How to keep your balance across cycles of desire and disappointment

Desire, hope, insecurity, disappointment.

Hope, desire, hesitance, disappointment.

Insecurity. Disappointment. Relief.

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Some of us are bounceballs. But some are eggs.

I’m not sure if you made sense of the sequences above, but that’s what life seems to be made of in large part. For some of us these cycles are greater, deeper, more intense, more existential, or even life-threatening. Some are perhaps privileged to have milder ones. They can be about having more money than you do, or they can be about physical survival. They can be about emotional survival or social survival. They can be about ambitions we have on top of an already fairly content life.

But are there people who don’t know this?

Those who never failed or got rejected?

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Screw people, let’s talk to the piano.

While I believe everyone knows this cycle, not everyone goes progresses to line 3 of my pseudo poem.

Some do.

The kid who loves dogs so much they don’t want one as they know dogs have a shorter life span and so you’ll have to watch their death (or worst case be expected to ask a vet to administer it). (That was me.)

The woman (and I’ve heard of a man, too) who never wants to be in a relationship because she’s sure she literally wouldn’t survive its breakdown or dissolution.

The (autistic, or any number of other things) youth who feels a sense of relaxation every time he gets socially rejected. Yay, at least I can forget about this sh*t now, preserve my nerve and go talk to the piano. (That was and often is also me.)

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Stage 3 experiences

Let’s call this “Stage 3” of your experience with hope and desire.

This is the stage at which you start panicking as soon as you get excited about something.

You think to yourself, perhaps young, yet tired of life: oh no, guests are coming. That means I’ll have to clean the house after they make a mess (figuratively).

You know the cycle. Maybe you’ve gone through it too many times, or maybe the first time or two were just too intense (such as loss: losing your sense of home and community at age 4, and similar cases). Maybe you’re so sensitive and yet wilful and determined that you decide this sh*t is never going to happen again. (And sure as hell, I have the God-power to control myself and the world so it doesn’t, and if I don’t, well … I’ll just pretend I’m not here. In this body, in this reality.) Maybe you’re autistic and nobody gets you, or you aren’t but nobody notices anyways, which means you have to deal with that alone and you don’t even have a word for what you’re dealing with.

There are many paths that lead to get to Stage 3.

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The desire flu

Those who are bounceballs or haven’t experienced soul-shattering yet may not understand why some others treat wanting something, desiring something, or hoping for something kind of like the flu. Oh no, there it is again. Ok, how do I get rid of it or at least shorten its duration.

Please, let me just get back to my baseline physiological state. It’s perhaps dull, but at least it spares me the crushing and disorganising emotional hangover.

In this model, disappointment doesn’t follow desire.

Rather, its shadow is felt, crushingly, as soon as any desire is born.

The many repetitions have tied it into a knotted package with desire. You can’t see just one side of the coin anymore. You can’t un-see the Buddhist truth of the emptiness of the things of this world, for the most part.

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Now that’s not real Buddhism.

That’s just something that modern psychology certainly has some term for. Probably some “random mash of letters” disorder.

Perhaps trauma, but without the edge. After all, you don’t even get scared of anything anymore. You just don’t feel like dealing with it again.

Still, noticing this pattern has made me reflect on the actual Buddhist, and sometimes Yogic concepts related to desire. That you should be unaffected by that, in a sense. That it’s a waste of time to give in to it, follow it up. Because inevitably, whether you achieve what you want or not, at one point there will be emptiness.

The Western Baroque found its equivalent phrasing in the concept of vanitas.

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Antonio_de_Pereda_-_Vanitas.jpg
Antonio de Pereda. Alegoria de la vanidad (1635)

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Achieve your goals, fulfil your desires!

The modern West glorifies desires and their fulfilment.

In fact, it’s probably a mainstream concept of what the meaning of life is.

To “achieve your goals” (which in stands for either socially sanctioned, or, in personal development parlance, more personal and internal desires).

So, if you try to get rid of them as soon as they start sprouting, well you’re obviously a loser. Or sick. (Again … I can’t be bothered to find the psychological term.)

Certainly, you won’t be happy.

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Feel the fear and do it anyways. Except you have (probably more often than the people coining slogans), and you know the laws of physics (and society) by now.

