Monday, April 12, 2010

"My Wants are Endless!"

Here's a catchy phrase, and a bit of commentary, for you all courtesy of Barry over at Ox Herding:

My wants are endless; I vow to satisfy them all.

Most of us are familiar with this vow, even if we'd never say it out loud. How could we not recognize ourselves in it? After all, desire is one of the "marks" of existence.

The sheer scale of our desires and wants frequently masks the reality of our simple human needs.

I sometimes wonder what our ancestors would think of us if they could arrive in the present. Clearly, desire has always been a human condition that has caused immense amounts of trouble, but it's probably also true that we "moderns" have more stuff and ideas to want than anyone throughout history. We've gone global with nearly everything, and many of us spend countless hours of our lives longing for things that our ancestors neither dreamed of, nor needed to live happy lives. In fact, we don't need most of these "things" either, but have given in to the collective delusion that they are required.

Always one to live on borders - a foot here and a foot there (wherever here and there are) - I have made some decisions that stand out amongst my fellow Americans (oh lord, I think I just channeled George Bush!). I've never owned a car, which has shaped my a bit differently when it comes to certain things - like speed, for example, as well as living in the weather, with the weather, as opposed to being always sheltered from it during travel. I've never had a cell phone, and always find it amusing when people say they absolutely "need" to have one. Until 15 years ago, almost no one had one at all. We've simply reshaped our lives around the convenience a cell phone offers. I suppose it's nice. There have been some benefits for sure, but at what cost?

I always wonder about these issues. One hundred and twenty years ago, in 1890, almost no one had an automobile. Cities and towns were built around public spaces and shared transportation. The phone was flickering invention just starting to be manufactured and used. Electricity was for the wealthy, period. Indoor plumbing as well. And that was here in the affluent United States.

What have we given up as a result of all these inventions and the social shifts that came around them? Buddha taught that cause and effect really aren't separate at all. They function as a team, even though they might appear to be separate across space and time.

More and more, the public is becoming private. I often find myself at coffee shops, enjoying chatter with others or reading and writing over a hot cup of joe. However, these are decidedly privatized spaces that were, in no small part, developed as a result of our collective wants for both quality coffee and a space to be social and drink it in. Coffee houses are by no means new inventions, but the currently form is often much more privatized, and/or grounded in making profits, than in previous generations.

Even the layout of our cities themselves, or the ways in which we change the layout in order to create more freeways and speedways, reflects an attempt to satisfy wants - such as getting to places faster - at the expense of communities. I live on the edge of the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, MN. Once a thriving, predominantly African-American community, it was shattered by the installation of I-94 back in the 1960s. I sometimes wonder what might have been as I bike through what's left of it today.

My wants are endless; I vow to satisfy them all. And I'd add, when we're in this state of mind: no matter what the costs. Something to consider as your mind spins around it's "wants" today.

*Image is from the Credjafawn Co-op Store, 678 Rondo, St. Paul, ca. 1948.


Paris said...

Great blog! (Thanks for coming to visit over at mine too :)
I love all the different hats you wear - doesn't Dharma make life so exciting that way!

Unknown said...

Too, too true.

Nathan said...

Thanks Paris. Yes, I wear a lot of hats, no doubt. Sometimes too many, but there's so much in the world to be interested in - I've never been a one trick pony.