While it’s certainly good to get away from the things you don’t want, in the scope of life as a whole, what we don’t want doesn’t really matter.
Because avoiding what you don’t want will never bring you happiness, or peace, or joy, or even a sense of accomplishment.
It will never bring you happiness, or even contentment, but at best, only relief.
But that relief will never bring you any lasting peace, because your mind will always be on guard, waiting for the thing you don’t want to come back again.
And it will never bring you any joy, because only the presence of a good thing can bring joy to your life. The absence of a bad thing brings only emptiness.
And that emptiness will never bring you any particular sense of accomplishment. What have you accomplished, after all, by avoiding something? You have successfully remained exactly the same, that is all.
Avoiding what you don’t want is a nothingness, a non-event. You didn’t lose, but you also didn’t win. You are running out the clock, but not scoring any points.
Is your life already so good that it’s worth running out the clock on? Are you really winning that much?
In the end, the only way we move forward is by confronting – or even embracing – those things that we don’t want, that are required to obtain the things we do. And while I have never been a fan of jumping into cold water, preferring to wade in a little at a time, it is nonetheless true in the general case, that our suffering is shortest when we treat obstacles as if they meant nothing.
Grasp a thistle gently, the saying goes, and its thorns will prick you. Grasp it boldly, and its spines crumble. To be bold, to be courageous and unhesitating, means only one thing: to treat what you don’t want as if it is of no importance to you. As though it does not matter.
Ah, you say. But not getting hit by a car matters. Not losing my job matters. Well, duh. Of course they matter, on an absolute scale. But what are you not getting hit by a car for? What are you not losing your job for? Those are the things that really matter, and you can see them if you can only stop staring at what you’re trying not to lose.
I wish that when I was a child, someone had taken the time to explain this to me, in a way I could understand. Because I’ve spent pretty much my entire life, till now, becoming ever more focused on the things I don’t want, as I learned more and more ways for things to be wrong or imperfect or unpleasant. As my body has grown older and less capable, my responsibilities greater and my personal time less and less available, the ways that life can give me something I don’t want have only ever increased. And there is so much, so very very much that I would have done differently, if I could change only this one, tiny thing in my past:
To know, to have learned at an early age to focus on what I did want, and let what I did not want fade from my mind, as long as I knew how to handle the worst that could happen.
To know that what I did not want would, in the long run, amount to nothing, and less than nothing.
And that my efforts to avoid it would be nothing more than a black hole, a giant sucking sound, swallowing hours and days and years of what might have been.
But that whatever I truly wanted, and chose for myself, and set out to do without questioning my motives or ability or the worth of the doing…
Would matter more than I could ever imagine.
And that I would be far, far better off with less of the first, and more of the second.
And so I say to you, at whatever age you are now: don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. If you are not now a reckless person blindly risking your life or health or finances, then you can only gain by becoming bolder.
Say it with me now: what I don’t want, doesn’t matter. Say it when you are afraid. Say it when you are in pain. Say it when you don’t think you can go on. When you don’t know what to do, and you don’t even know if there’s any point. In the end, you’re going to feel pain and die anyway, so why pretend that a lack of fear and pain can ever last?
Indeed, I came by this insight myself, only through sickness and pain and fear of prolonged suffering unto death. Because if you’re in pain for long enough, you may eventually realize that trying to avoid the pain isn’t helping, and you need to have something more important to you than staying out of pain. And that if you want to move on in the face of death, you had better have something more important to you than just staying alive.
Nothing isn’t something, and what we want to avoid is nothing. What we don’t want, doesn’t really matter.
But what we DO want, makes all the difference in the world.
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