The Fruits of Not Getting What You Want

June 21, 2023

We can learn to not take our karmas too seriously and feel pain without suffering. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Can you talk about the fruits of not getting what you want?

When I think about this question, I like to think about the boy I had a crush on in fifth grade. His name was Bruce. I really thought I liked Bruce. [laughs] I think, well, what if I had ended up with Bruce?

What if I had ended up with what I wanted when I was in fifth grade? As it turned out, with Bruce, I learned fairly quickly that what I wanted was not necessarily what was right for me.

I went to my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Lynch. She was about seventy years old. She wore these frumpy little dresses with little ruffles on the sleeves. She was a terror. She was really a terror.

But for some reason, I thought she'd be a good adviser. So I asked her if I could talk to her. She took me into the cloak closet. Did you have one of those in your school? A cloak closet.

It was where you stored your coats when you came into school for the day, and any extraneous backpacks or anything that you had. So we actually sat there in the cloak closet together, me and Mrs. Lynch.

And I asked her, 'how do I get a boy to like me?' And she said, very quickly, without any hesitation, 'listen to everything he says and laugh at all his jokes.' So I did that. I just sort of mechanically did that.

And as it turns out, that made Bruce like me. And I knew that he liked me because one day on the playground, he found a dead bug, and the first thing he did was run over and show it to me. And so I recognized that that meant he liked me.

And I immediately was completely uninterested in him [laughs]. Because I felt if it was so easy to get a boy to— all you had to do was listen, basically shut up and listen and laugh at their jokes, and that was it. That was the formula. I really wasn't interested.

Anyway, that wasn't the point. The point is that we want lots of things starting when we're very young. And if we can just identify all the things we wanted at earlier ages that we now know, looking back, would have been horrible to get.

In seventh grade, my boyfriend, Jamie, and I got married. I mean it wasn't a real marriage, but he was a Quaker. So, we heard that Quakers could get married just on the spur of the moment without any legal to do's. So we just basically pledged something to each other.

But our parents were completely exercised about this and called us in for a meeting and wanted to know what this marriage entailed. [laughs] I also had a crush on my best girlfriend whose real name was Joni, but she called herself Gun. Didn't occur to me to marry her.

So anyway, what if I had actually ended up with Jamie or Bruce for the rest of my life? We have to think this way because the things that we desperately want now are really just like that, except we don't have the benefit of hindsight.

The things that we really want, that we're fixated on in particular, are really very limited desires. And not getting them, one of the things that it does eventually, is grind us down so that we recognize that those things are not the things that are really going to be sustaining or helpful for us.

The other thing is, which is much more important, is that everything is just as it is.

And as I've said so many, so many times, we are only one factor, a very small factor in the mandala of life, and we don't have control over things.

So everything's going to happen the way it happens, whether we like it or not. People are going to be the way they are, whether we like it or not. Worlds are going to blink in and out of existence, whether we like it or not.

What do we want to feel about that? We want to feel equanimous. We want to feel a sense of there's nothing actually wrong. Everything, everything, that happens is completely natural and okay.

We want to feel that even if we don't like things happening the way they are, we also have this other way we can relate to them as just a very neutral 'this is what's happening.'

And in that neutrality, in that equanimity, or just in that realism, it's just a kind of sobriety, a realism. Stuff happens, end of story. Stuff happens and none of it is unnatural or wrong, or it shouldn't have happened that way, or crimes against this and crimes against that.

All of it is just happening as an upsurge of this alive, aware reality, and none of it is wrong.

So when we have at least that sense of the this-ness of everything, the intractability of everything, that 'this is just how it is' of everything. When we at least have that, that we can turn to, even if we still have a lot of preferences, then what can we do in the face of all that?

Our energy and our mind will not be so bound up with our complaint about everything, or feeling horrible about everything, or feeling chronically sad about everything, which doesn't mean we shouldn't feel sad or angry or whatever in passing.

But when we get stuck in those emotional gears, what happens? We lose skill, we lose opportunity because we're completely bound up in those emotions and ways of relating to things.

And then we cannot be practical. We can't work with circumstances when all of our energy is tied up into wishing they were a different way.

So when we no longer have an attachment to wishing they were a different way. This is a fine point which we really, really need to understand because it pertains so much to so much of our spiritual life.

We're going to feel lots of different things and we're going to still have karmas at the end of the day. But how much attachment do we have to those things? How much are we able to just feel those things and then recognize 'Okay, there's this other way of relating to things.'

That's what we need to be able to do. And then we can just use our energy to be practical and address things in the best way we can. Practical and creative, but with a sobriety that isn't always being tugged in a certain direction. This is what is really called for.

Whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, we want to be able to work with it. As I used to say in the 60s, we don't want to be a refuse-nik. It's an old term. "I just refuse to be okay with this!"

That's okay if that's how you want to spend your whole life. But you won't be working with circumstances while you're doing that. It's like people who refuse food, basically. So we may have good reasons for refusing circumstances just as they are, but it won't, in the long run, help us.

So not getting what we want is a radical—but very common—way of forcing us to just deal with what is.

