The Japanese Sōtō Zen Buddhist teacher Taisen Deshimaru famously said, “If you are not happy here and now, you never will be.”
At this point, many of us know this. And yet, still, we often find ourselves thinking, if only X happened, then I’d really be fulfilled. Or, if only I got Y, then I’d really be at peace. Or, if I only did/didn’t do Z, then I’d like myself.
In other words, in spite of our being aware of this truth, we are still tied to external circumstances. This is largely thanks to conditioning, which encourages the feeding of egoic desires. Other times, though, we attach to external circumstances because we are confused as to what we really want.
For instance, oftentimes we crave travel when what we are looking for is a feeling of aliveness, or reconnection to ourselves, or rest, or pure pleasure. Other times, we crave baked goods when what we are looking for is a moment to slow down and rejuvenate, or to feel loved by ourselves or another. While other occasions find us drawn to people with specific traits when what we are really looking for is the cultivation of said traits in ourselves—aka a homecoming to our truest, highest self.
In essence, we are looking for an underlying energy that is linked to a core desire: for love, for rest, for authenticity, and so on. And yet, since we are often disconnected from our deeper desires thanks to the speed at which life moves these days, and all the distractions that have become par for the course, we are only able to understand what our souls are craving to a certain extent—a more superficial level wherein truth is conflated with the imagery that is more readily available to our conscious minds. And the imagery that is most often available to us is that which we see in the media: travel, food, romantic love, physical beauty, and so on.
To be happy in the here and now necessitates then reflection to uncover what it is we are really after. And the beautiful part of this is, most of the time, what that is exists already within us, or within our power to cultivate.
I’ve found it to be illuminating to do this sort of reflection on the deeper energy underlying the craving when it comes to not only things like our longings for sweets and simple pleasures like material goods, but when it comes to our persistent, more macro desires.
What are those things that you have been desiring for a long time?
In my case, it’s been spending a substantial amount of time in France. Using this as an example, I’ve begun to ask myself what it is about France that so attracts me—what the qualities are of the country, the people, the culture that lure me in, and what it is about myself and my lifestyle while I’m there that I so appreciate and find joy in.
In asking these questions and exploring my relationship with France, I’ve been able to get to know myself in a way that I hadn’t previously. Too, I’ve been able to extract what I’ve learned and distill it into daily rituals that allow me to infuse the pleasure I gain from my relationship with France into my daily existence.
You can do this too by asking yourself:
1. What am I craving?
2. What is it about X that speaks to me?
3. What associations might I have with X?
4. What could X symbolize?
5. How do I imagine my life will be different if I have/achieve this? In what way will I show up differently? Feel differently?
6. How might I embody this way of showing up/feeling today? What rituals could I put into place? What could I learn/develop within myself?
In the end, yes, sometimes we crave a cookie because we just want a cookie. But so much of the time, what we crave is symbolic of a deeper hunger that, when listened to, brings us closer to our true selves.
And that, if you ask me, is the meaning of life. We are all meant to come into the deepest communion possible with our true selves. When we do, we fuel ourselves with the greatest love and joy that our souls so deserve. As a result, we shine our brightest. And that’s when we have a positive, ripple effect on others.
But that whole process doesn’t necessitate dramatic, costly shifts in our external world.
Someone once told me, “You can have everything you want in life. It just may not look like you think it will.” I never understood this then.
But I’ve come to digest this as exactly this message:
1. our desires may not always be meant to be interpreted literally,
2. but they all have meaning,
3. and they deserve to be tuned into,
4. and then honoured by doing the largely internal work of going inward and culling space for our truth.