There is nothing more powerful than signaling “I am above it all.” It’s what creates the highest status flavor of desire: denial.
Denial is its own expression of desire. It’s the fantasy of not needing anything—being above material wants and needs. As both owning a fancy car and denying a fancy car are fantasies, there is much less qualitative separation between them than we think.
Possessing all your material desires will not make you fulfilled. Denying all your material desires will not fix your life or make you “moral”.
In running away from desire we surprise ourselves when the problem wraps around. We find ourselves mired in a different difficulty with the same underlying texture of wanting: we cannot escape the material world no matter how much we think that’d solve our problems.
Wanting things is okay. It’s not the answer, but neither is attempting to scuttle away desire entirely.
Last week I came across this story from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. It seems to capture a similar idea:
When I was little and still living at Nagi Gompa, my father had a German student who owned the most expensive mountain bike that money could buy. He used to ride this bike from Kathmandu up to Nagi Gompa, not on the narrow dirt path but through the woods. He could make the bike leap across ditches and streams, and sometimes he would shoot straight to the top of Shivapuri, the mountain behind the nunnery, and appear to be flying through air rather than keeping the wheels on the ground. This man was such an excellent biker that he occasionally made money by racing with Nepalis down in the valley.
One day he told my father, “I have listened to you teach on the importance of letting go, and I do not know what to do about my mountain bike.”
My father said, “I know you love your mountain bike. But getting rid of it will not help break your attachment. Actually, it might strengthen it.”
The man was both relieved and confused. My father explained that the wish to get rid of also arises from the fixed mind. “If you are attached to the bike and you give it away, your mind will stick to the bike, whether you own it or not, and you might become proud of your action. If you do not work with the mind of attachment, the mind will stick to one thing or another. You have to liberate the attachment and then you can choose to keep the bike or not. Do not push away, do not invite. Work from the middle, and slowly you will transform attachment into an open mind that allows you to make appropriate choices.”