google “what do i want” and you get…

A question answering your question: “What do you want?” — (Psychology Today by Alex Lickerman, a Buddhist physician.)

On decisions, Dr. Lickerman notes some research:

our conscious minds… often collude with our unconscious minds to craft stories about why we do things and even why we feel things that are just blatantly untrue. We often have far more invested in seeing ourselves as virtuous, noble, fair-minded, and good than we do in recognizing the truth: that we often want things and therefore do things that make us base, selfish, self-righteous, and unjust.

We want things, but we don’t know why. (I might add: sometimes we don’t want to know why.)

Or, he writes, we want things so desperately we actually ache for them–base, raw wants. Or we want things that are utterly unattainable–foolish wants. The point is:

[W]e need to consciously acknowledge what we really want, whether something we’re unlikely to be able to get, something we’re ashamed of wanting or think we shouldn’t want, or something that strikes us as irrational to want.

Apparently in Buddhist teachings, the work involved in trying to get what you want, whatever it is, is what matters:

[N]o desire (that is, as long as it doesn’t involve intended harm to oneself or others) is entirely without merit, even the ones we wish we didn’t feel. All have the potential to teach us something important.

It’s striking to me that for Dr. Lickerman, the phrase “doesn’t involve intended harm to oneself or others” is a parenthetical qualifier. He’s describing “ahimsa,” a key tenet of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. Ahimsa means (per wikipedia) “kindness and non-violence towards all living things including animals; it respects living beings as a unity, the belief that all living things are connected.”

Pursuing what you want… yes, we should know why we want what we want. We should then try to pursue what we want. But is what we want self-destructive, or disruptive to others? Some desires, some wants, are indeed entirely without merit.

Do we know when we are being unkind, to ourselves or to another? Do we know when we are hurting ourselves or another?

What do you think?

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