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The Trap of Desire

I have a friend who hates his job because it’s extremely stressful. Whenever he’s having a particularly bad day, he fantasizes about winning millions of dollars so he can leave his job and be happy. So during his lunch break he’ll go to the corner store and buy a scratch-off lottery card. He describes the experience of scratching that gray stuff off of the card as an incredibly hopeful and exciting feeling that instantly washes away his anxiety. When he is done and realizes he hasn’t won anything he feels anxious and stressed out once again. 

And he’s one or two bucks poorer.

The Buddha realized that the root of our constant sense of dissatisfaction is our tendency to desire and/or attach to objects, sensual pleasures, states of mind, ideas, concepts, or emotions. There is nothing bad or wrong with these desires and in fact they’re simply a byproduct of our humanness. Things get sketchy however when we confuse our desires for needs or permanent cures.

When we’re in a state of desire we are indulging the fantasy that we’re these subjects separate from a bunch of objects that exist outside of ourselves. We believe that when we get that thing, that relationship, that job, that ordination, that blissful experience, then and only then will we feel satisfied. And then our life can really begin.


Ironically, the very things we do to try to alleviate our discontentedness only end up causing us more frustration and an ongoing sense that our life situation is somehow off. (Picture a horse chasing after a carrot dangling in front of its head.)


This is because we are trying to create a permanent state of ok-ness in what is essentially an impermanent setting. It’s the nature of things that they be in a constant state of flux, so trying to cling to any one thing so we can be happy is as futile an endeavor as trying to freeze a river in time. 


Desires aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. But it’s important to be aware of two things:

  1. What the the actual root of our desires are and
  2. Desire has disappointment built into it because all things are impermanent

By learning to relate to our desires honestly we don’t have to be enslaved by them. The simple state of wanting something doesn’t require that we alter our lives and our behaviors in an endless attempt of attaining it. We can learn to coexist with our desires and not be ruled by them.


- Lawrence Grecco



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