The Nature of Wanting

how I deal with wanting to disappear | by Anthony James Williams | Medium

What are you wanting right now? Perhaps it’s to go back to sleep or for the weekend to finally arrive or maybe even something more significant like a new job or to leave your partner. Whatever it is that you are longing for, have you thought about what will happen if and when you get what you want? I know whenever I want something, the unspoken assumption is that once I get this thing, life will be better, my nagging desire will finally cease. I have to laugh at myself, because even though years of experience have shown me this is not true, I still believe it in the back of my mind. I think we all do to some extent.

It dawned on me this morning that wanting is part of what it means to be alive. Even though we may reach our goals or obtain whatever it is we desire, that wanting is not going to go away. There will always be something else to fixate on. We are all going through life chasing a moving target. At first this can seem rather depressing. Will we never truly reach happiness then?

Like most things in life, there is more than one way to look at this. Rather than feeling defeated, we can feel freed. “How on earth is that freeing?”, you may ask. Well think of it like this: we won’t ever be able to end that wanting sensation within ourselves, however knowing that, we can redefine what happiness means for us. If we’ll never end all desire, we can stop focusing so much on the ones we have. We can realize how foolish it is to think, “I’ll be happy when this or that happens.” Instead we can make the decision to be happy right now, knowing that happiness no longer means we lack all longing. We can make peace with our desires, accepting that whether or not we reach them isn’t what determines our ability to be happy.

Instead of spinning our wheels endlessly trying to get more and more and never feeling satisfied, we can use that energy to hold space for and accept our wanting nature. In this way, wanting and anxiety are quite similar. We are spurred to action in an effort to avoid the discomfort of wanting as well as the discomfort of anxiety. The sensation of these mental states in our bodies seems intolerable at times. We distract ourselves from these unpleasant feelings by convincing ourselves that we can “fix” them. That we will reach some distant point in the future where wanting and anxiety are just not a part of us anymore. When we can stop running and realize the futility of this exercise in avoidance, we can learn to make friends with these aspects of life.

I’m not saying that we just give up on achieving our dreams or trying to make our lives more comfortable. I’m just saying that as we work towards our goals, whatever they may be, we can be happy whether we reach them or not. And we can be happy while we’re reaching for them.

As you move through your day today, notice when you find yourself wanting something. Whether it is something big or small, just pause and explore what it feels like to want. Is there a sense of urgency or anxiety there? Do you feel pressured to take action, to obtain whatever it is you’re wanting? Can you remain still and just breathe into this feeling? Try acknowledging the importance of this feeling. Say thank you and offer gratitude to this nature of wanting within you. Be mindful of the ways in which this internal motivation has helped you get to where you are today. Practice enjoying the chase as well as the reward at the end.

Happiness is not ahead of you in some distant future. Happiness is not something to be earned or captured. Happiness is our nature in the same way that wanting is our nature. Both can exist simultaneously if practice opening our hearts and minds to that possibility and allow them to.

Holding Space

Empty spaces
are uncomfortable
we fidget and fret
to find a fast fill
consumed 
by constant consumption

Holding space
seems impossible
but we need room to breath
room to expand
room for change
room for transformation

Standing in that emptiness
is the only way forward
otherwise opportunity
will continue to pass us by
as we have no where
for it to reside

Photo by Paula Schmidt on Pexels.com

Sitting with Uncertainty

In the digital age accessing information is faster and easier than ever. No matter what question you may find yourself asking, you’ll likely be able to google it and receive an answer, or at least more information, in a matter of seconds. While this is extremely satisfying and a great benefit to society in many ways, like anything, it also has it’s down side. Uncertainty has always made us comfortable, and for good reason. Uncertainty leaves us vulnerable, to the elements, to predators, etc. Knowing is always safer than not knowing.

Unfortunately, despite all the benefits we receive from technology, it also has created even more discomfort around uncertainty. It has become nearly intolerable, for even a short length of time. We have developed a sense of entitlement to information. It is overwhelmingly frustrating when we can’t find that instant gratification.

My first real encounter with the idea that people hate not knowing was when I became a vegan. Despite the fact that I certainly didn’t know anything about veganism before becoming a vegan and doing hours upon hours of research, random people in my life still liked to assume they knew more about it than me. I began to notice that people get aggressive when you challenge their knowledge on any topic, even one they have little to no interest in. It’s also rare, regardless of what you’re asking, that someone will answer honestly with: I don’t know. We all want to believe we know everything or at least present that all-knowing fa├žade to others.

