What To Do About Desire
Updated: Jan 8
Desire is a natural force. It is the arrow that splits your world in two.
As soon as a desire fires from your mind, it divides everything you perceive into something that either fulfills that desire or doesn’t. And that’s the world you see.
But desire in itself is neither good nor bad; it just is. It’s a condition of life. It leads to creation. It's desire that manifests the beauty of expression and communication, desire that sparks action and change, desire that brings partners of all species together and perpetuates the universe and the dance of karma.
In most of us, though, our desires are out of hand. Our modern-day existence runs on very silly desires, even and especially the so-called important people and things and institutions. We don’t have the desire; the desire has us. And when this happens, it tends to eat us alive.
Something a little bit sneaky about most desire is that it tends to be very particular, which means that most things in your universe are going to fall into the “doesn’t fulfill my desire” category. This is how most of us live. It’s a strange paradoxical setup and most of us never figure it out: if you worship something, anything, on this plane, it will turn on you in exactly the way you don’t want. You will never be enough, do enough, know enough, own enough. And, even worse, you will see the other beings in your life through the same lens of not-enoughness.
This is because the law of human consciousness is the same law of the universe: expansion. And the only way to keep the mind open and healthy and wondering and refreshed is to preserve a sort of holy opening of your own consciousness into the huger reality of which you are a part. This is where the rational mind consciously observes its own limitations and says: Okay. This river of my thinking must always open out into the cosmic sea. If it does not, if I dam the flow of my being so that it only sits here on this familiar patch of earth, it pools here, thickens, and dries.
The cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and all soaring cathedrals, represent this idea spatially. Around my twenty-first birthday I was living in Paris, studying music and literature, and I went to hear the organ concert most Sunday afternoons at Notre Dame before the evening mass. As the mass began on one particular Sunday and the choir joined the organ, echoing beautifully through the whole structure, I was suddenly struck with one of those moments I’ve come to call a “soul shift” – something in my being changed, or maybe yielded and returned. Instead of understanding myself as linear, as a figure moving over ground and between things and times along a horizontal plane, I felt like a kind of vector in a triangulation between earth and sky. This felt very geometric and physical at the time; my mind wasn’t ready for anything else. But the energetic shift was there. I had no idea, but this was yoga. My heart’s desire was just beginning to direct elsewhere than only out, at other things and people in the world. It is still undergoing that process, which is what so many of us call “the Path.”
So what to do with desire, this natural force of life which can be so generative and so destructive?
Most importantly, we make a shift: we choose to hitch our desire to Reality. Not to things that pass, or any of the creation and destruction that are natural outcomes of desire and natural parts of life; but to something greater. Call it whatever you wish, and know that when you see unity you are seeing it, and when you feel separate from it, you are telling a familiar lie that only helps you stay inside the familiar story of your pain. Stop wanting so much. Practice gratitude—the art of wanting, and lovingly nurturing, what you already have. This is how the garden of life grows: with loving attention.
We outsmart the misery trap of worldly desire by making our biggest desires the ones that matter: desire for peace, desire to give, desire for love, desire for all beings to experience these things and to share in them with others. This is not a selfish or a selfless giving; this is recognition of Self. The more you practice for peace, for compassion, for all beings, the more you have for yourself. You get the most by giving up absolute control, and focus as deeply as you can on what's in front of you. When you do this, the arrow of heartfelt desire flies above the world and does not split anything. It flies forever through space-time, expanding along with the universe.
Desire true freedom for yourself, and sooner or later you'll see that this is the same as desiring freedom for all beings.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu --
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may my life contribute to this happiness and freedom.”