In personal development circles, you can probably consider yourself as having the “held back by fear” disease. Which is of course a loser thing to have, too.

On the other hand, you can also consider yourself as having discovered a fundamental, and ancient truth about life and the mind.

That the coin has two sides.

Yes, you can get away with seeing only one for a while. For a longer or shorter while. And yes, you’re possibly overdoing it a bit. Just because something starts looking like it could be fun, you don’t have to fun and cover your head under the sheets straight away because you know that the fun will either stop or turn into another kind of nightmare, if not a meltdown, a replay of your most profound feelings of loss, self-doubt, and failure, then at least – if you actually achieve whatever you wanted – sooner or later, the empty, bewildering, soul-confusing bitter taste of vanitas washing away at the foundations of your modest success. The “now I have it, but what was actually the point?”

In a way, you save time. (Another top modern Western priority, even though the phrase is abominably illogical, see I almost forgot and sullied my hands with it. If you’re not sure why, read this children’s fantasy book.)

I can’t resist putting the awesome cover of the book up here.

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momo
Michael Ende. Momo (1973)

 

So back to time-saving …

You don’t even have to go through the whole cycle anymore to get the full, profound, visceral experience of both sides of the coin. You get it, sometimes in a sickeningly intense way, as soon as any desire or hope pops up. All in one moment.

That’s something I was experiencing yesterday. I couldn’t sleep, I was annoyed.

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Can you turn that into real Buddhism?

If I may compliment myself, that’s heck of a good question.

[major break for thought, aka staring off into the distance.]

..

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[ended up clicking on nonsense on the web.]

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To the young and the stupid

So, when I was even younger and stupider than now, I thought the Buddhists and Yogis mean that you have to suppress desire.

So that it doesn’t toss you back and forth, between hope and disappointment, between euphoria and grief, between determination and bewilderment, so violently and painfully.

So it doesn’t fill your bodymind with chaos, fluctuation, disruption, that makes focusing on anything productive (like reaching Nirvana, or for the more sensitive among us, daily functioning or earning a living) impossible. That it throws you into mental infections and diseases, and exhausts your body. That it subtly (for the sensitive) pushes you into doing stupid, unethical things not just to yourself but others.

Makes you irresponsible. Unstable.

(That applies more readily to the egg people, too, I’d suppose. For the bulldozers among us, it may make them perhaps pushy, violent and explosive.)

Desire is evil.

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Pro tip

Of course we all know that suppressing desire doesn’t work. (If you didn’t, congrats, you’ve just made it to the next stage of spiritual evolution.)

At least if you’ve got at least a meagre spark of passion in your soul.

In the best case, you’ll make yourself depressed if you try. (Pro tip: don’t do that unless you absolutely have to.)

Of course that’s different from the suppression of acting on desires which are a bad idea, which I, and certainly both the Bible and Buddhism, totally encourage. It’s pretending in front of your own soul that you don’t have the given desire in the first place that will screw you up.

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So what is the hyper-emotionally-intense aspie empath to do?

Swallow the pill.

(Which I usually don’t, I’d rather eat kilograms of herbs and weeds and do every type of New Age visualisation and arcane Daoist energy work method first. So I’m not the best role model here.)

So let’s say, drink the bitter potion.

And try to digest two opposites at once.

Stand at once on your head and on your feet.

I don’t actually have any wisdom on this.

But my current take on this (yes, admittedly, inspired not just by the Buddha but by my therapist too, who looks Asian and is apparently a bit Zen) is that we’re not wrong, the pain-pleasure package is reality.

We’re not wrong at all, you can cheat yourself out of it and buy time for a while, but ultimately it’s true. Vanitas vanitatum, as speaks the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Or

,הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קֹהֶלֶת, הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל

as they say (the only sentence I still remember from Hebrew class, apart from “What’s the time?”).

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And maybe that suffices.

All you have to do from here is live the cycles, as before.

There’s no shortcut.

Over time, we can perhaps focus on the essence of it, rather than the panic surrounding it.

Like mature trees grow abundant fruit that fall (and most of which don’t sprout), humans don’t stop growing desires and disappointments throughout the seasons. But many still like autumn.

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Please share

Do you experience desire-hope-and-crash rollercoasters? What’s your take on them?

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