Today is my birthday and I want it all.
Great sex. Potato pancakes. World peace.
70 degree weather with partly cloudy skies and a light breeze.
Bird song, self love, chocolate cake, harmony.
Is that so much to ask?
Yesterday, filling my car at a gas station, I remembered that this particular chain carries a super tempting baked good: a peanut butter cup, baked and warm, filled with chocolate frosting. Much better than Reese’s cups, and unlike anything I could make at home. Despite my inability to digest gluten, which I pretty much now fully accept, and my sensitivity to dairy, which I haven’t completely accepted (I do live in Wisconsin after all), I started to salivate.
Tomorrow’s my birthday, I thought. I deserve it.
As the gas filled my fifteen-year-old Subaru’s tank, the temptation got stronger and stronger. I could get one for my wife, so we could both have one. She loves them like I do. I haven’t had one in years, since they make me sick. But wait! Has one ever actually made me sick?
I started slipping into dangerous territory. It’s that line of thinking that kept me sick for years, denying the causes of my indigestion when I couldn’t immediately see the effects. It’s what a researcher friend of mine says is the core drive behind addictions: amnesia about the negative results of indulging some of our desires.
Suddenly, a kind, quiet voice appeared in my mind. She’s uncommon, often not heard under the torrent of “I want!”
She said, quite simply, without being argumentative or bossy:
What I deserve is to not be sick to my stomach. What I deserve is a treat, if I want one, that doesn’t make me ill. That’s what I deserve.
She was powerful, direct and clear. She cut right through the many layers of habitual arguing about what I think I want and deserve. I stopped thinking, stood up straighter and paid attention. I waited for the other voices to counter—stop being so bossy, don’t tell me what I want, etc. But they didn’t come. Her voice stood alone—the voice of compassionate reason.
When I meditate frequently, when I do my compassion practices (metta, tonglen, four reminders), when I spontaneously remember to not only desire happiness, but the root of all happiness, this is the kind of wisdom that can break through the clouds. It takes practice, failing, falling. But clarity is there, and it emerges suddenly. Even still…
This morning, waking up on my birthday, alone because my wife went to work early, I wanted everything.
More sleep? So I slept more, dozing in and out.
Cuddling our two cats? Check—close by, curled up under each armpit. Daydreaming? Got it.
Then more desires kick in:
A new car, leased, that would be such a good birthday present.
Potato pancakes at the pancake house.
Going to the crane foundation to see baby cranes on my birthday.
Suddenly my mind was flooded.
Too many options, no way to discern.
I felt overwhelmed.
I started to get uncomfortable, and a different voice of reason than yesterday’s voice of compassion said, “What you should do is meditate and do yoga, that will help.” But it wasn’t a nice voice like yesterday, it was a commanding voice that then caused kick back:
Screw you, I will do what I want. I don’t want to meditate, I want to be free, etc.
Then I remembered I wanted to write this piece. I remembered yesterday’s non-debate at the gas pump. My desire to write and recall that clarity, to share it with others in hopes they, too, could recognize their own wisdom, took over. I leaped out of bed, came down to my computer and in writing, am reminded all over again: meditation is liberation, yoga and movement help me remember what I really want.
What I really desire, want, deserve is:
For myself and all beings to find happiness and the root of all happiness.
For myself and all beings to be free of suffering and the root of all suffering.
What helps me find that? Remembering that, just that, brings me back. Then I can enjoy my sex, my potato pancakes, my gluten-and-dairy-free dessert that much more.
It really works.
Remembering the root of happiness is crucial for me, and a moment-to-moment practice. Remembering that I deserve to be truly happy, not fake happy, not for-a-minute then sick hours later happy, but the real deal.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Karen at Flickr