If we continually don't get what we want over and over and over again, the way that we're being pointed is, "This isn't going away. So you're just going to have to figure out a way to live with this."

And that's part of the strip down that happens to make us okay with what is, to bring that equanimity about. That's part of it. It's not the whole thing.

Spiritual life isn't just about not getting what you want. No one would do it if that's true. 'I just spent forty years meditating and I never got anything I wanted. It was so great.'

What we get when we don't insist on what we want is the bigger thing that we didn't know was there. The more nourishing thing, the more magical thing, the more freeing thing that we didn't know was there because our limited desire was blocking it.

It's basically a demolition operation, not getting what you want. Part of spiritual maturity, and again, it's really subtle because we can't just go, 'Oh Shambhavi said to be equanimous in this. Okay, I'm equanimous.' It doesn't work that way. But what we have to learn to do is to recognize the actual condition we're in.

So we cannot take our desires too seriously even though they cause us pain. This may seem impossible, but it's not. We can still feel the pain of our karmas, of our habit patterns, and also recognize them for exactly what they are. And just kind of let them happen, but try to move in a different direction.

If we still think our happiness is dependent on getting this something, whatever it is, and basically, when we insist that our happiness lies here where we have said it lies, we are basically signing up for a lifetime of unhappiness.

When we practice every day, hopefully, we get glimpses of something that gives us a little more confidence that there's something else there that we weren't expecting that isn't on our limited menu of 'here's how to get happiness.'

It's something else, and it's going to give us something more permanent and more nourishing.

So, in this kind of tradition where we have the big view without being coddled, basically, it's really quite a sophisticated operation to relate in a useful way to your own suffering in this kind of tradition.

In another tradition, they might be saying 'Well, all human beings want to be relieved of suffering, and here's how you do it, so head for it.'

In this tradition, we're not really relating to our suffering that way. We're relating to it more as our suffering is actually another expression of this reality. And it's an important part of our path, but we have to learn how to relate to it properly.

We can feel pain without suffering. I think this is probably a more useful way of putting it. Pain is just pain. If I feel the pain of loss, or I feel the pain of longing, or I feel the pain of loneliness, these are all pains that every human being feels very deeply.

If I can feel that pain without the whole emotional other apparatus that goes on, like, for instance, I'm lonely because I'm worthless, or I'm lonely because other people suck, or because of something that happened in my childhood, or I feel this pain because, then we have the sense of indignation at our condition.

We have a complaint about our condition. This just fixes us super glue to our suffering. One of the most mature skills we can have as practitioners in this kind of tradition is to feel our pain but stop complaining.

Not because we're holding our complaints back, but because we understand that pain for what it is.

And we can still progress in our spiritual life, even though we're not getting what we think we want. Just call it Bruce. Maybe that'll help.

When you say rest in your real nature, what makes it real?

That is a standardized phrase from Dzogchen, rest in your real nature. And it means recognizing your real nature, not mistaking your karmas for being your real nature. I mean, karmas are part of nature, so they're not not real nature.

But one of the things about karma is that it distorts our perceptions. I mean that's actually how it operates, right? If our perceptions were not distorted, we would be enlightened. That's one way of saying enlightenment.

So all karmic realm vision represents a quantity of distortion of perception and a quantity of loneliness. Because all karmic realm vision is based on the misperception that we are separate beings floating around in space or stumbling around in space.

So, resting in your real nature means finding that sweet spot where you're either less impacted by karmic realm vision or not impacted by it for a fleeting moment or some moments.

And just allowing yourself to rest without holding any concept about yourself, who you are, what's happening in the world.

When we don't hold any concept about things, we don't have a story about it, but it goes beyond just not having a story about it.

Then we can feel, perceive the life that's happening that's giving rise to all of this. We can directly perceive in an inexplicable way—really, no words would actually be able to describe this—but the wisdom, the intelligence, the life of everything that's giving rise to all these phenomena.

That's what it means, resting in your real nature. It means to recognize that what is beyond concept and giving rise to all concepts, just livingness—unfettered, unconditioned livingness—which is full of intelligence and wisdom and virtue.

It's like feeling the fullness of it in our bodies and in space and everywhere. So it comes to us when we have practice, which is helping to erode our perceptual blockages, our karmic perceptual blockages.

And we learn this special way of relaxing even for just a minute. It could just be remembering your essential value. It could just be something less all encompassing than what I just said. It could be just going into the hard space and reminding yourself of the indestructible value that you are, that you feel.

The reason why it's beyond our usual kinds of words is because the way that we usually describe value is with some kind of laundry list of accomplishments or things that we think we are, characteristics we have.

But this value doesn't have any reason. It's just the value of life itself in all of its shining wisdom, which we can contact in the heart space. It might just be that, having a sense of that, and remembering, I'm okay. I don't have to be to worry about all this. And relaxing.

Whatever way you can contact that or whatever way your practice has led you to be able to experience that, in whatever way, really, you're just trying to do that all the time.

This is what it means, akhanda sadhana, unbroken sadhana. We might do lots of practices, but at its core, it means resting in your real nature as best as you're able to all the time, remembering to do that.

