Just a simple little key, right? A little house key that got lost when I went for a walk. When I got back home, the key was not in my pocket. What happened to it? It probably fell out when I pulled a poop bag out of my pocket to clean up after my dog. I was locked out of the house. Mild annoyance. I retraced my steps expecting to find it…but didn’t. Now annoyance was mixed with a growing sense of anxiety and discomfort. Like the earth had suddenly and slightly shifted off its axis.
A neighbor who has a spare key for my house let me in, so the immediate problem was solved. But I was not at ease. On the contrary, that little key became the symbolic key to my well being. I could not be at peace until I got it back. Every day or two I took the same route, eyes scanning the ground, willing it to appear. It did not.
I was self aware enough to watch my distress with curiosity and not a little befuddlement. What could be so important about this key that I would sacrifice my equanimity? It’s not like I didn’t have other copies of my house key. I could easily have as many as I wanted made at the hardware store. I couldn’t explain the mystery of its crucial significance except to say that I wanted that key. I wanted it a lot.
That key clearly represented something far beyond its function of unlocking my front door. So I waited for the meaning to reveal itself to me. And I began to understand. It represented desire, particularly the desire I’ve been struggling with recently, wanting certain things to be different than they are, wanting people to be different than they are, wanting myself to be different than I am. Desire born of judgment and fantasy, rooted in my mind, not in reality. A desire that brought pain and anger to my heart, sadness and longing to my soul, and disquiet to my spirit.
I had shifted off my own axis of balance and alignment. I wanted relief, not the relief that comes with familiar spiritual and taiji practices to restore equilibrium. No I wanted the relief that we imagine we will experience if we get what we want. It felt like I was having a spiritual tantrum.
I know better … and yet …
Desire had a hold of me. I was hooked and I knew it. I wasn’t struggling with a lost key or unwanted circumstances as much as I was struggling with desire itself. Judging it, rejecting it, denying it, pretending I didn’t feel it – only to be caught up in its ocean swell of power, power I gave it through my own thoughts, desperate to have my desire satisfied in order to alleviate the discomfort and agitation I was feeling. I recognized desire’s alluring and utterly false promise. If only I can have (fill in the blank), I will be happy, at peace, content. And even knowing it was false, I wanted it anyway.
Wow. That lost key held some powerful juju.
But like with any tantrum, you eventually wear out. So what can you do when you are too exhausted to struggle anymore? Surrender. I invited desire to tea and served my most delicious compassion. Desire still sits at the table, but it is calmer now, as am I. One sip at a time. One breath at a time. It is enough.
Ever without desire, one can see the mystery
Ever with desire, one can see the manifestations
~Dao De Jing
[In the mysterious way of the Universe, my key found its way home. Weeks after I was reconciled to its loss, I stumbled across a notice on an online neighborhood message board – and there was my key. I went to pick it up, and I confess I teared up with grateful joy when it was back in my hand. Sometimes getting what we want does indeed feel good.]