"It's amazing how much 'mature wisdom' resembles being too tired." --Robert Heinlein

The Church of Reality




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Desiring mediated or imagined objects

Sometimes I get to pull rank --> I'm 35 years old, I've experienced certain things, I've seen certain things, I know more about how the world works than some younger people do ;-)

In particular, I've had a long-term monogamous relationship, one lasting nearly 8 years. Some of my younger friends simply aren't yet old enough to have found one like that. That doesn't stop many of them from looking, earnestly, feeling sad when they don't have one. Trying again and again with various potentials.

How is it that we can earnestly desire things we've never had? How can we know for sure we'll like it if we've never had it? Similarly, how can we be sure we won't like things we've never tried? When it comes to monogamy vs. open relationships, I have interacted with several people who've never had either, but they have strong opinions about preferring one over the other.

This is the phenomenon I want to examine: how we come to desire (or despise) things or people we've never experienced directly for ourselves.


This is goal-oriented behavior I'm discussing here. Seeing an object, or imagining an object, and making a decision to go after it, to make it your own. Perhaps the object is a college degree, a kitten, a house, a new car, a new husband, a divorce, a trip to Sydney, a gym membership, a marathon, a promotion, a new job, a new apartment ...

The list of possible desires is endless. If you immerse yourself within a bath of commercial media I'm sure you'll find dozens of examples within an hour. Commercials are designed to make their target audiences desire something. Often commercials reinforce current desires, but their designers are usually intent upon grabbing new customers as well.

Political campaigns are no different -- often asking you to support somebody who's never held the job before, hoping to create a desire for something new, something unknown, by creating mediated dissatisfaction within your present moment.


Sometimes we generate our desires on our own. We see something real within our perceptual well and we desire to do something with it, to make it belong to us. We see a sexually attractive person several paces away, and fantasize about striking up a conversation and dragging him to bed ;-) We see a cool-looking car, or watch, or suit. We might drive by an attractive home and wish we could afford something larger for ourselves.

The more idealistic sort see a corner of the world that needs cleaning up in some way, and desire a campaign to organize the community toward that end.

We can even look at our own bodies and desire slimmer waists or larger muscles, whiter teeth, tattoos, piercings, smoother or hairier skin, darker tans, fewer wrinkles, or even differently colored irises.

Is there anybody on the planet so satisfied that he desires absolutely nothing different from what he already has? Such a person would be a Buddha! Wouldn't you like to be a Buddha? Imagine having no desires at all. Don't you desire Nirvana? Heh ... now we've hit our paradox du jour ...


Which type of desire is more captivating, the desire for something you've lost, or the desire for something you've only imagined? Hmm. I think each person will have her own answer to that question. Addictions sometimes result from a craving to repeat past experiences. But some people are obsessed with reaching goals they've never before conquered, always wanting to top their previous self-tally with a new prize.

All of the desires I've described above have one common element -- they all involve a focus on future pleasure instead of present pleasure. They all depend on some level of distraction from or dissatisfaction with the present moment.

Especially when you desire something via an advertisement or your own imagination. When you desire objects that are not within your perceptual well you are either implicitly or explicitly showing your dissatisfaction with your surroundings. What you are and what you have right now are simply not enough. You want more.

If, instead, you desire something within your perceptual well ... such as a slice of chocolate cake from behind the baker's glass counter ... you are not content to gaze upon that object. You want to possess or even consume it. Appreciation is not good enough! Having it near you is not good enough!


Well ... so what's my point?

Today, while eating lunch, I saw an attractive man sitting near me. I liked several things about the way he looked and the way he moved. I was impressed by his choice of food for lunch. His shoes were fun! His clothes fit very well and allowed me to imagine a slender, slightly muscular, span of nudity within.

In other words, he was hot!

Having him nearby added pleasure to my present moment. I allowed that unexpected pleasure to flow through me. It was great!

