I’ve been thinking a lot about desire. I have been flooded with desire recently, and have been reaching toward living where I want to live and how I want to live. This desire moves me to live a more natural life, living in communion with nature and as part of a larger community where I can be more closely involved in the well-being of my community.
Living in a city is not easy for a highly sensitive person with a history of chronic pain like me. The high costs of living, constant stimulation, noise, people and traffic is taxing on our nervous systems, to say the least. I’ve changed my lifestyle significantly in the past two years. My focus has been on gardening, growing food, volunteering for urban farms and living as close to nature as I can. Yet I desire to be living in a place where I am not so overstimulated, and where I don’t feel I have to hide from the bombardment of activity in my environment.
What I know of desire is that it’s a valuable tool for movement. When we are developing as children and learning to move our desire comes before movement. For instance, our desire moves us toward a toy, another fun object, our caregiver, or an open door. Our desire to explore expands our boundaries. Without desire, we wouldn’t stretch ourselves out of our comfort zone and expand our world. If you’ve ever been around a small child, you know that in order to take away a toy they are playing with you have to show them a new toy, or else you may have a screaming child on your hands. Sometimes when I’m trying to let go of what was comfortable and safe in the past because I’m aware this it’s no longer good for me, I feel like a child throwing a temper tantrum. Although I don’t always yell and scream, I’m aware that inside I’m in some kind of fear-driven fit!
Depression has often infected my life. I think one common aspect of depression is a lack of desire and lack of hope. The two go hand in hand. But lately and annoyingly I’ve noticed how my desire has created suffering in my life, because I then have to let go of what I have in order to move forward. I have to stop grasping so hard to what’s comfortable. This is so scary, especially when it comes to home and feelings around survival.
I’ve been contemplating how many times in my life my desire has been strong and my focus on a particular goal has absorbed me, and my dreams did not come true. On the other hand, when I have experienced a more fleeting desire that I’m not particularly attached to, something unexpected and beautiful has come into being.
I was speaking to a friend about manifesting his desires. He told me that when he gets an idea, he and his wife meditate on what they want and they often manifest it. Though to his dismay, his manifestations comes with many unseen challenges. What we imagine may be perfect may not really be perfect at all.
I wonder if we just don’t know what we really want. How many of us desire dreams that don’t come to fruition? How many of us struggle to achieve a goal and lose sight of each step? Our worries drown out our tiny accomplishments. Maybe our dreams are simply gestating but we think nothing is happening. Equally damaging is when our dreams take unexpected twists and turns and we believe we are failing.
This makes me think of a quote I have on my bathroom wall by Alice Walker: “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”
Perhaps it’s better to embrace the mystery of life? Rather than to keep reaching into the future and grasping onto whatever we think may bring us happiness? Any spiritually-minded person knows that an obsession with happiness that will come in the future can cause us to completely overlook what we have now. And the future will most likely not be any better for us.
Yet sometimes we do need to make some serious changes for our health and well-being and to effect those around us more positively. Sometimes we do need to make different choices. If desire helps us to move, well, then where is this balance between accepting things as they are with a deep desire for change?
Our minds mess us up again and again. In the Buddhist text Pali Canon, it speaks of nekkhamma, meaning to practice letting go of what we lust, crave and desire. Desire creates attachment to the world and worldly things and this creates suffering. But as human beings we can’t let go of cravings and desires. In my limited understanding of this Buddhist thought, it is not that we should not have attachments, that’s not really possible, but rather we should practice letting go of all the thoughts and worries around our desires. The paradox is that the only way to do that is to get into our desires. Pushing away our desires is like pushing down our thoughts. Eventually they will rise to the surface like a burning fire.
We may want to look closely at our desires – what is the core of our desires? Is it steeped in seeking truth, knowledge and liberation? If so, then having desire may not be problematic or contradictory at all.
I like this idea of attachment and detachment by understanding our desires. If we feel the energy of our dreams and desires and practice watching all the thoughts, worries and fears with them we may be much happier. We want our desires to ignite our hopes and fuel our dreams but we only want to hold on to them with a tethered string that can break at any time. The goal is that it does not break us!
We may break down and cry about our broken dreams and throw a fit from time to time. But when our dreams take unknown turns, we can try to be open to something else showing up that we did not expect and will surprise us.