Last night I was reading the book I'm reading about Zen Buddhism and I came across something that I had to read three or four times until it all really sunk in:
The first thing great human beings need, according to Dogen, is "small desire."
Dogen quoted Buddha, who said, "People of abundant desire abundantly seek gain, and so their suffering also is abundant. People of small desire never curry favor and bend in order to gain the minds of others. They are level in mind; they are without worries and fears; when they come into contact with things, they have latitude; and they are constantly free from dissatisfaction."
Notice that we're talking about small desire here and not some imaginary state of desirelessness. We can never be completely free from desire, anyhow. But the less desire you have, the less of a pain in the ass your life will be. It's only when you desire things that you can't be yourself, and that you end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.
I feel like the last sentence is grammatically a little weird, which is part of the reason I had to read it over a few times, but I'll go ahead and assume it was the author's clever way of making sure the reader stops and puzzles the concept through. You can't be yourself when you desire things, and when you desire things you also end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.
Desire things like what? I mean, I desire a job so I can help pay the rent, I don't think that's too much to ask. But it's the unbalanced desires that make you miserable. Sex comes to mind (as it does occasionally, despite my advanced age). I was always the girl who got totally tongue-tied and shy around boys I really, really liked because what did I want? I wanted them to like me back so much that out love would consume our very souls and melt us into some sort of pillar of eternal, mystical oneness, but I was too embarrassed to say all of that so I just acted quiet and creepy and, gee, I wonder why they'd never pick up when I called?
But more than that this quote makes me happy because it directly addresses the main fear that blocks people from their own creative expression, whether in writing or with music or, I don't know, wearing homemade hats to church. Because when you desire approval/success/fame, it's harder to just let loose and see what happens when you express yourself and then shape it into something unique that makes you glad.
We now turn to this Shouts and Murmurs piece from a few years back that I photocopied and stuck to the staff bulletin board at the library because I loved it so much. No one ever commented on it so I can only assume that all my coworkers were too ashamed to admit that they were illiterate. If you haven't clicked the link and read it yet, which I'm sure you'll do in just a minute, it's entitled, "Book-club Guide to a Remaindered Book," By Rebecca Mead and George Prochnik, and it's a wonderful list of discussion questions for an unsuccessful book of fiction. The Venn diagram of Buddha and the New Yorker overlaps in the very first paragraph:
1. When the author’s agent initially asked the author who he thought the readers of his proposed book would be and he defensively replied, “Everyone,” do you think the author should have immediately realized that there is a thin line between everyone and no one?
True wisdom is everywhere.