Finding The Hidden Want

Last updated on December 8, 2021

metal sculpture of people running
How do you experience this sculpture?

Finding The Hidden Want

If you look at the photo above, you’ll see a cool metal sculpture of people running. I took this photo some years ago in Spokane. Let’s use this as a reference for finding hidden wants to question. 

Of course, the wants we find will have nothing to do with the sculpture and everything to do with who is seeing the sculpture. These wants may be active or hidden. Let’s just see what we can find. 

Imagine first that you are a sculptor (not the one who made it). As you come across this sculpture, you notice a little stress. As you look for the want behind the stress, you find, “I want to be as creative as this sculptor was.” Or maybe money is the issue for you, and the thought is, “I want to get a big commission like this sculptor did.” 

These Are Wants

And wants are one of the most common types of stressful thoughts. In my experience, it’s not possible to have stress without a want. So if you want to do The Work on any stressful situation, look for the want. 

When I say, “The Work,” here, I am referring specifically to The Work of Byron Katie, a simple meditative way to question thoughts that give rise to suffering. The first step in doing The Work is to identify a specific situation and find a stressful thought to question.

If the sculptor above was doing The Work, she or he would then question the want that was discovered. For example, “I want to be as creative as this sculptor, is it true?” This is not a trite question, but one to sit with as a mediation. 

Let’s Continue the Experiment

In this exercise, we’re looking for hidden wants to question in this way. Now imagine you are a runner. As you see the sculpture, you may have a different want. You may notice a little rush of adrenaline as you think, “I want to do well in the 10k race next month.” 

It’s another want. And this want can be questioned, just like the want from the sculptor. “I want to do well in the 10k. Can I absolutely know it’s true? How do I react when I believe that thought?” Again, it is a fascinating mediation. 

But What If I’m A Donor?

When I see the same sculpture, I may think, “I want to commission something like that.” And behind that may be another want, “I want to be recognized.” As before, these wants can be questioned, “Who would I be without the thought that I want to be recognized?” It’s a meditation. 

Or maybe, like me, you’re a photographer, and the hidden want is something like this, “I want to take a really good photo of this sculpture.” Who would I be without that thought? It’s fascinating to play with.

Some Wants Are Nearly Invisible

A want can be activated, which is usually experienced as stress or tension, or in an inert state, which makes it nearly unnoticeable. If the want is not activated by a situation preventing the fulfillment of that want, it will be inert. But it is still there. And if you notice it, you can still question it. 

For example, consider the thought, “I want to stay and enjoy this sculpture for a while.” This is not stressful, as long as I have time to stay and enjoy it. My want matches what I’m actually doing. But the attachment may still be there, though it is not activated. It is only when someone says, “Let’s go,” that the want becomes stressful (because I’m no longer getting what I want). 

What If You Did Some Preventive Maintenance?

While you were still free to stay and enjoy the sculpture, what if you questioned the thought, “I want to stay and enjoy the sculpture”? Who would you be without the thought? You might find that you were still enjoying the sculpture, but you were also free to leave anytime. Without the thought, you would be more flexible, though it doesn’t mean you are leaving—just not attached. 

Questioning an inactive want, is the same as questioning an attachment. When the underlying attachment is no longer there, a lot of freedom comes in. Then you can be happy staying—and you can be happy going. 

This is the benefit of questioning hidden wants, whether activated or inert. When the want is questioned, a new sense of freedom predominates. Preferences will still be there, but openness prevails. 

Ready to Dive Into The Work In The New Year?

We have three courses starting at the beginning of the year. 

Virtual Retreat: Jan 8-9 – Two days of The Work on Zoom (available 24h each day)
The Work 101: Jan 17 – Mar 20 – 9 weeks of The Work in-depth training
The Work 101 for Busy People: Feb 7 – Oct 16 – 9 months of in-depth training

I hope to see you soon.

Have a great week,
Todd

“My experience is that confusion is the only suffering. Confusion is when you argue with what is. When you’re perfectly clear, what is is what you want.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change The World.

Further reading: How Does The Work Fit in with Wanting to Help Change the World?

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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