One of my dear blogger friends, Willow, left a comment on last night’s post asking me about my take on desires.
Is it part of your philosophy to let go of desires? I’ve been wanting to ask you about that for a while, curious to learn what your beliefs are about desire, and this seemed like a good post for doing that. For myself, I’m fine with having desires and try to take the attitude that whatever comes of my desires is a blessing–that if the desire is fulfilled quickly and easily, great; if there are many challenges before I get my desire, they were meant as learning experiences, and if I flat out don’t get what I wanted, just the wanting and the experiences that followed were the next steps on my spiritual journey. What’s your take on desire?
Well, as far as I see it, to be human is to have desires. Whether we’re a baby wanting the comfort of our mother’s arms, or a high school kid wanting a car, or an adult wanting a vacation, or a soul on the path to liberation, we’re all faced with desires–some of them very strong–throughout our lives.
I’ve been searching for a means to handle my desires in a balanced way for more than two decades, and have never come to any one solution or any one conclusion–because desires aren’t some kind of logical thing that can be tested and proven and retested to repeat the same results. Desires change as we change.
On one hand, I want to look at what I have in this moment and feel fulfilled. I want to experience freedom from craving and aversion both, so that I might keep my focus on the growth of my spirit instead of on the accumulation of specific possessions, relationships, or experiences. I have experienced being so blinded by what I wanted that I couldn’t see what was right in front of my face. I have hurt people who were close to me as I flew off half-cocked on journeys toward fulfilling my aspirations. Specific desires can really put a body into a prison of expectations. We abandon ourselves when we become so consumed by desire that we can’t see anything but what we want. That’s the shadow side of desire.
However desires also have a light side; they can serve as a gateway to creativity. How can an artist bring a beautiful work into being if she doesn’t first have a vision and then the desire to bring that vision into material reality? How about making big life changes–realizing what your calling is and switching jobs, or forging more meaningful bonds with other human beings, or wanting to devote your life energy toward helping ease the suffering of all beings? Desires provide a framework within which we can launch our visions into reality, or at least bring them a little closer toward realization. Desire gives us the motivation to keep trying until we bring our creations into being.
So what is the answer? Instead of an either/or situation: Either you let go of desire, or you embrace desire–I see this letting go and this embracing intertwined in an intricate dance, a dance in which we teach ourselves how to find balance. I am chock full of desires for certain things–a meal that I don’t have to cook, more essential oils, a nap, just to give a few examples off the top of my head. If I can meet my desires with awareness and simply notice that I’m having them, I can hold them up to the light of inquiry and ask myself, “Why?” Why do I not want to cook, why do I want more essential oils, a nap? If I can find a good reason for wanting the things I that want, I might take steps to bring myself closer to them.
Additionally, I have found on countless occasions that I actually didn’t want the thing I thought I wanted–and I felt grateful, relieved even, for not getting the thing after all. Remember the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for?” It’s important for me to identify the reasons behind the desire and make an educated decision about dropping it or going for it; in this way I can feel at peace with my desires. I know that I’m not letting them direct all of my decisions, neither am I depriving myself of a wonderful experience just because I think it is wrong to want something. With a steady, even mind, I take a good look at what I’m wanting, and I choose.
So there you go…I’m not sure how lucid all of this is because it’s 11:30 pm and I’m half asleep, but hopefully I’ve said something that makes at least a little sense. The point was really to explore a little and then open up the floor to anyone who’d like to share. If any of you have thoughts to add, I’d love to hear them, and I’m sure Willow would too. This is a great discussion to have–desires are so universal, so all pervading at times–just to share and to bring more awareness to our own patterns of thought surrounding desires gives us more insight, more power to greet whatever arises with equanimity.
Don’t be shy now!