Yesterday I wrote the start of a post on desire, but didn’t have enough energy to brush it up. The following article in science news, motivated me enough to continue:
Past and Experience
Apparently the mechanism governing desire (see next §) is the same for all animals, even for the far away invertebrate phylum of arthropods where the insects belong to. This is not very surprising. Simply said: all species must avoid danger, and find pleasure in food and procreation.
Desire is learned from past experience: a longing to re-experience whatever was called ‘good’ and at the same time an aversion to relive whatever was painful. Desire always goes out of ‘I had a good time then and there, and I want to re-experience this again’.
Disappointment is unavoidable when the present experience is less elevated in ‘goodness’ than its predecessor in memory. And alas, memory distorts experiences, delivering a snapshot of past feelings but not a snapshot of history.
Disappointment will also follow when we cannot avoid the painful experiences, again and again.
Disappointment is the result from an expectation
Expectations kill reality, and give it an ever diminishing value of quality.
Desire < > Expectation
In order to try to understand the relation between desire and expectation, I will try a thought experiment:
I wish to go back to Vienna because we had such a good time there 30 years ago.
“We had such a good time”, a memorized experience, is wanted to be re-experienced.
“I wish” is the expressed desire to re-experience.
“go back to Vienna” is the action required to re-experience
“we will have a good time again” is the expectation that we will connect to the action of following the desire.
So when we finally go back to Vienna, we expect to experience the same as 30 years ago. Excuse me, … we expect a lot more since our memory has removed all the bad experiences from Vienna: the endless re-chewing of the experience has only amplified the good parts.
Apparently, desire and expectations are very intertwined. If we wouldn’t expect ‘to have such a good time’, we would not have much desire to go to Vienna either.
Time is a serious distorter of memory: and hence experiences in the past are distorted far beyond reality (undone from waiting to board a plane for instance).
Is my thought experiment worth anything? Is it correct?
Perhaps there is one aspect on expectations that is different from desire: expectation always compares the present with the memorized past. While desire is the instigator of reliving the experience, and expectation is the follow up, the evaluation of the present.
Perhaps expectations are conscious mental constructs, while desires come from a deeper sub- or even super-conscious?
What do you think?
Some chains of questions remaining:
I have read about the elimination of desires in a Buddhist context. How to lead a life without desire? Is desire not the nature of the animal? Is being aware about the nature of desire, memory and expectations enough to be more present? Or perhaps one has to go further, and get rid of self, and in consequence desire will also be dealt with?
Whenever we follow a desire, can we do this without comparing with the past, silencing or circumventing the google-in-our-head and still be in the present moment?
And one last remark:
The desire of the bodhisattva is to be reborn and selflessly help others one step further to enlightenment, until all beings are enlightened. For them the elimination of all desires does not completely apply.