Tuesday, 21 February 2012


I don't have much time for organised religion, but I do think that the Buddhists might be on to something when they tell people that suffering arises from attachment to desires. For me it's not a metaphysical thing, but I can see how life could be a whole lot better without the Pavlovian desire for this or that tugging your chain all the time and making you miserable when you can't have whatever you're currently drooling over.

I'm not enough of a self-denying ascetic to go all the way on this - we wouldn't be human is we didn't want a little bit from every level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, plus a bit of frivolous fun stuff as the cherry on top of the coconut pyramid. But there are limits. Living in a marketing-led consumer society that invests billions in persuading everybody to want ridiculous amounts of, mostly useless, new stuff all the time might drive our current economic model, along with some innovations,  but on a psychological level, it's a guaranteed recipe for infantilizing people, eroding their capacity for self-control, making them ever more needy, increasing desires and escalating societal levels of pointless dissatisfaction, frustration and suffering.

So I treasure little moments like spotting this advert for personalised car mats. A feeling of utter contentment washed over me when I saw it and realised that I've no desire at all to own a personalised car mat and that I'd struggle to imagine why anybody would ever want one. Pavlov's bell was ringing in my ears, but there was no drooling, no desire to get on the hamster wheel of getting and spending, just complete tranquillity. There's something soothing about ads for stuff that doesn't tempt me in the slightest - the feeling of total calm, impregnable detachment is like a small taste of nirvana.

After this moment of bliss, I was tempted to spend some time browsing the Past Times catalogue, just to get a fix of totally not needing a Downton Abbey wall calendar, a Limited Edition Union Jack Henry Desk Vacuum Cleaner or a set of "Keep Calm and Carry On" cuff links, but then I realised that I was actually starting to desire the sheer undesirability of everything in the Past Times catalogue It's trickier than you might think, getting off the Wheel of Suffering