalry, prejudice, vanish away. Into that silent place to which recollection has brought you, new music, new colour, new light are poured from the outward world”.
Evelyn Underhill, Practical mysticism: A little book for normal people
That is why ‘waiting’ is so important. We usually associate waiting with a waste of time in anticipation of some event. But we’re wrong. The important part of waiting is the stopping and having the time to look at the things that surround us more carefully, to admire them, to enjoy them. Next time at a traffic light, look at that tree, magnificent in its concrete cage. Look at the details. Next time at the dentist waiting room, look at those boring plants and see how they encapsulate the essence of nature. If you look carefully, it’s there. If we could get rid of the anxiety that accompanies the act of waiting, we could use this time as the gift it really is. A short time of peace to appreciate life.