The Extinction of Desire

2020, Sep 01    

I don’t want to want money. I tell myself: it’s corrosive to the soul.

I don’t want to want prestige. I tell myself: it’s corrosive to my relationships.

I don’t want to want comfort. I tell myself: it makes you soft.

I don’t want to want to write this post.

What I want much of the time is to not want anything. I tell myself: the broken world around me, the chaos and overwhelm that dominates my experience is a direct consequence of (other) human desire. Their desire to conquer, colonize, grow, earn, prosper grows from ego, an inability to be content with what they have. Along the way, they make my life very difficult. I have no desire to participate in that dirty game and make others feel the way I feel - hopeless.

Sofia pointed out to me that my blog posting schedule has been overwhelming, to me as well as my dear readers! This too was motivated by my desire to extinguish something, to get to the next thing. I want to extinguish my desire to write. Write everything I have to write, say everything I have to say until I have nothing left in me. I want to be empty in the way that “silence is the presence of everything”, living my life just as is, normal. This is in some ways, moksha (nirvana).

This is in other ways, deeply ironic. Desire is the origin of everything. Even my don’t want, is in itself a want. We are fundamentally creatures of want. We “wanted” to collect into little bags of molecules. We wanted to leave the oceans. We wanted to leave the trees. We wanted to leave the Serengeti. My family wanted a better life. I wanted to see the world. I’ve become much more comfortable with the never-ending nature of desire recently - and this manifests first (in typical Saurya fashion) in food. I now eat not to remove all desire for food but merely to quiet it for some time. I eat until I feel just the slightest bit of hunger, so I can salivate and digest a bit better. I was ashamed of desire, of being seen wanting - whether it be food, friendship, love, money, success. The expression of desire seemed gauche to me.

To admit you want is to admit you don’t have right now. There was a time in my life where it felt like I didn’t have any of the things that the people around me had. Mental health, physical fitness, money, pride, prestige, intelligence, talent, grades, friends, community, identity, romance, sex, even the consideration of others - the first few years of Brown were profoundly humbling in that way. There were too many things I wanted, too many things I wouldn’t get and I just had to learn to live with that. I developed a few mechanisms - minimizing my own desires, masking my own desires, dulling my emotions - that helped me get through that period and now I am in a much happier place in my life. I am secure enough to admit that I do, indeed, want things.

My dad once sent me a Zen koan that has stuck with me for a very long time

A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”

Joshu asked: “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”

The monk replied: “I have eaten.”

Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.

At this moment, this koan tells me: you’ll always need to wash the bowl. You’ll never be able to extinguish the bowl or washing as an activity. There will always be something you need to do over and over again. That thing right now is putting in the effort to get what I want. And the time to do it is now. I cannot wash all the dishes in one go and then never do dishes again. It doesn’t work that way.

I think about two of my exes a lot: KD and HZ. Recency plays a role, as does tenure. I was with KD for nearly 5 years. Being with and around her shaped a huge portion of who I am, or at the least awakened dormant ideas - egalitarianism, patriotism, feminism - in my own mind. But it’s been more than 4 years since the breakup and my rules-based congition says “You should be done with this by now.” One way of being done with it, of masking the expression of desire for KD, is to just glom on to someone else new. I don’t want to do this. Or, more accurately: I don’t want to even have to solve this problem. I want this desire to simply disappear. It will not. That’s just how it is. I will want, and sometimes I will have to show that want to others and myself and I still might not get it resolved. That’s fine.

I left something out in my post on the lifecycles of a resource. The last phase of the life cycle of a resource is obsolescence. The resource is replaced by something else. In this way, this little lifecycle rhymes with the life cycle of desire. I see where it’s all going and I want to short circuit the process that I have seen so many times - the inception, the infatuation, obsession and death. For resources, it would be discovery, refinement, ubiquity and obsolescence. There’s this little cycle that repeats itself all across the structure of my universe which reminds me “it starts and it ends”. I am the man running around a party knocking wine glasses out of people’s hands “Don’t you know, you’ll have hangovers tomorrow?” The key lesson being, yes, of course we all know that. But we live today. One day, whatever I desire so strongly now, will seem pointless to me. I’ll want something else again with a burning hunger. That’s fine.

I had a month-long lead on my blog. It was something that I was managing anxiously. While some good came out of it - I managed to put out a lot of things I had rattling around in my head - I don’t think I want to continue that habit. It came from the desire to extinguish my writing desire. I want to nurture the desire instead. I see my earlier posts as building blocks I can use to build something more nuanced and complex. I am at a reasonable pace of learning about myself - but there are other things I want to do, learn about and write about:

Little Money Machines

I’m working with David a lot more on business ideas. I started a blog to keep track of those ideas.

Gifts for my loved ones

I made Pablo a birthday gift I’d been meaning to make for years now. It’s weird and very me and Pablo. I want to make one for everyone in my life. The schedule for it might be erratic, but that’s fine. I’m waiting for the desire to create to come to me.

Direction of technology

I have a lot of access to random people in the tech world here in Singapore and the tech world more generally. I want to use that to really write about the scene. I’m going to start doing that here.

Finding happiness in making

I started a coaching business and have already been helping some people. I want to build up more here - reflections on my own career and my own approach to creativity which might help others.