The dichotomous thinking of shifting between striving for our desire and letting go of any wants
Minimalism is becoming more popular among those who embrace freedom and peace. It is common for us to see people who live in this attitude to let go of all the desires or wants in their lives. For instance, a client of mine started to live with minimal material possessions and give away all his unnecessary belongings. To an extreme, he quitted his lucrative job and decided to live with his savings while he was working part-time as a tutor. He thought, in this way, he could have the freedom and peace he longed for. With thorough discussion, we discovered that he lost a promotion opportunity and felt meaningless in his current position before he aspired to become a minimalist. Deep down inside, he craved for a promotion for a long time. He also worried a lot about losing his status as a senior management staff in the company. As a result, his desire of a promotion is problematic because it is derived from his fear of losing his status. Do you think a desire to be promoted in itself is problematic? Should we let go of any desire to strive for an achievement in exchange for freedom and peace?
According to Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist, our natural inclination to our wants and needs is not the problem. In fact, our wants and needs motivate us to work hard towards our goals and to compete with others healthily. For example, our desire for becoming employable drives us to pay the effort to study overnight to pass an important exam for the admission to the university. Our desire for building a happy family motivates us to chase after a potential spouse by spending much time with him or her. With these desires, we become members who could contribute to our community and family. Another example is a person who desires for power may strive hard to becoming a leader of a multinational company. With such a desire, this person can become a leader of his field who could take the lead to further development and invention. These are all the bright side of having wants and needs as human beings. In this sense, our desires are not problematic in itself.
What is the problem with having desires and why people becoming obsessed with letting go of all desires? In fact, when we are inclined to clinging to our pleasurable experiences or our possessions, we are trapped by our wants and needs. For instance, the desire to have power for the person above may not be problematic in view of the bright side of constructive utilization of one’s power. It is only when the person clinging to the power one has and becoming obsessed with maintaining the power in a selfish way, one is trapped by one’s own desires. To an extreme, the striving to become a perfect minimalist for some people nowadays may also trapped this person to limiting one’s occupational development and life experience exposure.
Tara Brach suggested us to cultivate a middle way in containing our natural wants and needs. She mentioned that we can relate to our desires “without getting possessed by it and without resisting it”. With mindfulness, we cultivate the awareness of our desires arising and recognize the bodily sensations and thoughts of our wants and needs. We can delay our reactions to these desires and accept our natural wants and needs as human beings. In this way, we become free to strike a balance between stiving for our desires and letting go of the traps we create.