I used to cut the grass at our family house on Nettleton Street in Sun Valley California with a push mower and a manual edger. I mowed the L-shaped yard in two sections. The main thirty-by-fifteen-foot rectangular plot I cut the long way, spinning the horizontal blades between two rubber wheels, down the length, turning, and coming back in a new row. Back and forth six times. I guided the mower perfectly to line up the rows. The left wheel went back on the track the right wheel made going down.
Then, I turned the corner and mowed the foot of the L. with the same precision. The light green/dark green swaths on the lawn made it look like a striped watermelon. The two sections crisscrossing formed a diamond pattern.
When I finished mowing the grass, I edged it, carving a long straight and narrow furrow between the sidewalk and lawn. As the coup de grace (or grass, if you will), I lightly watered the entire lawn. Then, I stepped back and admired.
I didn’t just admire. I day-dreamed. I fantasized. I imagined that a car would go by at that moment, driven by a representative from Better Homes and Garden Magazine. This person searched neighborhoods for perfect yards to put in the magazine. He or she would pull to the curb, step out, and say, “That is the most beautiful lawn I have ever seen. Here is your award.”
Nobody from any magazine ever found my groomed yard out in the far east hinterlands of the San Fernando Valley. In fact, nobody ever even mentioned the job that I did, consistently, week after week. My family seemed to think the lawn always looked like that.
Every time I walked away from mowing the lawn, I felt a bit let down. I wanted recognition, reward for my toil and trouble. I was attached to this idea. I was disgruntled, dissatisfied, resentful. Because I felt I got so little out of the job, I told my father that I didn’t want to do it anymore. You might imagine how that went over. Being forced, my resentment and aversion grew. Yet, I always hoped, by the end, that the BH&G crew would spot me.
This desire that I experienced had to do with my need to find some power and status (recognition and gratitude) in my family, and maybe in my neighborhood. This small example relates to a young person with limited experience. It is hard to imagine the teenaged me finishing up the yard, taking one last look at the excellent job I did, and walking away feeling satisfied with just that. I wanted more.
Seeing this experience in memory and calling it into awareness, I can recognize it for what it was—how badly I wanted something and how I suffered when I didn’t get it. My merely wanting it, no matter who strong my desire, could not make it happen.
Buddha said in his very first sermon that desiring to get and not getting causes anguish and frustration. He presented not getting what one wants as one of the twelve components of the First Noble Truth: the Truth of Suffering.