The recent Covid-19 pandemic has once again highlighted humanity’s fear of uncertainty. Almost as soon as people started discussing the virus, everyone wanted to pretend that they new the latest and most accurate information. You still see thousands of people proclaiming to know more about this new virus than the doctors and scientists that are studying it. You can see the reluctance people have to even acknowledge that experts know more than they do. In addition to that we are constantly asking ourselves and those around us, when will this end? Even though we all know that no one knows the answer to that question.

I’m sure on a smaller scale, you are able to recognize your own discomfort with not knowing in your day to day life. This is one of the reasons why we are so upset when things don’t go as planned. Today in particular I am getting the chance to practice sitting with uncertainty. When I woke up this morning, it was just another day. I was looking forward to having appointments scheduled at work, seeing our new intern, and marking off another day before my boyfriend comes home for the holiday weekend.

As I was leaving, I noticed a group text from my boss, but didn’t think much of it. I assumed it was something I could look at later when I got a chance. When I got to the office, my friend told me that text was telling us our new therapist tested positive for Covid despite being vaccinated, and that now we had to get tested and work from home until further notice. This caused a lot of mixed feelings for me. Part of me was happy. I’ve been hoping I would get to work from home again. However, another part of me was terribly angry.

I knew it was no one’s fault, but I couldn’t help myself from arbitrarily assigning blame, to my coworkers, the government, the school systems, even (and perhaps especially) myself for not being more cautious. Normally I would be elated at the idea of isolating myself for a few weeks, but not this week. Tomorrow I had planned to finally start a podcast with my two best friends. Now that would have to be postponed, unless I am able to somehow get a negative test result by the morning.

To my horror, I also realized that this may completely derail my plans to see my boyfriend. We certainly won’t be able to go out to all the vegan restaurants we had planned to go to. Nor will we be able to go out to the state parks and hike like we had planned. I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to see Nate at all. We are both vaccinated, but if I test positive or can’t get my results in time, will he want to risk seeing me regardless? Should I even let him? I would hate to jeopardize the training he is doing for his job. I have no idea what it would mean for him if he tested positive while staying in a dorm at a college campus. Would he have to resign from the rest of the training?

I woke up this morning feeling confident, collected, certain of what my day would hold. Now that certainty has turned into a churning mental storm of questions and concern. I’m doing my best to stay positive. Life is full of uncertainty and I am lucky that the curve ball thrown at me today wasn’t something worse. I could have had a car accident on my way to the office. Someone I love could have been hurt or killed suddenly. I could have not woken up at all. Instead I was given a gentle, although inconvenient, reminder that things don’t always go as planned.

Rather than slip into irritation and despair, I am going to use this experience to practice patience. I’m going to let it be a reminder of all that I have to be grateful for, of how fortunate I’ve been to not even have to be tested until now, to be privileged enough to have been vaccinated, to live alone so I don’t have to worry about exposing my loved ones, to have an employer that will allow me to work from home, and perhaps most importantly, for this young, healthy, strong body. Today is also a lesson, teaching me that anything can be a blessing if you choose to see it that way.

What You Should Know About COVID-19 | Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Breathe Into It

One of the first things you tend to learn when getting into yoga philosophy is that resistance to unpleasant feelings, situations, or emotions only leads to more intense, prolonged suffering. In fact, it could be said that all of the suffering we experience stems from our aversion to certain things. Life is about perspective primarily. So if we can teach ourselves to see everything through the eyes of loving kindness, there is no where for suffering to take root.

This principle of non-resistance can be seen in the mind, but also in the physical body. I have always been someone who detests the cold and avoids it at all costs. Unfortunately for me, I also happen to live in the northern part of the country where winters can be pretty intense. I read the other day that when you brace yourself against the cold and try to resist it, you are actually only making yourself feel colder! When we tense up our bodies, our blood vessels are constricted. Therefore less blood is able to flow to our extremities, making us colder. If we can breathe deeply and relax our bodies, we won’t be as uncomfortable with low temperatures.

This also works with other types of pain or discomfort. The breath is such a powerful thing, if we can only learn to utilize it. I often notice when I am in some type of physical pain whether it be a stomach ache, a sore throat, or just muscle cramps, I desperately try to avoid and disassociate from that area of my body. Sometimes as a kid I would even visualize boxing that body part off from the rest of me. Needless to say that type of response has never worked for me. Despite my best efforts I am unable to ignore my body’s painful cries.

