*After* the American Checklist: Money, Sex, Knowledge, Power, Influence, Fame, Things, Euphoria, Romance, Legacy

So — You’ve experienced several or all of the above. (Or — you haven’t — and your desire still burns hot, go ahead and seek a while longer then come back. Alternatively, use your imagination and consider this a spoiler alert.)

Now what?

More, more, more, until you die?

Maybe new, new, new? Better better better? Spice things up?

When you start to see the emptiness of things, it’s not really possible to unsee. You can’t unbreak the mirror, as they say.

When you see the emptiness of things, the little impeller that may have kept you going all your life, seems to putter out for good. This feels alien. Wait a minute — all the things I’ve been chasing, don’t exist, in any enduring sense?

Maybe for you, it doesn’t work exactly like a light switch. Maybe instead, you have moments of seeing emptiness with perfect anxiety-inducing-clarity, but you manage to consume yourself in some new pursuit. But gradually, emptiness reveals itself yet again, in stronger and stronger waves until finally, it’s undeniable.

Wow. Damn. There is NO SUCH THING as HAPPINESS as I’ve dreamed about it my whole life. It’s all an illusion.

Congratulations — you just won the escape room of life.

Not Uniquely American

Of course this is not uniquely American. The emptiness of human desires and narratives have been apparent for many millennia. But America might by be unique in priming and liberating its population to hit the gas pedal toward the chase. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness has no clear definition. So the best we can do is pay attention to what everybody else is doing… and experiment. And, by and large, most people are clamoring to have what everybody else has — a perpetually moving target toward increasing degrees of satisfaction. I’ll have what the next guy is having, except even BETTER.

No no… This is not a knock on America. Merely a reflection on what happens when a crapload of humans are essentially free to chase what they want. Is that the fault of the freedom, or merely the human condition?

Consider what a fellow named the Buddha said, once upon a time:

“The arising of suffering is caused by craving and desire; desire for impermanent things to be permanent. Desire for more, better, new, different. We create our own suffering through our egotistical cravings and desires.”
– The Fire of Desire

If the “fire of desire” is where humans can get stuck, then America is surely one of the greatest fireplaces in the world. (Paradoxically, America is also home to many who want absolutely nothing to do with such a fire — so it’s not as simple as generalizing the entire population)

OK But Seriously, Now What?

In my opinion we don’t spend enough time in this culture talking about how foolish and harmful it can be to consume oneself with these vague “dreams”. The majority of selfish pursuits require prioritizing your own pleasure at the expense of others — and/or — imagining happiness in these desires that will never actually come to fruition, and suffering when this finally becomes obvious. This is simply a bad underlying formula for a peaceful species.

Ironically, once you see the emptiness of things, simple pleasures: friends, a good meal, a sunset, a good conversation, music, art, a walk in nature, all become absolute treasures in life. Ironically, after you QUIT the pursuit of what seem like the wildest satisfactions, you instead become absorbed almost completely into the sublime simple beauty unfolding all around you.

So to those who may have come here sincerely asking, “Now what?”, I would say simply, find quiet, look inside, and give it time. Stop chasing. Stop trying to restart your broken impeller or replace it with a new one. Stop distracting yourself or looking out there for answers.

Just chill… for a moment. Give it time. Watch as the “little things” become all you ever need, and all you ever needed in the first place.

If you want a thread to pull, start here.

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