Umair Haque – The Three Things Everyone Really Wants
re-post from Umair Haque
One of the strangest things about life is that, deep down, whether or not we admit it, we hunger for the same things, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we do. Not material things, of course. But nor what we’re taught to desire: money, sex, fame, and power, all of which are just easy ways to pretend we don’t really want something deeper, truer, more meaningful and lasting and significant and worthy from this life. Pretending all that, which is living a lie, leads to great inner pain which, if it’s not tended to, only grows. I’ll come back to that.
To be seen, to be held, and to be known. They’re the three things everyone wants. I can prove it to you with a sentence: imagine you had all the material stuff in the world you ever wanted, all the money, sex, power, and so on, now double it, now double it again, but no one — not a single soul — ever really saw you, held you, or knew you. I’d bet you’d be depressed, hollow, and broken in just a year or two, because every bit of pleasure would only hurt that much more.
The strange truth is this. Though these are the three things everyone really wants, almost no one knows how to give them (except maybe babies and puppies), and so the world spins in pain, anger, shame, and rage. Let’s consider it for a moment. How often do people really see you? Hold you? Know you? What happens when they don’t? You feel a little ashamed, angry, afraid, or guilt, don’t you? And so, in every single interaction that we have, from the smallest to the biggest, to most trivial to the most significant, aren’t these three things all that we’re really looking for? So as a result, those tiny few that can give us these three magical things we immediately gush over, adore, and celebrate, saying they’re full of “charisma” or “warmth” or “energy”, and so on.
The trick — that’s a terrible shorthand, so let us say instead the gift — in life therefore is to give them generously, freely, with abandon. If you can see people, hold people, and know people, quite simply, people will love you. You will be able to “relate to people”, as the pop-psycho lingo goes, but it’s better to say that you’ll feel more alive, overflowing with a sense of really being here, now, this, you. Not because you are seen, held, or known “back”. You often won’t be, and you don’t need to be: it’s not some kind of trade. Something subtler and greater happens. The gift is itself the reward. That doesn’t make any sense yet, I know. It will, after I discuss each one briefly.
To see someone, really see someone. It’s the hardest thing of all. Why is that? Because seeing another person asks us to be naked, too. To see clearly, we must drop our own veils. We cannot see anyone if we are only idealizing, romanticizing, or the opposite, stereotyping, scorning, belittling, or the inverse, expecting and anticipating. All that gunk fills our heads, the residue of memory and time, thus instead of seeing people, we mostly spend our lives seeing reflections of only our own desires. What a pity. And yet the moment that we really see someone, letting all our ideas of what people “should” or “need to” be go, then at last we are a little less blind. Then, our eyes open, at last, our sense of crushing aloneness, which in this day and age is ever present, finally begins to drop away. Now the electricity of really being lights up our veins.
When I say to hold someone, I don’t mean go out and hug the nearest person. Try not to be creepy. I mean holding them emotionally. Really just giving them room, space, time to express their pain and their joy, their inner longings, yearnings, musings, no matter how foolish or sacrosanct, and not just tolerating, or even accepting them, but celebrating them. Which part of them? Especially their frailties and weaknesses. Not what pop culture calls “flaws” — who knows what those are? — but what people themselves see as their shortcomings, regrets, lacks, absences, which are precisely where the greatest strength, wisdom, courage in us are born, through humility and perseverance, kneeling and kissing the sky. Hold and hold tight, hold close. Your life is short, and remember this: every single person you hold you will one day, when death comes to greet you, remember as a gift. In this way, holding people is how a sense of meaning in life emerges.
Knowing someone is the hardest thing of all. In a way, it’s impossible, to really “know”, in the sense of having all the information in anyone else’s head. But that is not the kind of knowledge we are after. We are trying to know someone in the sense of what their life feels like. Just to say: usually I’m depressed, afraid, anxious, worried, and so on. Mostly, we keep people at bay, staving off what they are feeling before giving ourselves a chance to know them, and that is because we ourselves are afraid that we might have to admit we feel that way, too. And so the world goes on dividing sadness from happiness, as though they were two separate things. But the simple truth is that fulfillment, if it is anything at all, is the maturity to see the happiness in your sadness, the beauty in your desolation, and the love in your grief. But none of that can come to be if you are dividing those things up to begin with, pretending that there is perfection to be had in this life, which is what you are really doing when you will not know people.
And then you will discover something greater still than freedom.
Here’s the second strange truth of life. You can never really run out of seeing, holding, or knowing. And so the more of them you give, the more you come to know your own impossibility, fragility, beauty, the truth of you. I don’t mean that in a poetic way, though it sounds poetic. I mean it in a visceral, tangible way: you will know, at last, that you could see, hold, and know everything there ever was, if only you could live forever. But you can’t. And so here you are, a little thing, always being torn apart by hunger, desire, and longing. And you suppose that you yearn for this thing, or that thing, and then maybe you even get them, but somehow, the hunger never goes away.
Here’s a secret. That hunger? This is what it really is. You always ache, deep inside, just because you are an endless thing trapped inside a mortal frame. And by coming to really understand yourself in this truest way, you will see, at last, that this life is just pure experience, awareness, intensity, subjectivity creating objectivity, a little flash of light in between two midnights. There was never any need to say that “happiness” or “sadness” were any better than, or even any different from one another, and thinking that is the source of all the shame, guilt, and fear in the world. They are just two ways of seeing, holding, and knowing the same thing, with gratitude and mercy, which was you.
Seeing others this way is really seeing them. Holding others this way is really holding them. Knowing others this way is really knowing them. You can’t run out of seeing, holding, and knowing. They are the river of being overflowing through you on their to the ocean of time. So all there is to do is this: cup your hands, and give them every thirsty soul you meet. Everyone will love you a little more for being generous, courageous, wise, true enough to slake their thirst a little bit. They will say, “ah! This is what I always looking for, but no one gave to me.” And you? You, knowing the gift is the reward, will be kneeling under the stars, becoming who you were meant, by fate and grace, ever to be.