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You Can't Always Get What You Want

The first key is to stop seeking security. Time and again I have seen students relax and open to the fullness of life when they understand and accept that there is no security and that they are going to die. They stop being obsessed with the look and feel of their bodies, the size of their bank accounts, or how they are going to survive. They let go of accepted criteria for success and failure and do what really interests them.

Everything in life comes and goes like appearances in a dream. Right now, take any object you “own”, a flower, a book, a jacket, or a car. Look at it and know that you will experience this object for only a limited time, for a few hours, days, months, or years. Either it or you will fade, crumble, or die. When you forget this and take the object as something that is yours, you can’t enjoy it for what it is. When you remember that you don’t really own it, you are free to enjoy it while it is part of your life.

The second key is to let go of expectations for emotional fulfillment. Personal relationships are always a challenge and I have consistently found that when I stop wanting other people, friends, family members, or colleagues, to be who I want them to be for me, and accept them for who they are, things just go more easily, and relationships are clearer and richer.

For most of us, emotional needs are laid down early in life. They are solidified reactions to the disappointments encountered in growing up. And as adults, we spend our lives trying to get what we never got as children. But the past is past. You cannot go back. When you accept the resonance of these disappointments moment by moment and don’t try to avoid them, you discover a freedom to enjoy love, affection, and companionship, even though it doesn’t correspond to precisely what you (mistakenly) feel you need.

The third key is to know the groundlessness of experience itself: no one to be, nowhere to go. One student, who manages the legal department in a company, was concerned with how his employees perceived him and whether they were loyal to him. When he let go of those concerns and directed his energy into providing them with the resources they needed to work effectively, his department became a happier place to work for everyone. Instead of trying to be someone, whether in your own eyes or in the eyes of another, recognize that you are not a thing, not an entity. What you are is a field of open empty awareness and experience, like the sky and rainbows that appear in it. Without the burden of identity, you are free to respond naturally and appropriately to any situation you encounter.

“Well, that’s all fine,” you may say, “but how do I actually move from desire to renunciation?” You practice internal renunciation by moving into the experience of desire, instead of trying to fulfill or suppress it.

Pick something you want, a physical object, a relationship, or some form of recognition. Let the feeling of desire arise. Experience how it arises in your body; feel all the emotions it triggers; and let all the stories it tells just be there. Don’t be distracted. Don’t try to control the experience. Don’t work at anything. If you discover another level of yearning, move into that. When you move into the desire completely, a shift takes place and you know it as just an arising in experience. Now look at the object of your desire again. What has changed?

By going into the experience of desire itself, rather than acting on it, you let go of the belief that you are incomplete. The energy of desire ceases to dictate behavior and, instead, fuels presence: being completely in the experience of what is, internally and externally.

The chains of desire pull us into a life of frustration and suffering while renunciation cuts those chains. Renunciation, though often understood to mean “giving up” is, more accurately, the willingness to experience things as they are, not as we want them to be. Here you discover true freedom — the deep quiet joy that has always been present in you.


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