I Shall Not Want

Babies want.

adult-baby-bed-225744They want to be fed when they’re hungry.

They want to be changed when they are wet.

They want to be held.

And as their vision improves, they want to touch the shiny things.

I have never met a baby yet that doesn’t want.

It’s part of how they survive, right? They want their needs to be met in specific ways (that last phrase has driven many a new parent completely insane).

We don’t tell them that they are not allowed to want when they are hungry, to be held when they need comfort. We don’t get upset when they want to touch the shiny things.

That all comes later.

At least it does for some of us.

I was raised to not want. I was raised to not want money, to not want nice clothes, to not want more than my share, to not covet, to not desire, and perhaps more importantly – not to express my wanting, my coveting, my desires. My wanting was pressure on a parental structure that was already maxed out. My wanting was a problem for other people and a personal character flaw of mine.

I should be happy that I had anything at all – don’t I know about the people in ________ (insert developing country in the news)? I’m not sure they ever actually said any of that. But the message came through loud and clear – at least it did to me. Christmas lists were requested and then bemoaned. Preferences were investigated and then judged. Being asked what you wanted became a trap. The best answer was nothing. I am perfectly content with everything just as it is. I imagine at least 50% of this story I had going was inferred. I heard it; I interpreted it. I determined what behavior would serve me best and intuited the reasons behind it. Given how all of the members of my family have changed and grown now I can’t possibly honestly say whether or not any of the story I have is accurate. The point isn’t whether or not it was true, but that it was true for me.

There are a lot of references to want in all of the great spiritual teachings and there seems to be some degree of consensus on the the fact that wanting is not necessary, that increased faith, belief, devotion – whatever – will help you to NOT want. This was not the version of not wanting that was part of my childhood endeavor. The version I was participating in was when you see that you do actually have a want and decide that it is a problem so you jam it down in a little mental box. You shame yourself for that desire. You lock it up somewhere internally and feel guilty. This is not a practice that leads to freedom or enlightenment. This is the version of not wanting that is born in, and regenerative of, fear, lack, smallness, and scarcity.

Having done a great deal of work and given it some thought, I now have two reactions to want that I think are equally important, at least to me.

The first reaction is based in the idea that rather than being fundamentally flawed or maybe even a little evil naturally, I am actually pretty wonderful. I am good. I am part of the goodness that exists in the world and my motives, when I don’t start thinking weird things and injecting them with insecurity and fear, are all pretty pure. My wants don’t make me a bad person. We like shiny things. We crave things. We seek experiences. And all of those are clues about who I am, what I am up to, where my path lies and how I can grow. When I am honest with myself about how I feel and who I am my wants are guideposts for the future rather than a rescue ladder for the past. My wants are a dance of imagination, play, and joyful experimentation with the laws of the universe and the will of the Divine.

The second reaction that I have now sees a different path to not wanting – one that is born in gratitude, awareness, awareness and recognition. I shall not want, not because I have no desires, but because I am so deeply aware of the blessings that are already mine. My clarity about the gifts of my life eases my grasping, slows my breathing and enlivens my grateful and great full heart.

I shall not want all of the time because I see the blessings around me. When I DO want, I will pay attention and see what direction my heart is attempting to lead me in. There is no shame in wanting and, in fact just as it does when we are infants, the fullest highest expression of my life may depend on  it.

blur-blurred-blurry-722680I shall not want is inadequate on its own. It is not a standalone piece of wisdom. I shall not want as a way to hide from my feelings. I shall not want as a way to cover my pain. I shall not want without reminding myself to look for blessings. I shall not create rules for myself that close the doors to joy, beauty, and new ways of being. I shall listen to the whispers of my heart and soul. I shall remain open even when fear screams that I should watch my step. I shall honor all of the pieces of me from a place of recognition of just how precious this moment, and all of my moments are. I will want shiny things and I will see all of the ones right there in front of me.

