For a while now I’ve been thinking about what it means to “want”. I’ve wanted many things in life, but not all in the same way nor to the same extend. Actually, looking back on my life so far, there are a lot of things I wanted at some point in my life that I am quite relieved I never got. Like a belly ring or a date with that beautiful schoolmate, who on closer acquaintance turned out to be a horrible human being.
I’ve also come across things I never knew I wanted, but now that I do have it, I wouldn’t want to be without out. Like my guitar – even though I barely have time to practice these days.
I have come to the conclusion that I feel two different kinds of “want”. I have no great definition for these two kinds of “want”, so I hope you’ll forgive my rather poetic way of separating them into two categories; “the want of the mind” and “the want of the heart.“
The want of the mind is particularly tricky to deal with, because it’s so easy to get lost in one’s own head and completely ignore our hearts. The mind is loud, where the heart is silent. The mind will ridicule the heart, while the heart forgives the mind.
Now, poetic musings aside, I’ll discuss each a little bit more pragmatically.
I believe the want of the mind is easily swayed. I see a commercial for ice tea in the summer and longingly search for a place to buy one to quench my sudden thirst.
It’s definitely the same way I wanted a belly ring when I was in school. I wanted it like I wanted to be that drop dead gorgeous schoolmate who bravely flaunted a belly ring with a glittering stone as she stood behind the bicycle shed at school and smoked cigarettes during breaks.
I didn’t really want a belly ring, I wanted to be like her: cool, popular, loved by her friends and not caring about anyone but herself. The belly ring was never going to make me like her, but I had somehow gotten the idea that if I only had a belly ring I’d be cool and uncaring like her.
When I realised that a belly ring would not fundamentally change who I am as a human being, I very suddenly stopped wanting one.
I’ve experienced to want in that same way many times in my life, as I am sure you have too.
We all do that sometimes.
Well, we don’t all want a belly ring, but we all want things because we think we want it and not because we really do.
People often say “be careful what you wish for” because you may not want it if you really get it. It makes perfect sense to me now.
It can be a pretty dress, a game, a book, a necklace or a pair of shoes. It can even be a person. We end up thinking ourselves into wanting something that we often don’t need or really want. It could be we have a crush on someone, but once we start dating we realise that person is nothing like we imagined and regret everything – or worse, they are exactly what we imagined and we hate them a little for it. Sometimes, we even want something simply because we can’t have it.
When I was in high school all the girls I knew were all involved in some form of romantic drama; either in love, in relationships, dating or nurturing an unrequited love. I felt it was only natural that I indulged in some similar activity even though I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about.
Then one day, it happened just like in the films – my first crush left me breathless (albeit on closer examination it was more likely me being winded from running up the stairs late to class with untreated asthma) and I wanted nothing but to go out with that very unique person (unique does not equate to love, I can tell you).
The romance was brief but complete with a moonlight walk and a very awkward first date. In the end, it fizzled out (being breathless is only fun for a little while, then it gets a bit annoying) and I moved on certain it had all been in my head. It was how I had been taught by my peers that romance was: only between a man and a woman and always awkward and without happy endings. I thought the whole concept pointless, but who was I to argue with normality? It was only later that I understood if was perfectly fine even if I didn’t fit into any of those boxes. I am free to be the person I am and love whoever I fall in love with.
You know what I always wanted? I wanted to live in an apartment in the city with a small balcony where I grow herbs and have a group of friends that I always hang out with. People who stick by you no matter what and play games, watch movies while eating the obligatory popcorn and go on trips together. Only, is it really what I want?
When I was in high school I had a group of friends just like that. We were in the same class and we hung out together all the time. I used to think we would be friends forever and I thought I was happy. Looking back, however, I think our friendship was more an illusion than anything else. I think I loved the idea of our group more than the group itself. People were lying to each other and we all had secrets from each other- even I had my secrets.
Once removed from the high school setting we very quickly drifted apart and it became clear that we had never been the friends we thought we were. It was, in fact, a very stressful and unhappy time for me in high school, but it wasn’t until I met the amazing people I can call friends today, that I realised what the words “friend” and “friendship” truly means. We may live far away from each other and almost never meet or talk, but I’d rather have those wonderful human beings in my life than any other group of illusionary friends.
After high school I moved to the capital and began studying at university. I moved into a small apartment and over the next many years I lived in different places, both in the city and occasionally in the countryside. I went to university in the capital searching for that beautiful vibrant big city life that I had imagined existed there. I believed the university to be a place of like-minded individuals all in search of new and fascinating knowledge, sharing groundbreaking theories and deep conversations about life and the city a place with open-minded humans who would not judge me or treat me badly simply for being different.
I was wrong about a lot of that – if not all. Or at least, I was naive.
The reality of living in the city was never what I imagined it to be. I enjoy waking up to birds in morning rather than waking up to drunk people shouting or fighting in the middle of the night. I enjoy sitting in my garden feeling the grass between my toes and drinking morning coffee rather than sitting by the window, relishing in the occasional breeze, watching cars go by.
I know, I know. The city is far more than these examples just like living in the countryside is not all roses and sunshine. Some enjoy being close to theatres, music halls, cafes and shopping, but I am not like that. I am just not as comfortable in the city as I am in the countryside. My heart wants nature and the ocean, in spite of that, my mind still yearns for the fast-passed and exhilarating life in the city.
My point is, what my mind wants is generally things I imagine, things that are not real at all. My mind creates an idea or a reality that I believe would make me happy, but I have no way of knowing what I truly feel before I try it out.
Don’t misunderstanding, I am not saying imagination is a bad thing. In fact, being able to imagine the future is a very, very useful skill in life.
I am also not saying that the heart is never wrong, because sometimes our heart does want things that are not good for us.
What I want to say, and both my mind and heart are in agreement here (amazing, isn’t it?), is that being able to differentiate between the two is a useful skill. If we find something that makes both our heart and mind happy, wouldn’t that be a grand thing?
Knowing that something might not make us happy, but approaching it with curiosity and fascination and then feel whether or not our hearts are happy too – not just our minds – is one of the most essential skills I have ever tried to nurture in myself. It is quite a lot more difficult than you might think, because as I said, the heart is deceptively quiet and about feeling as opposed to the loud and verbal force of the mind.
Often I have tricked myself into believing my heart wants what my mind wanted and only afterwards realised just how wrong I was.
I try to approach things more carefully and not get carried away by the idea of something. I try to figure out how I feel about something, and when my mind runs wild with all the many possibilities of the future, I try to calm down a little. Somehow, achieving something is less all or nothing for me now, and more about making the best of what I already have. The future is still there, I still want things, but whether or not I get something doesn’t seem as important as it once did – I might not like it if I do. Then again, maybe I will. That thing I don’t want to happen? Well, if it happens I might end up being happy it did one day and if not? Well, I can still deal with it. So can you.