However, yesterday on my lunch break I saw a couple of hot shirtless fellas running along the Mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. I was carrying my camera, so I tried to catch a few shots of them at their closest approach. As they kept running farther away from me I felt a strong desire to possess them, to make use of them, to contribute to their own pleasure by exercising my talents upon their bodies. That desire ... went beyond an enjoyment of the present moment ... and that desire led me to suffer. I began to regret that I'm not currently dating a hot shirtless runner, or anybody else! I began to conspire within, wondering how I could attain the status of "boyfriend" with such a man, how I could possibly deserve him. As my thoughts tumbled into goal-oriented rehearsals, I lost touch with the beauty of my present moment.


In real life, among all the men I've ever had the pleasure of knowing well, the best looking was one of the most unhappy. When I was young, before I'd had a long-term relationship, during the time when I was earnestly searching for one, a really hot guy picked me up at my gym. We went on a date, and later found ourselves naked together. He was the hottest guy ever, but the sexual chemistry between us did not work at all. I found myself angry and frustrated. He only wanted to do things which I did not want to do.

We decided to become good friends instead, probably because I'm a good listener and we had a lot to teach each other. Over the years, I learned that this hot guy was extremely unhappy with his life. He complained a lot, almost endlessly about every trivia. He'd worry that he wasn't attractive, one time calling himself "flabby" when ... damn, everybody in the bar would turn to look at him upon his entrance.

Other times I've picked up hot guys in bars, and I've learned -- as we all learn -- that personality traits are not correlated with looks. Just because a guy looks hot doesn't mean you'll actually like each other, in bed or otherwise. Trying to turn a hot fella into your boyfriend often creates needless suffering for both of you.


I'm using a lot of words to restate what many people have said, for generations: true happiness lives in the present moment. True happiness results when we've learned to appreciate our surroundings as they are. Appreciation without possession. Appreciation without desire.

Looking at an advertisement and saying, "What a beautiful picture," instead of, "I need to get myself one of those." Looking at a sexy person and saying, "Yum!" instead of, "How can I meet him?" Looking at a dessert and saying, "What rich colors and smells," instead of, "I'd like two to go!"

Is living in the moment an impossible ideal? Perhaps, if you desire to live in the moment at all times and become frustrated with yourself for failing to achieve that goal. However, living in the moment is possible, especially with practice. Sometimes we may need guidance as to how this moment can be appreciated. Sometimes we simply can't shake our desires and obsessions.

We can lean in the direction of a little more appreciation. What is there within your current surroundings that you can enjoy right now? Something you already own? A view out the window? A current friend or lover? A snack in the cupboard? A scented candle waiting for your light? Singing along to a remembered song? Taking joy in organizing a stack of books? Smiling to your coworkers, your customers, or your supervisors, perhaps telling then a funny story? Massaging the back of your own neck, or offering a hug to somebody nearby?

Our current surroundings are often incredibly rich as they are, all we have to do is stop desiring, and start appreciating :-)


Some people might respond to this angrily, saying, "What the fuck! You try working this job! You try living in this apartment! You try dating the fellas who live around here!"

Some people live in worse circumstances than I do, yes. It might be very difficult to find something to appreciate about your present moment. For that I apologize.

Perhaps in some moments, appreciation has to dig deep for its reward. Perhaps all we can say right now is, "Well, at least I'm alive," or "At least I'm not paralyzed or blind or deaf." If our surroundings are toxic and painful, we can attempt to appreciate our ability to put up with such crap. Not everybody could put up with your crap. Some people would have quit long ago, or would have snapped under the pressure. You can appreciate your own strength in the face of adversity.

And if you at least try to find something to appreciate ... maybe the reason you aren't appreciative of your present moment is because you are desiring something you can not have. Maybe you desire a life that is free from all pain, or a job that is not hard work, or relationships that do not produce conflicts.

The toughest thing of all, is to appreciate things we do not desire. But perhaps you can try. You might find one small thing to appreciate. Maybe you can raise your middle finger and say a curse, and then appreciate that ;-)

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