So, what’s good? Like really actually good, not clunky blocky stilted cringy good?
Or we could say, what do you desire that you endorse desiring?
Or we could say, what are you always already in motion trying to get, whether you realize or it not, whether you’re reflectively thinking about it or not?
There will be maybe lots of things, probably one or more things is in the intimacy or connection space, partially involving in-real-life interaction or perhaps partially involving, say, creative expression. And then there will probably be things involving safety and achievement, including stuff that involves feelings of exhilaration or excitement or deep satisfaction or meaning.
Importantly, there will be ways in which all of this is deeply personal and idiosyncratic. For you, it’s not just some abstract “intimacy” that is good or feels good, but your highly personal, highly specific version, what you might even call “the real thing.” And the same goes for everything else you’re trying to do, be, have, achieve, etc.
That is, some or even much of what’s happening around us or will happen to us, we have no preference about, but for some things, we have exquisitely precise preferences, perhaps especially for care and safety, mutual understanding, and sexuality.
Sometimes we want really, really specific things, and there is no substitute.
Perhaps the whole point of everything is that we create a world where everyone can pursue their personal desires and goals.
It’s all fun and games when people’s desires and goals are complementary and compatible.
And/but there’s another way of looking at desires, goals, and goodness.
Sometimes desires and goals can be both problematic and fixed.
For example, you want a really, really, really, really specific intimacy thing or sex thing or achievement thing, and sometimes other things are so good or more important that you can set that thing aside, but some things, for whatever reason, are so important that you can’t.
You can’t set it aside, even though, for example, you’re having trouble finding someone complementary to do it with or arranging your life to be able to do it.
I think for some people, the reason their relationships keep failing or life situations keep failing is because of extreme specificity in wants/needs/desires that are ill-suited to present, contingent circumstances. (There are of course many other reasons.)
So, when faced with extreme specificity, one might strive even more mightily to find the right person or to arrange their life in a particular way. Tremendous collateral and direct good can come from this and also agony. One might also finally resign on getting a particular thing. There can be peace and dignity in this and also agony.
With tools like meditation, there is an additional option which is to change ones deepest wants/needs/preferences. Some preferences can be changed with relatively superficial introspection or exposure to new environments or people. Other preferences can “go all the way to the bottom” and seem immovable, even if they cause tremendous distress. And these sorts of things can be a reason to invest in hundreds or even thousands of hours or meditation, even with its risk and opportunity cost.
If you decide to meditate to change deep things about yourself, that can take months or years, and patience and forebearance are assets here.
But, I’m definitely not saying “crush your desires.” Nor am I saying indiscriminately indulge them, though I’m way more on that side. Your desires are your desires until and unless they’re not.
Desire and perceived goodness aren’t arbitrary even if there’s tremendous idiosyncratic contingency in them and nor do they change arbitrarily.
Whatever desires you’ve got, whatever is good as far as you experience and can tell, it’s desirous and good until and unless it isn’t.
So let’s say you’re not crushing or smashing yourself, and little by little things start to change, even while some things are the same as they ever were. And eventually something deeper starts to change, but you can’t even let yourself imagine that this even deeper and more problematic thing will change. And then that finally does too…
So at first one is sort of trying to solve problems and achieve goals (and ignore them and resign on them).
And then with meditation (and therapy and journaling) one realizes that, at least sometimes, and then more and more, it can be possible to not just solve problems but also “dissolve” many problems and not just achieve goals but also to replace goals with better goals.
So there’s this meta-dimension that starts to come into focus. This perhaps whole new degree of freedom with which to relate to self and world.
And, eventually, as you get more and more of a taste of this moving through the contigency of desire/problem/goal space, you might start to ask what is even good anyway?
So much of what you thought was good, that felt immovably intrinsically desirable or good, turned out to be more contingent and more movable than you thought. (Again, you never have to give anything up in any deep way until it’s safe, natural, and effortless to do so. And until then it’s yours and if it’s good it’s good. And if it would hurt other people you then be careful or don’t do it unless there’s a way to make it safe for them.)
So then is there a higher good or more unconditional good? Or, like, what’s the goodness beneath the goodness? Or, maybe better, what are the dynamics of veridical goodness? As language and ontology and concepts are not arbitrary but loosen and start to move… And what’s good or what things are good for or what leads to what starts to move…
Or how does one even plan and live when what’s good is slowly and steadily changing, now?
Over time one starts to get a taste of the unconditional and one starts to get a taste of the laws that govern the dynamics of goodness. (Kant, by the way, I think says that the only instrinsically good thing is the good will.)
And then one can start to live in harmony with one’s own trajectory of self-transformation, in the knowledge that one’s ontology/concepts and one’s evaluation of that ontology or those concepts, one’s assignation of good and bad, is fluid. Not arbitrary, but fluid. And so there becomes sort of a goodness behind the goodness
This goodness might be called post-conceptual meta-goodness, or the goodness that is reflectively aware of its own construction, or reflective participation in the good will, or resting in (ever more) unconditional goodness or enlightened goodness.
To be sure, I personally am blindsided all the time by being arrogant, horrible, destructive, belligerent, stonewalling, creepy, sketchy, abusive, cowardly, selfish, ignorant, impulsive, perfunctory, hateful, feuding, controlling—in all sorts of subtle ways and also just blatantly obvious ways. It’s just right there. Put me in a wide range of unfortunate circumstances (i.e. life) and I’m just a jerk or worse. If I’m lucky people will tell me; if I’m unlucky they won’t or I’ll think I’m being gaslit.
And/but, also, there’s this call towards goodness and this discipline of goodness. Actual-oh-fuck-I-was-wrong-again-and-I-hurt-someone goodness. Actual-wait-this-goodness-isn’t-good-oh-I-misconceptualized-goodness-again goodness. Actual-flexibly-stably-intrinsically-motivating-fluid-extreme-problem-solving-problem-dissolving-ability goodness. Goodness that frees you, goodness that unleashes you, goodness that empowers you. Goodness that supports you in fitting yourself to the world without diminishment.
A bunch of stuff in the list below is more than a glimpse, now, more than a taste. Stable things somewhere or overtly if I think to look…
(And I would like to note that my life is currently all kinds of a mess.)
And it’s kind of weird and exciting that you go through a few rounds of atman dissolving into brahman (what?!), a few rounds of making deeper contact with the source (what?!), and there’s a sense in which you are not you, that was all a misconceptualization (what?!). (I still believe in neurons and forces and fields.) And also you feel like you had to give up everything, and I mean everything, at least once, to get a bunch of it back again.
And also you feel pretty normal. And the world is pretty normal, albeit you’re not confusing the map with the territory, or at least hugely less so.
And also, noting the possibility of getting hit by a bus or a meteor or cancer, you feel like this is barely even just the beginning.
And that’s exciting.
- Is this good for me?
- Is this good for you?
- Is this good for everyone?
- Is this good for me and you and everyone?
- How do I know?