I recently read a quote by Oscar Wilde “I can resist anything but temptation.” Our desires are strong forces within us that shape our actions like a river contours its shoreline. Over time, our wishes can cause us great pain or joy. They can become our master or we can transcend them to find mastery and in the process live in conscious presence. This week’s blog has been inspired by the writings of Jack Kornfield. In particular his book A Path with Heart, which has been kindly shared with me by Venerable Puntsok Chodron.
George Bernard Shaw wrote “There are two great disappointments in life. Not getting what you want and getting it.” Not getting what you want is frustrating and challenging. There is great passion behind wanting something or someone. Our desires seem unrelenting at times making the pain of not having what we want all the more intense. When we want something we can’t have we seem to crave it more. There is a void or absence within us the needs to be filled. Food often has this quality. We really want to have that chocolate cake or salty chips. When they are not readily available there doesn’t appear to be anything that appeases our hunger. Similarly, the longing for another person, such as a new lover or a distant child, can be heartbreaking. It feels as though a piece of us is missing and we ache to be reunited with them.
The other great disappointment according to George Bernard Shaw is “getting it”, getting what you want. How ironic that getting what you want is disappointing. One would think that we would feel satisfied or content when we have what we want. We create so many stories in our mind about what it will be like to have our wants fulfilled. To have that chocolate cake or to be with the new love in our life will look just as we pictured it to be. Our fantasies are typically based upon greater expectations than what reality can provide because they are fantasies, imaginary creations. It can be hard to live up to the dreams we create in our minds. This void is the gap between reality and fantasy. We are left feeling at a loss as if something is missing, yet we have that which we desire but feel disappointed.
Buddhist philosophy suggests there are two categories of desire. Painful desire and skillful desire. Painful desire is based upon greed, grasping, inadequacy and longing. These feelings create some of the strongest emotions within us. Grasping to keep a relationship alive that is no longer serving either person is a very painful experience. Feeling inadequate causes so many deeply rooted emotional issues, including eating disorders, self-negation and depression. Longing for another, such as the loss of a close friend, family member or child can feel like unbearable pain. These are real experiences in life that we cannot ignore, avoid nor should we indulge. We need to be present to whatever we are feeling without judgement using each situation as a learning opportunity to remain as the watchful observer of what is.
The second category described by Buddhist philosophy is that of skillful desire. Skillful desire is driven by love, compassion, vitality, creativity and wisdom. These are healthier passions in our lives. When our desire comes from a place of compassion, we are elevated in the experience. We are enriched by the outpouring of love and understanding for another. Our desires are less self-serving and more altruistic. Somehow in being less focused upon ourselves we are enriched. We become wiser with greater vitality for life. Think of times in your life when you have loved another so much that your desires were secondary to theirs. Your happiness grew as you focused upon their joy and fulfillment. There was far less separation between the two of you and at times there was a merging of two beings. This is the tantric experience. One’s own joy and pleasure is derived from the fulfilment of the other’s joy. In these moments, we become smaller and yet feel so much more than we could have ever imagined. When we let go of our ego and desire, we expand into blissful states of consciousness.
For most of us, throughout our lives there is always something lacking. There is this desire for things to be other than they are. We live a life waiting or thinking it will be different in time. We are never satisfied with what is. In this moment, whatever is happening is all there is. Anything else is our desire to be in the past or live in a future fantasy. We must find contentment in what is, here and now. That is radical thinking. To be fully present and to be in the rich, blissful moment of now. Seeing desire simple as what it is without giving it some importance frees us to be fully alive.
Be aware of your own desires. Don’t keep watering the painful ones but rather nurture the skillful ones of love and compassion.
Thank you to Venerable Puntsok Chodron for sharing her copy of Jack Kornfield’s book with me.