If we dedicate ourselves to visualizing our most negative desires with all of ourselves, they will likely lose their strength.
Last update: 23 November 2019
In the West, the idea prevails that doing what you want can lead to degeneration or ruin. We are continually subjected to messages and imperatives that invite - lead - us to think that the repression of our thoughts, feelings and desires is proof of moral superiority. Nevertheless, there are other ways of thinking, such as Zen philosophy, which help to live with more serenity.
Ours is an essentially prohibitive culture. We start from the concept that education is about learning to avoid unwanted thoughts, behaviors and feelings. Without understanding why, from childhood, we are taught that doing what we want is a sign of immaturity.
Zen philosophy directs thought in a very different direction. For millennia, followers of this form of thinking have understood that the ban has the opposite effect. In other words, repression ends up increasing desire to do what is forbidden. Everything that is labeled as negative and that must be avoided, as an example of a good deed, takes on an even more powerful attraction, for the simple fact of having been forbidden in an authoritarian way.
“Repression from without is supported by repression from within. The individual without freedom transfers their rulers and their rules within their mental apparatus. The struggle against freedom reproduces itself, in the same way, in the psyche of the repressed man ”.
Zen philosophy: the conflict between acting and not acting
Margaret Mead's anthropological studies have highlighted differences in values and rules by observing different types of societies. The famous researcher underlines some important points of her studies. Among these, the fact that in more macho or matriarchal societies, there is a higher percentage of homosexuals. From the point of view of Western culture, this would be a contradiction. But from the point of view of Zen philosophy, it is a logical consequence of the prohibition of a certain sexual propensity.
Speaking of prohibition, another clear example is that of alcohol consumption in the United States. For many years, alcohol was considered an illegal product and, in response to this law, not only did its illegal consumption increase enormously, but it opened the door for the development of an organized crime that was engaged in the smuggling of alcoholic beverages.
Contrary to what proponents of prohibition thought, when alcohol was legalized, the number of consumers did not increase. On the contrary, over time, illicit drug users have increased.
These data show that repression, in itself, is not the way to manage desires that we could define as negative. Zen philosophy, on the other hand, invites you to accept forbidden thoughts, feelings and desires in an attempt to understand them. It is, in fact, the only way to eliminate them. Some experiments confirm this approach.
An experiment with desire
Professor Carey Morewedge, of Boston University, conducted a particularly illustrative experiment of this type of dynamics. It brought together 200 people who claimed to be chocolate lovers. These volunteers were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to imagine eating 30 chocolates, one by one. The second group was asked to imagine eating only 3 chocolates.
In the room, in front of both groups, was a bowl full of exquisite chocolates. The initial hypothesis was that the first group, having to think about chocolate repetitively, would experience a stronger desire to eat chocolate. While the second, who only had to think about it 3 times, would have had a minor desire.
Western culture tells us that feeding thought with an image generates a desire for that image. In fact, the experiment proved the exact opposite. People in the first group, who thought of chocolate 30 times, didn't even eat a single chocolate from the bowl. Those who could afford "only" 3 imaginary chocolates felt the need to eat more than one.
The repression of thought
Scholars have come to the conclusion that when we try not to think about something, the result is just the opposite: we can't stop thinking about it. If we don't want to think about ghosts, we'll start seeing them all over the place. The repression of a thought, therefore, focuses our attention on that thought that we are trying to avoid.
This shows that if we dedicate ourselves to visualizing our desires with all of ourselves, the thoughts we want to suppress will likely lose strength.. After developing this idea, we can decline it in our favor, depending on the moment. Feeling the desire to attack someone is very different from actually attacking them. Following this logic, visualizing aggression in our mind will cause this destructive thought to lose its power and prevent it from turning into a violent action.
In this way the brain deceives us - or saves us - by confusing reality and imagination. This kind of "mistake" can be very useful on several occasions. When our desires go against ourselves or others, there is nothing better than letting our mind play with them. Probably, only with this simple action, the desire will lose its strength. And we will feel free.