Month: October 2011

Overriding wants, or, “What Detroit’s got to do with it”

americano from caffe umbria in seattle

Every morning, after ramping up with a mug of weak tea, I have one giant cup of incredibly strong coffee.

Almost immediately, I am filled with focused energy, high spirits, and love for my fellow man. Which, even though it’s happened every single day for the past 30 years (give or take the occasional streak of repentance), still manages to surprise me each time.

It feels so surprisingly good, in fact, that as soon as I finish my giant cup of coffee, I want another one. Just today. Just this once. Because that first cup really put me in the right mood, only I didn’t quite get everything done that I wanted to while I was riding the black wave. And I have a lot to do. And, hey, it’s Thursday (or Monday, or Saturday) and sunny (or hazy, or sometimes, even raining), and no one is the goddamn boss of me—why the hell not, right?

The part of me that’s self-actualized, well-shrunk, and sober enough to remember the vapor trails of coffees past knows why, of course. It recalls that while one is good, two is more likely jitters, or a disruption in sleep cycle, or even (you’ll pardon the indelicacy) significant gastric distress. And it further recalls, with no small quantity of shame, that two often leads to three, which inevitably opens the gateway to a flare.

But that un-evolved bundle of impulses that’s jacked to the tits on Shortcut Joy Juice? It couldn’t care less; it just wants more, please.


* * * * *

I’m not a Desire Noob. I grok the whole Buddhist “attachment is suffering” thing—intellectually, anyway. I’m aware that quite often, in the same way that thirst or sleepiness can masquerade as hunger, objects of desire stand in for other, less-easily identified or fulfilled (or acceptable) needs. I definitely understand that when I’m going after something outside of myself, it’s usually because I’m feeling unfed somewhere inside of myself.

Where and what are a little harder to suss out.

The Universe, for its part, seems to love nothing better than a good self-improvement project, so it’s been throwing resources my way.

One book I’ve stumbled on describes extramarital affairs—a veritable hotbed of attachment and suffering—as a duck-and-run for something each party involved would prefer to avoid addressing in himself. Which on the one hand is kind of a gigantic “no duh” and on the other, is a little unsettling: all infidelities? For all parties—transgressors and aggrieved?

So for fun (because this book sure isn’t), I leaf through the back catalog of my own sordid past—the wrongs I’ve done, the WAY worse wrongs that have been done to me. And I reluctantly admit to myself that indeed, in every case, we were a trio of self-deluded, sometimes self-righteous jackholes who were, in one way or another, refusing to live in our truth of truths.

Another book helpfully provides a definitive list of things that spur us on to do other things. Things like wanting sex & love or fame/money/power are, no surprise, at the top, followed fairly logically by things like “master mind group” and shared survivor experiences. (Also, surprisingly—but awesomely—music!)

At the bottom, the author lists two negative change agents: fear and drugs/alcohol. Which at first seemed nutso, until I really thought about them as part of a hierarchy of intentions. After which I had to admit, they made a lot more sense: the same rotten conditions that can foster a peaceful revolution can, when you add fear, create an angry mob and insalubrious changes. And chemically-altering substances can foster all kinds of actions, but erratically and unreliably.

By this logic, it appeared that if it was my desire to feel energized, focused, joyous, and loving that drove me to drink coffee, it would take some equally strong—if not stronger—desire to counter it.

* * * * *

Speaking of sex and love, back when I was in the process of quitting smoking—which basically involves stopping all at once, then keeping yourself from starting over and over (and over) again—I remember thinking how great it would be if, every time I wanted a cigarette, in lieu of lighting up I could grab someone and make out with them. I hadn’t worked out the why of it, exactly; I think I likened it to that thing where you distract yourself from an aching tooth by pinching your arm really hard. Only this would be a craving that could cancel out another craving.

Now I wonder if that wasn’t what smoking was for me all along—a way to distract myself from a powerful but terrifying craving to create and/or connect with the All-That-Is.

Perhaps it wasn’t ever the nicotine I really wanted, but feeling at one with all life.

* * * * *

I’m officially on the road now. San Diego and Boston last week, Minneapolis this one, a U.S. City Near You coming soon. In just over two months, I’ll have traveled more than I did in the first nine months of the year combined.

This is not a complaint; I’m out there doing what I love and getting paid for it, which is something I’ve worked toward for a long time. It’s just a reality that constant travel is far harder on my current body than the one I had when I first envisioned this as a viable lifestyle. (And that’s not even getting into how travel itself has declined since my previous traveling heyday, aka the ’80s.)

However, the travel is good for my body in one way. Because my desire to do this work is so strong, whatever helps me do it serves as a powerful motivator for not doing something else—in this case, drinking that second cup of coffee. When the urge to re-caffeinate comes on, I now ask myself: “Do you want that cup of coffee, or do you want to go to Detroit?”

I get that “Detroit” might not work for everyone. Right now, however, it works for me.

* * * * *

One final thought on using will (or greater, future-you wants) to override current wants: some compassion is necessary. Because change is a process, not a switch. Some days, I have the best intentions of sticking to one cup…then wash them down with a second. Other days I slip up (or back, or sideways) in other ways: I’ll eat something that’s not on the SCD, or I’ll stay up too late and clip my sleep on the other end, or I won’t go for my walk, or I overindulge on wine or (legal) sweets.

Not that any of these things are terrific, but what’s worse is beating myself up over it. Note, correct, and move on. If there’s time in there, I do some sussing for triggers. If not, don’t beat myself up over that, either.

Because beating myself up doesn’t get me closer to anything. Even Detroit.