Recently I caught a segment on 60 Minutes about a group of nomadic people who live in the islands off the coast of Thailand and Burma who are called the Moken or the sea gypsies of the Andaman Sea. Apparently, because of their intimate knowledge of the sea, the Moken people were able to survive the Asian Tsunami of December 2004 when so many others in the area perished. This fact is interesting in and of itself, but what really caught my attention was the following excerpt:
The Moken don't know how old they are. Ivanoff says this is because, “Time is not the same concept as we have. You can't say for instance, ‘When. ’ It doesn't exist in Moken language. "
And Ivanoff says “when" is not the only word missing from the Moken language. “Want" is another. “Yes, you use it very often, " says Ivanoff. “Take that out of your language and you see how often you use it. ‘I want this, I want that. '"
There is also no word for “take. " “You take something, " says Ivanoff. “You give or you take. You don't want. "
The fact is, the Moken want very little. What they don’t want is to accumulate anything. Baggage is not good for a nomadic people. It ties you down. They have no notion and no desire for wealth.
But the Moken do have problems. The Burmese have turned some of their islands into military bases. And the Thais are having them make trinkets for tourists, a trend that could ultimately threaten their way of life far more than any number of tsunamis.
But the Moken don’t seem terribly worried by all this. Perhaps that’s because “worry" is just one more of those words that don’t exist in their language.
They don't have the words for want or worry in their language. I found it intriguing that this is a culture of people who do not define themselves by their wants, their worries, or what they have accumulated. And from the short clip that I saw of them, they seemed contented enough.
Here in our western society, we do tend to define ourselves by our wants, our worries, and the stash of stuff we own. And we also tend to suffer from a lack of peace and happiness in our lives. I know I'm not the first person to think that these things might be related.
Wants and worries are just ideas made up by our minds. They are thoughts that surface in our minds that we grab hold of and believe are true. And when we believe they are true, then we become attached to them and suffer if things don't work out exactly as we believe that they should. (I don't consider necessities such as food, clothing and shelter to be the kind of wants I'm talking about, I see those more as needs. )
I'll sacrifice someone dear to me as an example. Last winter this person wanted to buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that his mother was selling. He wanted it badly. He visualized owning it and took a picture of himself sitting on it. But when the time came to pay up, he didn't have the cash available without taking out a loan which he decided against. I know he was disappointed, and for a few days he was in a really bad mood (suffered emotionally) before he finally let it go from his emotions and moved on. But here's the clincher-last week he told me he didn't miss having the motorcycle at all and he was glad he didn't end up buying it. Imagine that. . .
My take on this is that when he was wanting the motorcycle last winter, he believed that it would somehow make him happier or more fulfilled, but he realized later that he was not less happy by not having the motorcycle. I asked him to think about what might mean to him, especially since he now talks about wanting a classic car.
So here's the secret: We want things that we think will make us happy and content. Our culture tells us that things will make us happy, and it's hard to deny the pervasive influence of this lie. But happiness and peace in our lives do not come from getting the things we think we want, they come from developing an inner calmness that is free from wanting. And wanting just makes us feel desperate, stressed and unfulfilled.
How do you get rid of the desperation of wanting? Question it. Ask yourself why you want something. Do you need it? What will it bring to your life? What will be different about your life if you have it? Will it make you kinder, more peaceful, or more content? I'm not saying never get something you desire or that you think will entertain you. Just question yourself to make sure you are not pinning your happiness on a thing, because happiness comes from your inner being not something outside you.
Wanting also tends to lead to an accumulation of stuff in our lives that we just don't need and that drains our energy without us even being aware of it. I visited a friend the other day who has two teenage daughters. There were laundry baskets full of clothes everywhere. Those girls have so much clothing that they probably can't find half of it. Does it make them more peaceful, happy, or contented inside? I doubt it. Instead, I could feel the energy drain of being confronted with this clothing chaos. I'm sure I noticed it because it's not my house or my mess, so it's easier for me to see it since I'm not as used to it. And it's not like my home is that much better. Sometimes I look at the accumulation of stuff on my kitchen counters after a week of not paying attention and say “What is all this crap?" and “Why do I have so much stuff?" Even though I don't see myself as an avid consumer, I still accumulate too much stuff.
