It’s easy to want something, it’s as easy as a dream. You may want a mansion, I may want a Ferrari, she may want Prince Charming, he may want to kiss Sleeping Beauty. We can want all sorts of things and most of us do. To be free from want isn’t easy, neither for those who suffer from wanting basic necessities such as clean drinkable water, nutritious food and adequate safety, nor for those who want luxuries and frivolities. It’s said that to be happy one will stop wanting and accept the world as it is unfolding before them. Be happy with what you’ve got, it’s also said. To want is to be dissatisfied, but is it always bad to want?
You may want a world without childhood hunger and disease, I may want a world without the endless slaughter of nonhuman animals as food, she may want an end to global warming, he may want a world without pollution and waste. These sorts of wanting, these sorts of dissatisfaction, can be the fires that burn in the breasts of those who seek to change the world. It’s hard to imagine how progress (if you think that these sorts of wants would lead to progress) can happen without someone being dissatisfied with how things are now. When we want something other than what we have, we get set to work satisfying our wants. Wanting isn’t always bad. But the title of this blog entry is “Wanting vs. Expecting”. What’s that about?
You may want a world without childhood hunger and disease, but you will know, if you think clearly about what you want, that you can’t expect to get it. For as long as there are living beings, living beings will suffer from wanting for food and adequate medical care. You know this. We will never live in Paradise. But this knowledge and your acceptance of it will not deter you from working to make the world less bad for those children whose lives you can improve. That you will never reach the mountaintop will not prevent you from climbing. You do not expect to ever reach the summit, but you will still want to get there.
I want a world in which other animals are left to live their lives as only they can determine, according to the wants or needs they have, as free from human interference as far as is possible. Do I expect that world to ever be realized? Of course not. For as long as there are scarce resources and living beings who have diverse and competing sets of interests, there will be struggles and suffering as some exploit others, and as others fight to protect and feed their young. I don’t expect that what I want will ever happen, so I think about ways that may get the world closer to that dream. The world will never live that dream, I don’t expect it that dream to come alive, but I still want it.
Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?
Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.
~Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching, Verse 10, as translated by Stephen Mitchell