No Impact Man Chap 4: Wanting Is Not Getting
I just got back last night from a weekend meditation retreat, during which I sat in silence, ate in silence, walked around the retreat center in silence, and then snuck into my room to read Chapter 4 of No Impact Man. (Reading on retreat is discouraged. I do not encourage you to do such a think. Tsk tsk. Bad Beth!)
I’m really kidding about the “tsk tsk” because Chapter 4 actually fit in quite beautifully with the spirit of this weekend. While it’s one of my favorite chapters because it’s where Colin Beavan writes about plastic and its effects on our health and that of the planet, it’s also beautiful in how it explores what causes human beings to overconsume in the first place.
One day, early on in the project, Colin gets it into his head that if he can only find a particular type of net shopping bag that he saw in France, his life will be so much better and he’ll suddenly be the environmentalist he wants to be. He’s looking for a superficial solution, isn’t he? That bag will make him look the part. He certainly doesn’t need it, as he has plenty of other bags, including used plastic bags, stored in his apartment. He reminded me of my own post, “Be Careful On The Reusable Bag Bandwagon” back in 2007.
He spends all day looking for the net bag instead of shopping for food for the family, and in the end, he runs out of time and has to order take-out once again. What he learns is that in his quest to look the part of the environmentalist, he is trying to buy his way into a solution, which doesn’t work. He realizes that once he gets the net bag, he’ll just want something else. It’s maybe the human condition to want things.
But as my meditation teacher, Jon Bernie says, “Wanting is not getting.” It’s okay to want. All of us want. In fact, Colin writes exactly that:
…I see that when I get what I want, my want does not go away, it just turns to the next thing. It’s more correct to just say, “I want,” in the same way as we say, “I ache.” If I got the net bag, I would have just gone on to want something else. I wonder if, understanding that wanting is at the base of human experience and that it is not alleviated by fulfilling the capricious desire of the day, I might perhaps allow myself to get off the hamster wheel.
This weekend, as I sat, I noticed all kinds of wants. I smelled yummy cooking smells wafting from the kitchen and wanted the meditation session to be over so I could eat. I saw delicious bread served on the table and wanted it even though I have cut gluten out of my diet recently. I wanted my back to stop aching. I wanted my turn to get up and speak during the dialogue sessions. I wanted someone who was speaking to finish because I was bored. I wanted all sorts of things. But what I realized was that wanting these things was not bad or wrong. It’s what we do. The key, or the doorway to freedom, was simply recognizing them and then letting them be. There was nothing to do. Nothing.
Can we go ahead and let ourselves want what we want without feeling that we have to fulfill every want of the moment? Can we expect less plastic-wrapped convenience, realizing that many convenience items (like bottled water for instance) come packaged that way so that we never have to wait for anything? How can we ever mature if we’re spoiled into thinking we can have whatever we want indefinitely? It’s not good for us or the planet. How about if we all grow up?
Hi Beth, I’m catching up on old posts right now. This post was beautiful, and it reminded me of two things:
1) Last summer I lived in a rural community while on practicum for six weeks. I attempted to persuade my two roommates to reuse their shopping bags to create less waste. Both were amenable to the idea, but one roommate refused to reuse plastic grocery bags, and always acted extraordinarily embarrassed when I did. To her, it was like putting our groceries in garbage. So she went out and bought reusable sacks made out of plastic. They were sleek and shiny and had great words printed on them like “eco-friendly”, and she had a great time showing off how green she was by remembering to use them a couple of time. She really just wanted to look the part. In her eyes, I did not look the part. In my eyes, she did not.
2) A story from Buddha. A man came to the Buddha and said, “I have a problem.” The Buddha said, “No, actually you have 93 problems. Everyone has 93 problems, all the time. When you solve one problem, another will pop up in it’s place so that everyone always has 93 problems. But your real problem is the 94th problem, and that is that you want to have no problems.”
This idea that you talk about, about being okay with accepting your wants without necessarily acting on them, this is a good idea. It has served me well on many occasions, and it is good to be reminded of it. So, thank you.
This is a great post, really hits home. I kind of personally feel like recognizing that it is a want vs. a need is “step one” and that overcoming those wants or filling those spots with something more meaningful is step two (or maybe steps two through one-hundred). :) Ah, seems like there are so many areas to work on… I guess there is no looking back! The No Impact Man book is in my queue of must reads. Now, if I can only find it in the library…
The retreat was great
thanks for reminding us that wanting is ok
sometimes a hard lesson to learn to just sit with the want
Wow. That really hits the nail on the head. It’s all about wanting another spouse, wanting a bigger house, wanting a bigger car, wanting to be skinnier, wanting what he/she has, wanting to fit in. Very childish. We all need to grow up and be grateful for what we have.
I see we both wrote about consumerism today. I have problems with this often. My issue isn’t wanting stuff, I’m cheap when it comes to myself and my husband is often annoyed at my “I don’t need anything” reply when he asks if he can get me something.
My problem is I attach memories to items so I have trouble parting with things. I’m getting better but it’s still hard for me.