In love and gratitude,



Not Selfish, but SelfFULL

Those of you who know me know I love words. I love to write. I love to play with words (the sounds, the meanings, the options). My love of words is not just based on play, but on the power of words: the power of words to instruct, to share, to create community, to heal. I cannot acknowledge that power without also recognizing the shadow side of that power, the power of words as weapons, the power of words to limit us, to harm us, to wound us.

The words that have wounded me the most in the past are the ones I chose for myself.

ancient-antique-armor-339805More often than not those words were also supplied by fellow humans, but it was my decision to consume them, to make them part of my own self-talk that did the most damage. One of the words I ate was selfish. It was tossed at me by someone who, in retrospect, didn’t really know me at all. But it must have been offered at just the right time because WOW it landed. I took the hit. I ate the word and made it part of my internal dialogue, the place where I could categorize my flaws. Selfish. I am selfish.

Believing that I was selfish was incredibly powerful. It explained why I wanted things, AND why I shouldn’t want them. It explained why thinking of myself happened and why it shouldn’t. And as I got older and had kids, my selfish diagnosis explained why I should put all of everyone’s needs before my own all of the time. It explained the perils of bad parenting. It explained the difficulty of raising twins. It even explained the pain of watching parents age while taking care of small children. I was just selfish. If I had not been selfish, all of that would have come easily, right? I ate it. I ate that word. I grabbed that linguistic sword and used it to cut an ever perilous path towards selflessness.

Selflessness, the hallmark of people like Mother Theresa and other icons of generosity. If only I could cultivate selflessness. If only I could not want or think of myself or need anything. THERE. There’s the answer. I should just not need anything, ever. I should shrink my desires until they are practically nothing, until I am practically nothing (have you seen a picture of Ghandi?). I should shrink. And so I did. I said all of the yeses and I did all of the things. I paved the way for an amazing childhood for my children and filled the gaps for my poor overworked husband. I did all of so many of the things in an effort to prove that I could defeat my selfish core.

And then came a day when the urge to have something of my own, which may well have first demonstrated itself as the simple desire to pee in private – without child or dog in the room, became to great to suppress. The desire to have something, ANYTHING, actually be about me overrode my ability to shrink. It felt like a total failure in one moment and like a glimpse of freedom in the next. And that moment allowed me to really question this whole setup – this selfishness nonsense.

This selfish story was based on some pretty important assumptions. It relied on the belief that it is not possible to take care of yourself AND take care of other people. This selfishness story was grounded in a fundamental flaw being the most important thing about me rather than the idea that there are plenty of important things about me, who I am in this world, that may actually need to see the light of day. The selfishness story is based on the idea that my needs didn’t have anything to do with goodness and light and the unfolding of a stunningly miraculous human as I actually satisfy those needs and imagine wants that take me to new places. The selfishness story is a load of bull.

birthday-bow-box-264771So I’ve developed a new word, a new goal: Self FULL ness. Unlike selfishness, selfFULLness rests on the idea that taking care of my needs is actually important. SelfFULLness acknowledges that I am unlike anyone else on this planet and that I deserve to be here, be well, be peaceful, and nourished, and growing. SelfFULLness looks not for a glass that is half empty or half full but a cup that is actually overflowing.

I didn’t just think of this as an idea. I’ve done it. I’ve arranged my life so that there is actually the possibility of me feeling MORE instead of LESS. I’ve set things up so that I can actually allow myself to want WHILE I acknowledge and appreciate the abundance with which I am surrounded everywhere I go. I’ve rewired my brain to notice my pleasure, my joy, and to follow those. And now my cup fills up and overflows. It overflows in all of the necessary care-taking ways (so good news you need not come save the children), but you know what? It overflows with joy and affection in ways it hasn’t for years. It overflows with warmth and openness that selfish me couldn’t dream of. It overflows with good things for all of us. My cup overflows all of the time and I fully intend to keep on pouring what I need in there.

I have laid down my sword of selfishness. I heard it clank as it landed with all of the other swords I’ve dropped over the last few years.¬†Selfishness as a word, and as an idea, and as a soul meal, it really doesn’t work for me. SelfFULLness is a feast we can all enjoy.