I don’t think all desire is harmful, despite my generally minimalist/stoic philosophy. I think that desire needs to be balanced by an equivalent level of commitment and realistic expectations about the world, but in those instances it can be a powerful force for good.
It might be shallow to dream of a fancy car, but if the desire for that car is what motivates you to work hard and improve your station, awesome. As long as your work ethic matches and you don’t let that desire drive you to foolish acts (like massive debt), great.
But there is a particular *kind* of desire that is so bad it’s ruinous. It’s spiritual poison, and without purging it from your mind you can never be happy or fulfilled. And that is the desire for that which does not, and can not exist.
In simple terms, desire for a car can be a healthy motivator. Desire for a functioning time machine is poisonous in exact proportion to the intensity of that desire.
Maximally driven people can accomplish incredible things if what they’re pursuing can exist. Maximally driven people who pursue impossible ends go mad. And yes yes, “flight was thought impossible,” etc. But I’m not talking about Unlikely Innovation.
I’m talking about tautology. I.e. trying to woo the girl of your dreams is fine, unless the girl of your dreams is the literal character Wonder Woman, who does not exist in the real world. If your desire to marry Wonder Woman persists, happiness is impossible.
The moment of realization that a desire is truly impossible is the most painful moment you can endure. Nothing else compares. The level of pain matches the level of intensity of the desire, which is why – past a certain point – it becomes impossible to face.
My desire to see my children thrive is worth working for. My desire to sit on the porch and have one last conversation with my father must be tempered, however painfully, by the knowledge that it can never be. If I pursued that desire as if it were possible, I would break.
Sometimes we harbor a desire for a long, long time before the reality becomes undeniable. It’s not always as straightforward as communing with the dead or marrying fictional characters. Sometimes the line between fiction and reality was a line we blurred in our own mind.
And letting go is so hard, because the image in our mind of what it’s going to feel like when we finally get what we want looks like paradise. Nothing is being taken from you; you’re just forced to admit that you were carrying around smoke in the shape of diamonds.
That is the most insidious trap the heart can fall into, because it builds it. The heart makes that cage out of pieces of itself, and those pieces are not recovered even if it escapes. Faced with the choice of staying whole in captivity or escaping in tatters, it’s understandable that many hearts can’t choose the latter. This is the greatest pain. Not loss, for loss means once you had. Not failure, for failure means you followed hope when hope was true. But the cruelty of a universe that cannot make all our dreams real.