The art of wanting

By Erica

A few months ago, I wrote about our family’s quest to decide where to live: Northern Virginia or Portland, Oregon.

The quest continues.

We spent a week in the Portland area in March. It was chaotic—sustaining a toddler’s schedule while visiting with friends and family (and indulging in some nights out) made for a whirlwind week.

But there was some magic, too. For a long time now, I have had this image in my mind of a Sunday dinner with the family. You know the kind you see in movies when everyone comes over to cook and laugh and spend time in each other’s company without pomp or pressure. One evening, the dream came true and it was just as enjoyable as I thought it might be.

We left Oregon feeling like moving there would be a good next step for us.

Of course, since we have been back in Arlington, I can’t help but take notice of all that we have going for us here. The other day, we brought our daughter to the National Mall to celebrate her second birthday. We visited the Natural History Museum and saw the dinosaurs, and whales, and gemstones. We chased pigeons on the Mall’s gravel lanes and took pictures of our toddler against the nation’s iconic backdrops. Am I really ready to leave this place?

It feels like I am looking at two versions of my future and wanting them both.


If only I knew how to want well.

On the one hand, ancient wisdom is clear on the idea that wanting is a sure path to suffering. Consider that a man once said to Buddha, “I want happiness.” And Buddha replied by suggesting he remove “I want.”

Many (all?) religious and philosophical disciplines I have encountered tell me that the path to inner peace is forged in humility, gratitude, generosity, faith, duty, and so on. And that the more I let go of my own desires, and my ego altogether, the more stable and content I will be.

On the other hand, here I am wanting it all. I want a house. And land. And good schools. And a vibrant family life. And nature. And more money. And status. And a legacy of some sort. What’s more is that to move forward, I really do need to determine what I want and then act on those desires.

It seems then that wanting, or rather wanting well, requires more precision than I realized. A matter of embarking on a journey toward fulfillment without getting swept away by the sea of undue desire.