On the other hand, I feel fortunate in that I rarely suffer from the disease of wanting. I am grateful for all that I have and I'm content with it. I can't tell you the last time I craved something - not even a piece of chocolate much less a new car. When my current car no longer works well, then I will look into getting a new one, but until then I don't have a strong desire for a different or fancier car.
Instead, I have often suffered from worries. In the past, I have been a queen of the “what if" game: what if I can't pay the bills next month? what if I don't get health insurance? what if I don't make enough pasta salad for the party? what if I don't finish my work project on time? what if? what if? what if? On and on the list could go. These thoughts used to surface most often when I turned out the lights at night, but they could be a constant refrain during the day also.
I have had to teach myself to turn off the worries. Like wants, they are just thoughts made up by my mind that I start to believe in. A worry is suffering emotional turmoil and anxiety because of something that hasn't happened yet and might not happen. How messed up is that! A worry is a negative emotional feeling based on a prediction of the worst case scenario for the future, not something that is happening now.
We are a culture obsessed with worrying, which causes us undue stress and unhappiness. I've learned that for me, the true cure for worry is bringing my focus into the present rather than getting upset about what might or might not happen in the future. One of the cures for my “what if" syndrome is a trick I took from Susan Jeffer's book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. When my mind starts with “what if I can't pay the bills next month?" I just tell myself “I'll handle it when and if it actually occurs. " Until then, I do what I can in the present moment to bring in more income or cut my expenses, but I do not get upset about something that might not happen. If I get to next month and I really don't have the money, then I'll have to call whoever I can't pay and work it out with them, or I'll have to borrow a little money, whatever it takes when it actually happens. I don't mean to imply that I sit around on my backside and do nothing if I anticipate not being able to pay next month's bills. I do some extra work or try to figure out another way to bring in more income-I take action now. What I refuse to do anymore is make myself sick or lose sleep about what might happen 30 days from now.
Want and worry and the habit of accumulating stuff starts early in our society. My youngest son is getting close to four years old, and “I want" is a definite part of his vocabulary. Many times I have heard “I want a new (toy) truck" when he already has a dozen toy trucks. It's almost as if having fuels more wanting. And my older son worries about what next year will be like at school since some of his friends have left. He's anticipating that it will be miserable, hence the worry. I tell him not to assume that he knows how next year will go, not to predict the worst case scenario for the future. Maybe he'll have the opportunity to make new friends.
Imagine if want and worry didn't exist in our lives. Imagine if we didn't let those unruly thoughts of craving and negative anticipation consume our minds. Would we suffer less from depression, anxiety, fear, low self-esteem, and even anger? I think so. Imagine if as a society in general we could diminish our collective wanting and worrying. Would we cause less destruction to our environment? Would we be a more peaceful and progressive nation?
Maybe having a burning desire for something or even some person in your life works for you. Maybe worrying gives you some sense of control. But I have found that having a burning desire makes me feel a little desperate and obsessed, and worry just robs me of sleep rather than helping me accomplish anything. If you find that you feel desperate, unhappy or unfulfilled, it might be worthwhile to consider whether wanting and worrying are stealing your inner peace.
(To learn more about the Moken, see 60 Minutes from June 10, 2007 at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/18/60minutes/main681558.shtml or go to Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moken. )
Judy Braley is an author, an attorney, and a parent of two. Her personal development blog with free articles and information on inspiration for your life can be found at http://www.GrowFromWithin.com
Copyright © 2007 Wherett Inc. This article may be freely distributed if this resource box stays attached.