Sheldon Kopp’s Eternal Truth #6 is this: “There is no way of getting all you want.” To which I want to respond with a resounding, “Duh.” It seems so very obvious that it hardly needs to be said, except of course that it does need to be said, because we worry about getting or having all we want all the time.
For example, in a normal day, here is a sample of some of the things I want: to not to have to get up, to go back to sleep when I am up, cappuccino, a blueberry scone, someone to cook all my food for me, a smaller butt, nicer breasts, less worried looking eyes, for my older boys to get out of the house and act normal, a more fulfilling job, more money, a guarantee that Sarah Palin will disappear forever, not to know about all the awful things that happen to people, a new dining room table, for the area rugs in our house not to slide around even though they have those sticky things under them, to be happier, to care less, to care more, the perfect pair of taupe patent shoes.
In a recent conversation with my uncle, he said, “Sometimes you remind me of that expression about the bird that flies around and around in smaller and smaller circles and it eventually flies up its own ass.”
Quite so. Over the past several days, as I’ve been thinking about the fact that there is no way of getting all you want, I’ve realized that mostly what I want is to not think about it. Anymore. Ever again. And what I mean is that I want to just drop the whole issue of even caring whether I have what I want, whether I am happy, whether my needs are or will be met, and not for some New Age-y reason like, “they all already are,” but because the whole issue is A WASTE OF TIME.
It is simply a waste of time, of the human being hours allotted to each of us on the earth to constantly be wondering about our own needs. If survival was a day-to-day concern, that would be a different matter, but I’m assuming that most of us reading this are not at the bottom of the pyramid in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
The bottom line is this: I want to know what it feels like to give up the preoccupation with having and getting, with enough and not enough. I want to take my own happiness and satisfaction out of the equation of my day to day life and see what I can’t see now because I myself am taking up so much of my own view of the world.
Once I was sitting on the couch with my one of my sons when he was about 6, and we were looking through the Williams Sonoma Holiday catalog–that insane food porn one with all the holiday candy and cookies and gorgeous cake stands. He said, “I wish I had a huge pile of gold.” “Oh, I hear you, buddy,” I thought flipping the page, and then realized that he, more than any of my other boys, has inherited my death grip desire for instant gratification. Sensing the opportunity for a motherly teaching moment, I said, in a kindly, enlightened voice, “You know, we always already have everything that we need.” He looked over at me and, through his gritted little teeth said, “But it’s never all in the same place at the same time.”
The point is that there is no way out of the emotional quicksand of worrying about “having everything you want.” Either you do, and then immediately start worrying when and how you will lose it, or you don’t, and you spend all your time obsessing about how to get it. Or worst of all, you are seduced into the gratitude-list mentality, which is that you SHOULD be grateful for all that you have and SHOULD NOT care about what you don’t have, and you should ESPECIALLY not forget about all the people who have it worse than you. All these things are true. But are they useful?
Not for me, because they just perpetuate my entanglement with the question. They substitute guilt for gratitude, confusion for contentment. My new position on this issue is that it is no longer any of my concern. And I suspect that not caring about whether or not I have what I want will have absolutely no impact on whether I have what I want. But it may have an impact on what I can bring to the rest of my life.
How will it work? I have no idea.
But Abraham Heschel, the Jewish theologian and philosopher, said, “Self-respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” So I will say no to the parts of me that cling on to this question of whether I have or will get what I want. I will strive for the self-respect and dignity that does not waste time on something that just isn’t that important. And I will try to do it with kindness, gentleness, forgiveness and love.
It’s summer in Illinois and we are having bizarre, chaotic weather–lush green and growing things, sunny blue skies, and insane, monsoon-like thunderstorms, sometimes all on the same day. Somehow it is a summer like no other, and it puts me in mind of my favorite Abraham Heschel quote: “Just to be is a blessing; just to live is holy.” Indeed.