What is Desire?

Buddhism has been condensed into the handy 4 Noble Truths, the second of which is that desire is the cause of suffering. There's a lot of talk about what old Siddartha meant when he said "desire."

Alan Watts, my dead gay-crush, translated it as "thirst." In an essay entitled The World As Emptiness, he says:

Better, perhaps, is 'craving, clinging, grasping,' or even, to use our modern psychological word, 'blocking.' When, for example, somebody is blocked, and dithers and hesitates, and doesn't know what to do, he is in the strictest Buddhist sense attached, he's stuck. But a buddha can't be stuck, he cannot be phased. He always flows, just as water always flows, even if you dam it, the water just keeps on getting higher and higher and higher until it flows over the dam. It's unstoppable.

Now, really, I'm not a Buddhist. At best I'm a wannabe Buddhist. There are times when I consider the meaning of the word "clinging" and it really makes sense to me, like your mind attaches to some idea and fixates on it. For example, there's a story about two Zen monks who see a hot, rich MILF sitting by a river, whining crying because she can't get across. She pleads with the monks for help even though they're technically forbidden from touching MILF. The older monk picks her up without a word, drops her off on the other river bank, and continues walking. A little while later, the younger monk, pissed, starts berating the older monk for breaking his vows and MILF-touching. The older monk turns to the younger one and says "I only carried her across the river. You have been carrying her all day." Pwned!

Today, however, I had a new understanding of desire. It's not that you're forbidden from wanting things. That kind of instruction will never help you because in order to stop wanting, you have to WANT to stop wanting. That's not gonna work. Rather than thinking of is as desire, I understand it as desperation. It's not wanting things that causes problems, but desperately needing something to change. If you're quiet for a minute, you can start to feel that sense of desperation flood your mind and hijack your body. For me, it feels like a little heat and burning in my chest and genitals*. It's like I'm being drawn to something unconsciously, almost like a hallucination. Then I identify it and bring myself back to zero without desperation.

I think it'd be cool if we all did the same exercise together. Even if we're not physically together, it's cool to think that somewhere in the world, a bunch of shmucks are all trying to unravel the secrets of human experience.

For the next 30 minutes, contemplate the difference between desire and desperation. When you see desperation pop up into your experience, just identify it. There's no rush to do anything with it or freak out. Try gently bringing yourself back to baseline by releasing any desperation, any need to desperately have something or change something in you, in others, or in your environment. We're not saying we'll never change anything, we're just that for the next 30 minutes, we don't need it to change right away.

* My doctor informs me that that's something else.