I had a conversation with my friend Jeremy, a neighbor of mine who is in high school. It went like this:
J: I’m saving up my money!
RB: Wonderful. What are you saving up money for?
J: I want to buy a lawn mower.
RB: Really? What do you want to buy a lawn mower for?
J: I want to start mowing people’s lawns so I can make a lot of money.
RB: That sounds great. What are you gonna do with all that money once you make it?
J: Oh, save it, and then buy something better.
RB: What are you gonna buy that’s even better than a lawn mower?
J: I don’t know… but I gotta get the lawn mower first.
RB: Jeremy, do you even like mowing lawns?
This is a kid, so we see right through his “logic.” We know it’s absurd.
From time to time, we all work towards a goal solely so we can surpass it in pursuit of a loftier goal that we can’t name.
We might not do it in ways that are so obvious to ourselves. But, from time to time, we all do it.
We all chase someone else’s dream.
The iPad for example. As soon as it came out, I wanted one. I didn’t have a clue what good it would do for me, nor did I know of any part of my life that could be improved by owning one. Yet I wanted it anyhow.
The antidote to not chasing something is to sit with the desire long enough to find out what’s behind it.
However, sitting is hard. It’s much easier to pony-up to the Apple store than it is to quietly observe our own greed.
The acknowledgement that we can’t ever get everything we want is an important spiritual-religious theme. It’s timeless.
The proverbial itch will never be scratched.
Here are four different historical re-tellings of this same concept:
- Buddhism teaches that when we create attachments to impermanent objects, there is suffering (Buddha, 5th century B.C.E).
- In the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes teaches that as death is unavoidable, the pursuit of worldly living is vanity, mist, and vapor. All achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless, like chasing the wind (4th century C.E.).
- Renaissance Italians in Florence, Italy, set up a giant bonfire of the vanities (1497). They believed that if they burned the objects of their desire, they would be less tempted to want them.
- The Rolling Stones sang about the perennial shift from optimism to disillusionment in their song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (from the 1969 album, Let It Bleed).
Jeremy was not seeking the lawn mower or something even greater than that. I suspect, and I know him, he was seeking a feeling of grandeur and/or accomplishment.
Often what we really are chasing isn’t the THING, but the feeling we IMAGINE we might have if we had that thing.
Let me re-write the moral here because it is of upmost importance: often what we really are chasing isn’t the THING, but the feeling we IMAGINE we might have if we had that thing.
The conclusion of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger’s song seems like a fitting place to end here: “And if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.”
Spiritual-religious advice: Maintain healthy skepticism what is it that you say you want, because it might not be what you really want.