But that phrase is not from Trika, that phrase is from Dzogchen. It's basically a description of the path and the fruit and the method. So it's the view, it's the method, and it's the fruit all in one, five word sentence.

This is something that you encounter when you drop all effort to be anyone or think anything about anything. You're not grasping at anything. And again, it gets back to this profound neutrality toward experience. That resting is pulling in all of the effort, dropping all of the effort.

When you say neutrality, isn't it kind of a good feeling?

Yeah, oh yeah. It just has a feeling of neutrality, like water pouring into a lake. Neutrality in the sense that we always have an angle. We always have an orientation. We're always tending in some direction. That's the nature of habit pattern.

And Ma said, God is abhava, without any orientation. So that neutrality means don't have an orientation. Be in a condition of relaxed poise. Hold no view. That's really what it boils down to.

So that teaching has been given in many, many different ways that the view itself is a temporary tool. Because we don't need view to just rest in life. Life takes over it is the view, we don't need to be thinking about it.

There's a great Buddhist book where the students of Machig Labdrön wrote down her teachings. And the book is like, I don't know, seven or eight hundred pages long.

And it's called Machig's Explanation of the Practice of Chöd. She brought the practice of chöd into the human realm. And it's a very elaborate practice and has many different forms of practice.

Then at the end of this many, many page book, her student writes, "And Machig summed up the teaching of chöd by this instruction, hold no view." She said, this is the ultimate practice, hold no view. So this is really where Dzogchen just goes right to the heart of the matter.

I've definitely turned my sights towards what I want. I want to feel my virtue. I want to feel present, things like that. And we started the whole conversation with maybe not getting what you want. So I've had to let down a lot of people in the past two weeks. And that was because I was not going to be in a position where I was taking care of myself.

Yeah, those are really tough forms of honesty, but absolutely crucial if we want not only to live our lives in the best way, but if we want to have confidence.

Those kind of decisions, as hard and scary as they can be, really do build your confidence in wisdom. That sounds like some maturing going on.

I also want to say, and this doesn't really pertain to your situation, but just lest anyone have some idea that we have to give everything up in order to be spiritual.

What we're giving up or really not giving it up, we're doing practice and working with a teacher so that things fall away.

We can't just give things up. There has to be some alchemy happening, some chemistry that makes them fall away.

But in any case, we're not giving up things, we're giving up attachments. So we can feel I'm not as ambitious as I was before, or ambition is not as big of a factor in my life, and succeeding in a conventional way isn't as big of an attachment as it was before.

But you could still become wildly successful. That part isn't actually up to you. There's people who do nothing and they just have this incredible big life, right, without ever having really planned it. Just an accident.

We're not trying to give up wealth or give up success or give up anything. We're just trying to do whatever we're doing in the most honest, authentic way we can.

And then whatever happens with that, being fine with that. Whether we remain in obscurity or whether we become well known or whether we have a lot of money or a little bit of money.

The idea isn't to give things up for the sake of some idea of renunciation. Renunciation is not necessary. Things fall away in due time.

And that includes the effort that we make. So for instance, I can make an effort to change a habit, and it won't work. But then in some other time in my life, I'll make an effort and it'll work. So it's not like we're just sitting around waiting for things to fall away like rotten fruit.

We are making efforts, but there's no thing in the tradition about our lives have to look any particular way, or we have to renounce wealth and renounce success. We just need to get to the point where we're not attached to it being a certain way.

And this gets back to this question at the beginning about the uses of not getting what you want, not getting what you want helps to reconcile you to being able to work with what actually happens rather than what you wished would have happened.

Sucks. No, it doesn't suck because Bruce... It doesn't suck because everything that we want is not as good as what we will get if we just relax and let this reality give it to us.

I have a question about Bruce. You talked about not trying to make things different than they are.

I'm not saying not trying to make things different. I'm saying not insisting on them being a certain way.

So we're working with circumstance. I mean, I go to the grocery store and I'm going to cook food. I'm making things different. I'm turning random things from the store into a meal. So we are operating on things and making things different.

It's just having an attachment to it being one way and not all other ways and not being able to adapt to what's actually happening.

Let's say I go to the grocery store and I buy stuff to make dinner, and then any number of things could happen. I could burn the dinner, or maybe I was making it for people and they just at the last minute decided not to come.

What am I going to do in those circumstances? Am I going to throw a fit and dig my heels in and cry for the rest of the evening or journal about it or whatever?

Or am I just going to like, okay, I'll just adapt. So that's what really gets down to being adaptable and being able to work with circumstances.

So it's not like I don't want the environment to be cleaned up, but if it doesn't get cleaned up, I'm going to work with that circumstance as best I can.

So there's a sense of like also being able to feel the times and when you're pushing too hard or when you're too attached to it, being a certain way. And reality is like going, 'no, sorry, it's not going to be that way.'

You have to be able to pivot and work with what actually is happening if you want to have any satisfaction or happiness in life. Because if you aren't getting what you want, it's not the thing for you.

Well, not right now. Sometimes you have to wait forever.

Yeah, but don't waste your life waiting for a thing.


Photo by Mick Haupt


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.