Want Not, Want Not

still-water-leafThe Great Escape

I have become increasingly aware that, no matter how arguably blessed my life may be at any moment, I have limitless capacity to convince myself that my happiness depends on something I lack.

For the past week, temperatures in the Chicago area have stood at record sub-zero levels. Yet I live in a warm, comfortable home. I glide from place to place in a warm comfortable car. Environmental conditions which have wrought widespread human devastation in other places and times are little more than a minor inconvenience to me.

Today, I wear a Seiko Automatic self-winding watch. It is water resistant to 10 meters (I rarely dive as deep as 2 meters, and should I ever find myself at a depth of 10 meters, I would probably be dead (and therefore relatively unconcerned about the time of day)). The key feature of this watch is that it is purely mechanical. It has no battery or electronic component of any kind. This is important, because I apparently emit a level of electromagnetic energy, which has disabled every other watch I have owned within months, if not days. By contrast, this $100 Seiko has been running flawlessly for more than a year, and still looks as new as it did when I took it out of the box. Why then, does an incidental visit to the Rolex store at the Oakbrook Mall have me convinced that taking ownership of a $6,000 Omega Seamaster will leave me measurably happier?

I personally own more firearms than the average American owns socks. Yet with each acquisition of some long-lusted-after range toy, a nagging certainty remains – just one more addition (a Hudson H9, an H&H SP5K, a Wilson Combat EDC X9) will finally make my collection satisfyingly complete. The sad, simple fact is that so long as something exists, which I do not yet own, and I can convince myself that I want it, no collection can ever be complete.

It seems there is an existential reason that trying to reach the point where you have everything you want is an exercise in futility that would frustrate Sisyphus. The first class in Religious Studies I took at Indiana University (sometime before the invention of the wristwatch), was a survey course on Hinduism. No doubt, I have forgotten much more on that topic than I retain, but I still distinctly recall the idea of moksha. Moksha is a concept that exists, with varying nuances of definition, in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Generally, it represents a liberation or escape from the illusion of our physical existence, the cycle of life and death, yada, yada, yada. It is related to enlightenment or nirvana, but not quite the same.

The explanation of moksha most relevant to the current discussion is the escape from the influence of desire itself. To be clear, it’s not just our baser desires that merit escape (lust, greed, revenge, etc), but desire of any kind. Even the most altruistic wants (desire for truth, desire for wisdom, desire to see others happy, etc) represent a hindrance. One of the greatest ironies of Hinduism for me was the notion that the very thing that inspires spiritual growth, the desire for enlightenment, constitutes the greatest stumbling block for achieving that goal.

Perhaps this is all too esoteric. In the end, it all boils down to the simple truth that the only way to ever have everything you want is to stop wanting anything you don’t already have. That’s what I want.


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