Skillful desire

by Michael Ruggiero

In the Buddhist tradition desire is something paradoxical. All we are is born of desire: the desire to exist, despite nature’s best effort to stop that from continuing: it makes us human.

Typing is something I’ve wanted to improve on for a long time, and I’ve been able to improve my rate, but only to some small degree. I work at it, and I desire improvement.

But I haven’t pushed it farther than around 70 WPM. And why not? Because the very boring exercises, the ones that tax me most and make me feel the least successful, are the ones that build the largest improvements. Joshua Foer mentions the same sort of thing in Moonwalking with Einstein, how the greatest improvements in fields like music happen with as a result of the most grinding kind of repetition.

So I practice, but the exercises that are the most crushing, the ones I hate most, elicit the greatest improvements. It cuts against my desire to feel, well, like I’m getting better when I appear so bad. When you play music, you want to sound good, even though you need to endure the sounding-bad to get there.

There’s something to be said for at least looking at desire in the context of relative importance. One’s desire for things to work out the they “should” (really our desire for reality to conform to expectations) we can categorize as unskillful desire. How do we “skillfully” desire something?