How we love our wishes! We wish upon stars. Blow out candles. We throw coins in fountains and scatter dandelion fluff, all in hopes that our wishes will be granted, fairy-godmother-style.
But do we ever stop to think through our wishes enough to know what having them might mean?
An ancient Greek story warns of wishing without understanding the consequences. In “The Sword of Damocles,” a tyrannical ruler named Dionysius suffers from what some call the golden cage syndrome: He has unlimited money and power, yet he doesn’t trust anyone. He’s so riddled with paranoia, he’s even built a moat around his sleeping quarters.
One day, a courtier called Damocles remarked at how perfect and easy Dionysius’s life must be. In response, the ruler suggested they trade places for a day so that Damocles might find out for himself. The eager Damocles was then pampered and regaled like a king. However, when led to sit on “his” throne, he noticed a sharpened sword dangling by a single horse hair hovering inches above his head. Horrified, Damocles jumped up and begged to stop the trade immediately… to which Dionysius replied, “You felt threatened sitting beneath the sword for a minute, but I feel a similar danger every moment of every day.” Damocles couldn’t wait to return to the safety of his simple cottage–and so he did.
The moral of the story? Sometimes we wish for things because, on the outside, they look shiny and fabulous. We want the high-profile job, but we don’t consider the weight of responsibility or loss of freedom that might come with it. We want a more expensive car or a bigger house without a thought to the cost of upkeep or the increased stresses that may accompany them.
Take winning the lottery, for example. Who hasn’t dreamed of such a windfall? Yet, for some who’ve experienced it, there have been nightmarish consequences. Mavis Wancsyk, who won a $758.7 million Powerball jackpot back in 2017, believed that everything would be rainbows and sunshine after her win. Yet, like Damocles, her “happily-ever-after” dream had a darker side.
Once news of the win broke, Mavis experienced a rush of attention that only increased with time. There were incessant solicitations by those she knew and, more disturbingly, by those she didn’t. The media followed her for weeks… and scammers became so persistent and intense, she had to hire protection to help ward them off. Mavis received threats to her life and her family, and she, much like Dionysius, felt vulnerable and suspicious of those around her. The gleaming prize had become tarnished by the worries and anxieties that had come with it.
Such cautionary tales might sound extreme, but they happen every day. And maybe the greatest lesson they offer is that of helping us recognize and appreciate what we already have and where we already are. As social animals, humans are wired for competition (survival of the fittest, right?). No wonder we’re seduced by ads or social posts of other people’s lives that leave us thinking, “If only I had THAT house/car/job/body/etc., I’d be SO much happier/better off/more fulfilled!” The question is, would you, really? In the cult film 13 Going on 30, Jennifer Garner’s character had wanted nothing more than to be “thirty, flirty, and thriving” on her 13th birthday. Yet when she got her wish, she also gave up her entire adolescence, not to mention her moral compass and the man she loved. Like the others, her dream’s cost far exceeded its benefits.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with desiring! In fact, Kabbalah teaches that desire is a great motivator that moves us forward and helps us evolve in our lives. So it’s not the wanting that’s the problem. It’s the reasons for our wanting that make the difference.
Because the wish that truly elevates our lives has nothing to do with the outer world. And that wish (that we can all wish to grow in ourselves!) is the desire to connect more with the Light.
And that means being honest with ourselves and taking daily steps to remove what blocks or diminishes our Light, and then to increase what brightens or generates more of it. Desiring the Light is about revealing, not changing, who we are. Instead of acquiring more “stuff” or power or attention, we can shift the focus to growing ourselves from exactly where we are. And best of all, when we cultivate more of that inner Light, we end up granting our own wishes! We draw towards us those people, situations, and things that take us to the next level of our evolution… which, in turn, help us manifest our purpose.
And, as Kabbalah teaches, we can grow that Light even more when we desire to receive, not just for our own purposes, but so that we might share and lift the world through our work and our being. Rav Berg used to joke that he was the “most selfish person in the world.” He’d say, “Because I know that the only way I can receive more Light is by sharing more and more with others, I spend my life sharing with everybody!” That’s the kind of selfishness we’d all do well to cultivate!
So next time you find yourself wishing for something someone else has or does or is, think through the possible consequences having your wish might bring!
Would it actually improve your life and connect you more with the light? If so, start growing towards it from exactly where you are. And, along the way, never lose sight of the jackpot of blessings you already hold in your hands.
Because with every birthday candle, coin in the fountain, or dandelion flurry, we can wish blindly, or we can consciously align our wishes with reality… until the two become as intertwined as the stars are with the Light.