One of the key steps for seekers is to obtain a quiet mind, and, unlike the traditional method of renouncing all desire, I advocate that people be honest about what they want and pursue it. Of course, this is easier said than done. You might be reluctant to recognize what you actually want because your family or society would disapprove, because you’re afraid of rejection or failure or success, or for any number of other reasons. This is why finding out what you actually desire is an iterative process: you imagine or try something, express how you feel, and if it doesn’t feel quite right, adjust the idea. And you do this again and again. And good psychoanalytic therapy can be very useful for this too.
This whole process of refining and understanding what you want, which I call the “science of desire,” is completely different from just asking yourself what you want and accepting whatever answer comes to mind. This is the problem with questions that appear in self-help books like “What would you do if you had unlimited money?” Often the answers that come to mind when we ask ourselves such questions are totally wrong.
This is because we can be very easily deceived by what we think we want. Often shiny ideas like money or prestige sound good. “Of course I want that!” we seem to say to ourselves. “A beautiful, office, lots of money, tons of respect as an investment banker, a job where I’d be working on high-profile corporate deals that will change the world? Sign me up!”
This is all very superficial. The actual work and settings and people involved in that kind of job, for example, may be extremely different than that shiny TV-ad-idea you have of it. This is why actual experience of the job, talking to people, getting real data, is so important. The guts, the flesh of the thing, has to be understood as well as possible, and that has to be evaluated as to its emotional resonance, not the top-line surface of it.
So next time you’re evaluating something, beware of shiny summary. Look beneath the hood to what the option actually involves in all its muscle and blood, try that, experience that, and then see how you feel, and re-evaluate if necessary.