There are only a few qualities of experience that are universally shared across all humankind. One of those is that all of us almost always want something. If you were to simply observe your thoughts for a few minutes, you’d see that it is a never-ending carousel of wants.
I’m hungry, I want food. Now I’m thirsty, I want something to drink. Now I’m tired, I want to lie down. Now I’m bored, I want something to entertain me. Now I feel lazy, I want do something active. Now I’m––
And on and on the desires come and go in an endless parade.
Why is it this way? And more importantly, as it pertains to our happiness, why is it so unfulfilling? And even more to the point, is there something better that we can do? Let’s take those one at a time.
Why do we experience an endless cycle of desires?
It is the nature of the separate self (i.e., the “you” that you experience as yourself in contrast to the rest of the world) to believe that fulfillment is outside itself. The separate self thinks, “I’m with myself all the time and I don’t feel content. Contentment must be out there somewhere.”
The Apostle Paul called the separate self, “the flesh.” Psychoanalyst Carl Jung called it “the ego.” In Buddhism, it is known as the “Attā.” Trappist monk Thomas Merton called it “the false self.”
So the prize we all seek is true happiness/contentment, and we spend our lives checking to see which door it’s behind. The problem is, in the room behind every door is just an empty box. You’d think by door number ten-million, we’d start question the validity of the game we were playing. But, no, we tend to learn very, very slowly.
And there’s a pernicious trick of this game: during those few seconds when you’re opening the door, approaching the box, and uncovering its contents, your separate self thinks, “Yes, I’ve done it! Here is the prize!” and your separate self fades away, having finally (it believes) gotten the object of its desire.
Maybe you can relate to this experience in a pretty literal way. In my experience, the happiest you feel about an online purchase is in the period between clicking “Submit Order” and when you finish unwrapping it once it arrives. Then within a few minutes of opening it, usually, the realization settles in that, “Nope, this wasn’t the source of true happiness that I hoped it was either,” and we immediately return to wanting something else.
A friend of mine told me about a member of his church who spent years of his life as a professional baseball player. For decades, he chased the dream of winning the World Series. Well, he did. And the night his team won the World Series, the man very seriously considered suicide.
His world had conspired against him to ever-so-convincingly make him believe that hoisting that trophy would be the moment he found true happiness. How shattering, to have such a foundational part of your life turn out to be a lie.
Why is it so unfulfilling to live in this cycle of having desires and meeting them?
I think because, below the surface, we feel a certain hopelessness that we will never get what we most deeply desire. Also because it feels like there’s no way out. “Sure, never feeling truly fulfilled is a bummer, but it’s the only game in town.”
Also, our separate self only knows how to want. As soon as it stops wanting, it vanishes. It doesn’t need to justify itself anymore, so it has nothing to do. And as long as the separate self is calling the shots, contentment will be impossible. Because contentment is being satisfied with what you are and what you have. Wanting and contentment cannot coexist, so the ego and contentment cannot coexist.
Is there a better way to live?
Yes! But to follow a new path requires leaving the one you’re on.
This is what I believe Jesus was talking about when He told Nicodemus, “You have to be born a second time in order to get into the Kingdom of God.” He’s absolutely not talking about the Kingdom of God as a place. He explicitly said the Kingdom of God is not going to be here or there. “The Kingdom of God is within you,” Jesus said.
The Kingdom of God is true happiness. The Kingdom of God is contentment. And Jesus said that’s what’s within you already.
We have dethrone the separate self, so to speak. It must be divested of its power and authority over you. The way to do this is to convince the separate self that its job is done. It found the thing it was searching for. And that thing is you.
Not the ego’s definition of “you” (name, personality, achievements, history, etc.), but the real you. That part of you that knows it is united as one spirit with God, as the Apostle Paul says in II Corinthians. The part of you that always will be and always has been. That is what you’ve been looking for all this time.
You may have noticed that this very desirable result (i.e., to attain true contentment, peace, and happiness) is dependent on a self-referential cycle. To become truly happy, you have to dethrone the separate self by convincing it that it has found true happiness already residing within you.
This, to me, is a beautifully encouraging and extremely practical way to think of what it means to be “saved by faith and not by works.”
It’s by grace (Greek: chariti) you’ve been rescued. You didn’t accomplish this. God just gave you your heart’s desire as a gift.Ephesians 2:8
To be “saved by faith” is to be set free by what you believe to be true. Believing the truth that God’s entire essence is one with you as an unexpendable source of true happiness, peace, and contentment is what sets you free from all wanting. And when you’re free from all wanting, what’s left is an experience of that happiness, peace, and contentment.
Everything I’m doing on this site is ultimately done for the purpose of all of us having direct experience of the Holy Spirit/God/Infinity/the Divine.*
So, that being said, I invite you to go to God now, in prayer/meditation/focus/whatever.
Let’s ask God some questions and try to notice our internal reaction. Listen to your heart. Listen to your gut. Again, whatever metaphor works for you to understand it as, “I am being attentive to my reactions in the deepest, truest part of me.”
Questions for God
Q: Is it true, as Jesus said, that your Spirit resides within me?
What do you feel when you speak that question? Do you notice some reaction in your body?
Q: Is your Spirit the source of true happiness that I have always longed for?
Pause. Please, spend some time with this one before moving on.
A little longer. If you find yourself struggling to ask God that question, be patient with yourself. Stick with it. If the resistance is strong, you may be on exactly the right track by making sure you ask it.
Q: Can I access your Spirit and experience this true happiness at any moment, any time I want?
I am with you always. Even ’til the world ends.Jesus Christ
You fill in that blank. Surely there’s more that you’d like to ask God. Let your hearts dance together for a while.
No reason to rush.
What you’ve longed for your whole life is right here. What are you going to go find somewhere else that’s as good as that?
*Whatever title you choose to call God is fine. As the Sufi poet Rumi said, “Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” We can’t hope to craft a metaphor that is a strong enough container for the infinity of God. Whatever name opens your heart up is a good name to use. If you feel any resistance to a certain name for God, don’t use it and know that you needn’t feel any guilt about not using it. The point is to connect, not to be correct.