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The ‘Practice’ of Not Wanting

Published on 02/05/12
by randy

They say that over seventy per cent of America’s economy is based upon consumption.  Our days are filled with thousands of advertising messages trying to persuade us we’ll be happier if we choose a particular product.  Somewhere within the past few decades the skill of creating a desire moved to a more destructive message:  ‘You can’t be happy until you have this product.’  Today our restlessness has grown to such extreme levels that we can barely focus for more than a few seconds at a time.  The Rolling Stones’ lyric ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ has grown to new levels of meaning.  Markets fluctuate up and down based on our consumption rates as news commentators seem to urge us to buy in support of our country’s welfare.

With this awareness as backdrop, I was struck by a recent sermon I heard from a local Lutheran minister.  His topic centered on the biblical line in Psalms 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  He noted that this Psalm is the most requested for memorial services he’s conducted.  It carries the great wisdom that our peace and joy rest in the practice of faith, of cultivating gratitude for what we have.  Interestingly, this is the same truth the Buddha came to.  His great enlightenment said we must accept that life is filled with restlessness.  Our attachment to desires, grasping and wanting produces our suffering.  We can alleviate suffering by accepting what ‘is’, cultivating a practice of awareness to the moment and our release of ‘wanting’.  Our ability to do this requires great discipline and skill in the face of a culture that’s economically based on pushing ‘restlessness’.

We’re continually fighting to ‘be back there’ or ‘hoping to someday be over there’.  The anxiety we grow from not wanting to ‘be here now’ grows our stress.  One definition of stress is that it’s the gap between where you are and where you want to be.  Again, ‘wanting’ something different than what is produces our suffering.  Our remedy is found in deep, abiding faith.  It’s  the Ground of Being that holds our stability in the face of impermanence.  It’s a bigger hope that sustains when all our little hopes fall away.  It’s what remains when our beliefs are shattered.  It’s our greatest journey requiring the utmost in courage.  It’s that place where we make space, through prayer and meditation, to find the gift in what’s given.  This is not easy work and it doesn’t come naturally.

The poisons of greed and fear are unavoidable.  Deep faith that’s cultivated from the heart eventually comes to the experience of our interdependence.  ‘Not wanting’ lands us in joy for ‘this moment’.  We move past ‘craving’ a future heaven or a different life experience found in our yearning for ‘the good old days’.  We start questioning the harmful effects of hoarding massive amounts of wealth driven from unbridled greed.  We start a more mindful practice of consumption and competition, always first asking, “Who gets hurt?”.  Cultivation of ‘not wanting’ leads us to a richer quality of life that commands our awareness to ‘now’ as we steward a healthier future for those following us.

It takes deep fortitude to cultivate a practice of ‘not wanting’ in the face of rapid change.  Yet, ironically, it’s within our practice of gratitude for what ‘is’ that space opens to awareness of opportunity.

The practice of ‘not wanting’ is a practice.  It requires a commitment to ‘making space’ for regular prayer/meditation.  As we grow our awareness to the life and death found within each moment, we grow our courage to live more fully.  As we grasp for conditions ‘different’, filled with ‘wanting’, we grow our pain.  Our joy can be found in living the experience of the future within ‘this moment’.  This has been called the Isaiah Effect, this ‘feeling’ of prayer.  In contrast to petitioning prayer, filled with a ‘want’, our most joyful prayer is found in a deeper faith that ‘feels’ the prayer’s completion within the present moment.  This ‘feeling’ is so great that we have no choice but to give thanks to the Source, to the Divine, for the very gift of the experience, outside the abstract notions of time and space.  This is Big Hope.  This is Big Faith.  This is the truth in cultivating a practice of ‘not wanting’, of accepting the Buddha’s Noble Truths that life is suffering and restlessness and our peace and joy can be found in cultivating a practice of ‘not wanting’.

So how does this relate to the American Dream?  First, we come to recognize that we’re not entitled to anything.  All is gift.  If we’ve lived long enough and cultivated a practice of gratitude and ‘not wanting’, we eventually find the gift in the given, no matter what.  Somewhere in time the American Dream got turned upside down.  Our founders saw this land as a place for opportunity.  In the face of greed, oppression from massive accumulation of wealth and power from a few, and a deeper desire for freedom, pilgrims set off with deep courage to discover the gift of a new land.  The pilgrim spirit is one filled with awe and wonder found in the surprise of the moment.  There was a flexibility to meet new, rapidly changing conditions, with an open heart.  This was a deeply spiritual experience that moved from the heart in Big Faith.  It was an experience that understood the suffering of life and the need for courage cultivatied through a practice of ‘not wanting’.  It led to a spiritual groundwork that recognized the Divine in all.  It embraced indigenous cultures that also understood our sacred covenant to ‘be kind’ to one another.  It recognized the need for moderation and the power found in prayerful awareness to the ‘gift in the given’.

Today we’ve become very confused about the true spirit of America as we logically try to honor separation of church and state.  It’s left us with a culture lacking in moral conscience.  We find ourselves fighting the empty dogma of secular believers with fundamentalists filled with notions of their ‘rightness’.  Our attempts to impose belief from our ‘thoughts’ of ‘rightness’ fill our airwaves and politics with tremendous distraction from cultivating a practice of ‘not wanting’.  The pilgrim moves from the heart and Big Faith, with a deeper courage and curiosity to the mystery of life (and death).  The pilgrim spirit is not one of persuasion, driven from a desire to change another.  It’s driven from a deep spiritual place of reverence and respect for one another, recognizing the Divine in all things and all beings.  It recognizes our biggest command, “Be kind to one another, and at the least, try not to cause harm.”  Our health is found in cultivating joy through gratitude in the ‘gift of the given’, noting the antidote to greed, fear and ignoring as ‘awareness’, deepened through prayer and meditation.  I’m filled with expectant joy and gratitude for an America of opportunity, flexibility, curiosity, Big Faith, harmony and rhythm, gratitude, and kindness.  We’re a nation founded on kindness, moderation, and mindful consumption.  For me, this is what Occupy Wall Street is about,  a return to the pilgrim spirit of kindness and opportunity and a moral conscience that always first asks, “Where’s the harm (potential or present) in the thoughts, speech, and action we’re about to pursue?”  Our moral conscience can once again be found in the ancient Hawaiian mandate, “Best for all with harm to none.”

“The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want.”


King James Version (KJV)

4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Good News Translation (GNT)

6 Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart.7 And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.

Life is difficult.  Our difficulties come from wanting conditions different from what they are in the face of change.  Our relief is found through prayer/meditation, embracing the moment’s gift outside our restless mind.

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