It’s a lot easier to please someone when you know what they want. But what do you do when you meet someone who does not seem to want anything? I didn’t realise I was making things difficult for people until 5 years ago when the first girl I was seeing in college said she didn’t know how to make me happier because I already looked so satisfied. I forgot that comment as quickly as it was made. It was too complicated for my naive mind.
A few years later, having met other friends and lovers, I would remember that comment because I had now gotten plenty variations of it. So, I considered the situation and traced its roots to the months immediately after high school, during which I studied lots of literature and philosophy in preparation for the supposed adult life. It was also the time that I lost many beliefs and adopted new ones (only to lose them again), until I came to the understanding that the light I was seeking could only come from within.
It is a rather difficult thing to explain, this lifestyle that has taken sages centuries to perfect, but if you could imagine having so much drive yet so little expectation, then you would be close. I am the kind of guy who could live with satisfaction on one thousand naira just as well as I would on one billion. It’s all in the mind, they say, but that’s how one can genuinely want nothing.
There is a catch, anyway. Many things in life play out like negotiations: if you can appear less desperate, if you seem less disturbed about losing everything, then you are more likely to make a better deal. It must be noted, however, that you cannot successfully negotiate your way through life with continuous hypocrisy, and that is why you have to actually grasp the concept of “vanitas vanitatum.”
Since every form of extremism is unpalatable, to forestall misery, this disposition is best when balanced with a perspective that seeks to make the most of every moment and opportunity, but that perspective should not be borne out of a perceived need or uncontrollable desire. Instead, it should simply be the result of a cultivated habit of never going halfway when you can go all the way. Perhaps that sounds somewhat conflicting, but it is not too different from the art of communication — we juggle speaking and listening, which are worlds apart, to effectively pass across information.
A penny for your thoughts? “Well, Omoya, I think it is awfully convenient for you to say you want nothing when you are already close to having everything. You have a mind that accumulates wealth faster than it dispenses it, a body that gives little or no trouble, a personality that nourishes relationships with family and friends, and a promising career that guarantees comfort even while doing the barest minimum. Heck, I would want nothing, too, if I had your life.” Fair point. However, abundance doesn’t change a man; it only accentuates his tendencies. He who is discontent with little will still not be content with more.
There is a particular poem written by Kurt Vonnegut about a conversation he had with Joseph Heller. It was at a party thrown by a billionaire on Shelter Island. Kurt asked Joe how it made him feel to know that their host might have made more money within the last 24 hours than his best work had made in its entire decades-long history. Joe replied by saying that he had something the billionaire could never have. “What on earth could that be, Joe?” Kurt asked. “The knowledge that I’ve got enough,” Joe answered.
I have read that poem so many times that I might as well frame it on my wall. My takeaway each time is that true peace and freedom come when you reconcile yourself with the fact that you don’t need so much, that what you’ve got, no matter how little, can be enough. Now, imagine the boundless potentials of a free and peaceful mind, and there you have the perfect irony. Everything comes to you because you want nothing.