The other night as I was struggling to fall asleep due to such a pain, I decided to try embracing that pain instead of attempting to push it away. I turned to focusing on my breath. I imagined sending the swirling, healing oxygen to that painful part of my body with every inhale. As I exhaled, I relaxed and accepted the unpleasant sensations. This didn’t make the pain go away, but after a few moments I felt much better. Today I am struggling with a very upset stomach from overeating yesterday. Stomach pain has always been one of the hardest problems for me to deal with ever since I was little. I’ve felt tense and uncomfortable all morning. Nothing I’ve tried seems to have helped. However, as I sit here writing this, I’ve been trying to also take slow, deep breaths down into my belly. I can definitely still feel some discomfort, but it’s much less pronounced than earlier.

Just like with most meditative practices, the hardest part is staying focused. Even after years of practicing yoga and meditation it can be hard for me to take deep breaths as I move through a normal day. In fact, a lot of the time I find that my breath is exceptionally shallow or that I’m holding it! It can definitely be frustrating when it feels like despite your best efforts you aren’t making much progress. The good thing is each breath is another opportunity to practice. Breathwork is something we are able to work on anywhere no matter who we’re with or what we’re doing. Not to mention it’s free! It can even be quite fun once you start to notice the connection your breath has on your body and mind.

I find it really helps me to attach an image or an emotion to my breath to help me concentrate. Recently I’ve started to imagine each sip of air as a delicious food, drink, or even a drug that I get to consume. I look forward to every inhale and exhale. I savor the way it feels as it moves through my body. Sometimes I’ll also picture all of the wonderful things my body will be able to do with so much fresh oxygen. I imagine it providing me with energy and happy feelings. I imagine my body using it to perform all of it’s vital functions: building new cells, cleansing toxins, healing me, etc. Just thinking about it makes me so grateful for this body I have been blessed with. It inspires me to breathe deeply as a gift to this body. Inhale – I love you, body. Exhale – thank you, body.

The next time you are feeling upset or you’re in pain, whatever it may be that you find yourself resisting, try to honor that feeling rather than running from it. Perhaps it will even turn out to be a gift. It is easy to go through life without growing or changing when things are going well. However, pain and discomfort are necessary signals that we can learn so much from. For instance, my stomach hurting this morning is a reminder to take better care of my body. It is my body asking me for love, kindness, and respect. Instead of being frustrated and upset with my body for not behaving the way I want it to, I am going to listen to it’s urgent request. I am going to use this unpleasant morning to push me to do better for myself today and from now on. It all begins with the breath.

So just breathe

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Learning to Allow Discomfort

Setting aside time to just observe the mind is so valuable. I have found so many glimpses of inner wisdom and true peace through daily meditation. Today as I allowed my mind to follow my breath and concentrate on surrendering fully, relaxing each muscle, I noticed one of the many cycles I go through constantly inside my head.

I saw myself finding a moment of bliss, then losing it immediately in desperation as I turned my thoughts away from the present to the future. I saw fear begin to destroy that bliss and take me away from the moment. I not only feared the unknown, I feared the fear I was experiencing. I was so desperate to get away and escape from those thoughts and feelings.

It’s usually easy to distract the mind at this point in the cycle, but the beautiful thing about meditation is that there is no where to go. Instead we are forced to deal with these difficult sensations. I got to witness what happens if I just accept those thoughts and allow them to exist without resisting them. And sure enough you eventually come full circle, returning to that bliss, that deep well of stillness inside.

Now don’t don’t get me wrong, that wasn’t the moment I found Nirvana of Samadhi or anything like that. The cycle continued and continued as expected. The point is, there is an immense comfort is being able to witness that cycle. To know that it’s okay to feel afraid. Reminding yourself that running from that fear only holds you in that part of the cycle longer. It’s an extended interlude, like a skipping record.

By resisting, ironically we are holding on. The sooner we can let go of our perception of these thoughts and feelings as “bad” and “unacceptable” the sooner we can return to that bliss that we find preferable. By no means is this an easy thing to do, however. I of all people should know that. I basically spend every moment of every day running and hiding from myself.

Yet that doesn’t lessen the significance of those few moments of clarity I am occasionally able to find. While it may be hard to remember these profound realizations when we really need them, it is still a victory to have them at all. One day I hope I am able to more often take the role of that silent witness. To watch myself through patient, loving, curious, impartial eyes. Practice makes perfect. And I intend to keep practicing. I hope that you will too.