– An essay about the endlessly fascinating phenomenon of freedom –
Orion is already high above the horizon now when we settle down for our evening sit on the beach, Pleiades (Parvin) hovers high above us almost in the zenith. The third moon of the season is already shrinking again when I later sit in the night and work on rewriting some old stories.
The freedom of desire and the freedom from desire.
We think we are happy when we are free of desire. We are born with the idea that in order to be happy we have to do things and get what we want. But as completely self-evident as this idea may seem, it is not true. What we get when we do what we want is not happiness; it is certainly far from being unattractive, but I think it is not what, deep inside, we had in mind when we struggled through life.
Happiness, although it may sound down right crazy, is actually not related to wanting, to preference, does not depend on the degree to which a desire is fulfilled; real happiness has absolutely nothing to do with desire and preference. What has everything to do with desire is something else: it is the fake caricature of happiness that is often called satisfaction. Satisfaction or gratification happens when we get what we want, but it is remarkably elusive and for sure temporary. Nothing, no degree of luck, no amount of action, nothing could ever completely and permanently satisfy a desire. We don’t want to believe this, but it is like a law of nature: whenever a desire is fulfilled, a next one, a different one, a better one is sooner or later spoiling our contentment, it is inherently addictive. Desire secretly carries the seed of dissatisfaction already in itself. We may think: well I don’t need to get all my desires fulfilled, just some, and it’s enough when they are met to a degree. But how much is enough? The pursuit of satisfaction is ultimately unsatisfying. As soon as we have a concept of the quality of our existence and relate it to the outcome of desire we are doomed: unhappy when a desire is not fulfilled but also unhappy when it is fulfilled.
The world is on fire for us, our mind is on fire. In order to put this fire out we have to find its source and the fuel that feeds it, which is a certain kind of ignorance or culpable not-knowing. We burn because we don’t really know what we are doing.
During a lifetime, most of us get our doubts about this whole wanting business, some get profoundly pissed, some take it as a gigantic hoax and get angry, some flee into denial and simply pretend to be happy, there seem to be only few who are finally willing to capitulate, to surrender to the truth and replace wanting with being, which is in actual fact an immeasurable relief.
What is this moment like when we throw in the towel, when we see the futility of all the effort, not because we failed, but because we finally understand, when we see the delusion, when we call the bluff? What happens when we give up caring for what we want? What do we miss when we rather care for what is?
This may sound as if we give up wanting all together. What an impossible task? And in a critical way completely beside the point. We make a thousand choices every day; why should we not follow our preferences? But do we always see how we set ourselves up for suffering? I can take this one or that one, I can choose. Ok, I think I rather take that one. Oh yes, that is great. Hm, I think I want more of that. Oh gosh, I can’t get it, if only I could get one more, etc. etc. Wanting is natural, but to depend on it is actually optional. We are conditioned, wanting is in our genes, we did not choose to have this attribute, this mysterious dis-ease; however, there is also something else in our genes: the capability – often obscured and not really trusted – to see and understand the phenomenon of conditioning and to see that we are ultimately free to act out our conditioning, to perform in habitual ways, or to override it, to take charge and actually decide ourselves, (I’m tempted to say: to do what we really want).
What happens when we decide to actually use our innate freedom? What happens when we don’t obey anymore to the unconscious dictatorship of the mind?
Is this where suffering ends? Where a feeling is just a feeling – period: “This feels like this”. “This is painful”. “This is pleasant”. This is how wanting feels like – end of the story. Is this where a desire is only a phenomenon, no strings attached, no inescapable law of Nature that is allegedly forcing us to add something, to do anything, to react? We can act, but we don’t have to, we can quietly weigh the consequences and decide not to. And when we don’t react, we may not kick off the disastrous chain reaction of a feeling turning into craving and then into clinging and then inevitably into suffering. Is this when suffering doesn’t arise anymore because we do not get entangled in the chain reactions and know to let go?
Are there really two different kinds of freedom, the freedom of desire and the freedom from desire? Freedom of desire means: all desires are met, no desire left. All you ever wanted, you’ve got it. The ultimate dream indeed. You could see this is nothing but a mirage, something like an optical illusion luring you toward suffering. Freedom from desire instead means: there may still be desire, but you do not care, fulfilling them wouldn’t change anything, you are not bound to it and free, your happiness doesn’t depend on it. It may seem a bit strange: a desire you don’t care about is no desire. However, it was a wanting mind that invented the term desire. For a liberated mind, not guided by desire, the term is neutral, just an empty phenomenon, just an experience you can have and let go of when it’s over. The freedom from desire, the real freedom comes with seeing through the illusion and it is there all the time, available without the slightest effort?
Klaus Jan. 9. 2012