The Zen Key to Doing What You Want

· June 6, 2019
If you're hungry, eat and if you're sleepy, sleep. In other words, just do what you want!

In the Western world, people believe that doing what they want will result in suffering or ruin. They even believe in silly ideas, such as that repressing our thoughts, feelings, and desires is synonymous with moral superiority. In reality, several experiments have contradicted those Western postulates.

Western culture is fundamentally prohibitive. The idea that educating ourselves and cultivating ourselves consists in learning to avoid unwanted thoughts, behaviors, and feelings is hammered into our brain from the moment we’re born. We’re taught from an early age that doing what we want is a sign of foolishness and immaturity.

The Zen Key to Doing What You Want

The Zen key tells us otherwise, that repression ends up encouraging the desire to do exactly what’s forbidden to us.

“I hesitate to use the word freedom because it’s precisely in the name of freedom that crimes against humanity are being perpetrated. This situation is certainly not new in history: poverty and exploitation were products of economic freedom; time and again, people were liberated all over the globe by their lords and masters, and their new liberty turned out to be submission, not to the rule of law but to the rule of the law of the others. What started as subjection by force soon became ‘voluntary servitude,’ collaboration in reproducing a society which made servitude increasingly palatable and rewarding.”

-Herbert Marcuse-

Doing and Not Doing What You Want

Margaret Mead’s anthropological studies reveal different types of societies, with very different values ​​and norms. She draws your attention to different facts.

Among them, that in both patriarchal or matriarchal societies, there’s a higher percentage of homosexuality. From the Western point of view, this would be a contradiction. From the Zen point of view, it’s a logical consequence of taboos and prohibition.

Speaking of prohibition, a great example of it is the consumption of alcohol in the United States. When it was illegal, people consumed it more and even mafias arose. Contrary to their predictions, the number of consumers didn’t increase when alcohol became legal again. In fact, there are now more illegal drug consumers than alcohol consumers.

All this data points to the fact that repression isn’t a way to manage desires. The Zen key encourages the opposite. It encourages us to honor those forbidden thoughts, feelings, and desires and to try to understand them. Furthermore, they believe that the best way to eliminate them is to experience them. In fact, there are some experiments that prove it.

An Experiment on Desire

A rock balance.

Professor Carey Morewedge from Boston University performed an interesting study on this subject. Along with his team, he brought together 200 people who stated that they were chocolate lovers. These volunteers divided into two groups. The first group had to imagine themselves eating 30 chocolates, one by one. However, the second group had to image themselves eating only three chocolates instead of 30.

The scientists left a bowl full of exquisite chocolates in front of both groups. Of all the participants, the assumption was that the group who could eat 30 chocolates would feel a greater desire to eat chocolate.

However, the experiment proved the opposite. In reality, those who fantasized about eating 30 chocolates didn’t take any from the bowl. On the contrary, those who could only fantasize about eating three chocolates did have the need to try a few.

Repressing Thoughts

A lit on brain.

Professor Carey Morewedge concluded that when we try to stop thinking about something, the opposite occurs. In fact, we think more about it. For example, if we don’t want to think of ghosts, then we’ll see ghosts everywhere. Thus, the repression of thought draws our attention into whatever we’re trying to repress.

This finding suggests that if we think about doing what we deeply desire, our desire will probably lose its strength. However, we can fantasize about certain things in specific moments. Thus, wanting to attack someone and actually doing it isn’t the same thing. Thus, according to that logic, thinking about how we would attack that person would, in fact, lessen our desire to attack them.

The brain doesn’t distinguish reality from fantasy. It’s a glitch in our system that can help us in different circumstances. When what we want to do goes against ourselves or others, there’s nothing better than fantasizing about doing what we want. This can make the desire lose its strength.

Butler, J. (2001). Mecanismos psíquicos del poder: teorías sobre la sujeción (Vol. 68). Universitat de València.