DO NOT LET YOURSELF BE RULED BY Desire
This is a tricky one. And some people will disagree, perhaps vehemently. But I promise it’s key to living an inspired life.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not talking about not having desires, or about not pursuing those desires, but very specifically about not being RULED by them.
Think of the amoeba. If you burn it, it moves away. If you feed it, it moves closer. It is ruled by fear and desire. Fear makes it move one way, desire another.
We are the same. When we are ruled by fear and desire, we are automatically pushed away from things we fear and towards things we want to be near, and in truth we have no self-directed life. Outside experiences trigger our fears and desires and we react in predictable ways, living a limited life.
If you want to escape the power of fear over your life, you must also escape your desire. Because desire binds you JUST AS MUCH as fear does.
Yeah, I know, right? This is weird coming from someone who has spent their life helping people get what they want, but read on…
“Human desire is a beautiful thing,” you say, “it has brought us amazing innovations, and art, and music and architecture and LOVE!”
“Yes!” say I, “and it has also brought us war and murder and abuse and slavery and exploitation.”
So which is it? Human desire? Good or Bad?
Neither, in truth, but…
The problematic bit is that fear and desire are inextricably linked.
The cycle of fear and desire works like this:
step 1: we fear
A lot of human desires are simply the inversion of our deepest fears. We fear to lose our AUTONOMY, so we desire power, importance, or self-aggrandisement. We fear for our SAFETY, so we desire meaning, boundaries, and limitations. We fear we are NOT LOVED, so we desire approval, appreciation, and a sense of belonging.
step 2: we desire
Outer achievements then come to represent the answers to these deep fear-driven needs, and so we find we desire MONEY, because we unconsciously assume it delivers security; SUCCESS because we think it will give us an image that others can love; or a RELATIONSHIP because this will resolve our inner sense of inadequacy.
In other words: We fall in love with SYMBOLS of what we want, rather than the real thing we want, and we assume that when we get the SYMBOL we will also have the real thing we want.
step 3: we hunt
This step is characterised by hunger, by a deep yearning to have that SYMBOL of what we want. We chase it, and the desire for it churns us up inside.
step 4: result
It’s simple here – you either achieve the thing you were after, or you don’t. But the funny thing is, EITHER WAY, the next bit is the same. If you DON’T get the thing you want, well you’re unsatisfied because you didn’t get it, but when you DO get it, you’re also unsatisfied.
Often, once the initial excitement of achievement recedes, what you find is the SYMBOL does not deliver what you truly desire, and soon enough you feel dissatisfied once more. Because the SYMBOL is NOT what you actually want, so it can NEVER truly satisfy you.
So at the end of the cycle of fear and desire we’re left unsatisfied, to some degree.
Then what? (and here’s the beautiful madness of humanity at work!)
…Because we don’t then say to ourselves “Oh, so I guess having a relationship doesn’t deliver a sense of self, perhaps I should A) find it somewhere else, or B) generate this sense of self internally…”
No, we don’t tend to say that.
Humans tend to say: “Ah! This relationship isn’t working for me – I’ll find another!”, or, “mmmm… this money isn’t making me happy… I know what I need – MORE!”
Here’s the ridiculous part: when we find that the thing we desire does not deliver what we really want, instead of then giving it up – we tend to desire MORE of it. Money doesn’t make me happy. What’s the answer? MORE money. Sex doesn’t satisfy. What’s the answer? MORE sex.
This binds us ever more powerfully to the cycle of fear and desire, where we are so busy trying to get away from what we fear and into what we want that we don’t even take the time to notice the life we could have OUTSIDE of this punishing cycle.
What is OUTSIDE of this cycle, you ask?
Something like this: A form of living where your desires are not a way to avoid something you don’t want, are not dictated by society, are not impressed on you by your family or your school system, and are really only an expression of your free, open human soul. True wanting, free of fear. This is harder to achieve than it sounds.
And what of the higher side of desire? What of the desire that takes us on our hero’s journey into life, that causes us to create beauty and manifest amazing structures and build empires? What of the desire that caused Mozart to write symphonies, and Shakespeare to write love sonnets? What of the desire that causes acts of heroism and opens us up to transcendent evolutionary moments?
This brings me back to the central question again: Is desire good or bad? Should we have it or not?
I’ve been pondering this question recently. It’s been troubling me at dead of night, as the full moon shines through the skylight onto my bed.
The philosophy I came of age on glorified desire – giving it an almost religious significance – to want things and to go for things was to be the best kind of human, even if it also at the same time exacerbated the worst parts of me and others. This encouragement of the dark side of humanness didn’t matter, because to desire, and to go for it, that was noble, that was true human life, that was greatness. All that mattered, in this philosophy, was the end result – not how you got there, or who you became in the process…
Let’s explore this question (desire = good or bad?) with a couple of lists:
PROBLEMS OF A WORLDVIEW THAT glorifies DESIRE:
Human desire and human fear are on the same axis (as discussed above), so when you want to extreme, you will also fear to extreme. And fear is the cause of much of human pain – it leads to depression, to using force on yourself and others, to aggression, to avoidance, to resistance, and much much more.
Desire is naturally attracted to external results – success, appreciation, money, power, etc. External results (as discussed above), do not lead to satisfaction, because they do not satisfy our inner longings to resolve our perceived inadequacies, so we are always left somewhat dissatisfied by our results, and seeking more. Our happiness and fulfilment is then always in the future, and there it stays, and we chase it forever, like the proverbial carrot on a stick.
Desire is self focussed. I want to have a successful business. I want to write a bestseller, I want to be loved, I want to be heard, I want, I want… It’s all about me. This self focus easily tips over into self-obsession, or garden variety narcissism – a tendency which is rife in our modern world, and is rapidly eroding much of the beauty of humanity – causing us to forget how to relate to each other, how to communicate without denigrating opposing opinions, and even how to really love, because to love someone you have to really SEE another person and to do that you can’t be all about noticing how they affect you. Narcissism in the end is also deeply, horribly painful and unfulfilling.
PROBLEMS OF A WORLDVIEW THAT demonises DESIRE, AND PROMOTES A LACK OF WANTING
Desire is a natural human function, so it’s really hard to stop it. Kind of like stopping your poop, it gets you all choked up with negativity and at some point it’s likely to explode. OR, it leads to denial. “I don’t want anything. I’m just going for enlightenment,” for example. But enlightenment is, of course, another desire – perhaps the most ambitious desire of all. Denying what’s in you is never a recipe for good things – just look at the catholic priesthood if you need an example.
You lose then all the enervating functions of desire – you lose the magic of what humans create – their artistry, their cleverness. With no desire, what would life be? Would we have created the magnificent structures in our world – would we have science, medicine, architecture, writing and art and music and even love? Where is the joy of life, the exuberance of humanity, without desire? If you want to see a world built mainly on fear, with very little of the vim of human desire, just look at the Covid lock down…
Desire is the impetus that drives us on our personal hero’s journey. It fuels us to give our gift – it makes us go through the transformations required to become the best human we can be. Without desire, there would be little human evolution.
Okay. So it sounds like desire isn’t good or bad..
So what do we DO about desire? We can’t live with it, we can’t live without it. How do we transcend the treadmill of being bound between fear and desire our entire lives? How do we find real happiness and fulfilment?
How do we escape the prison of being RULED by our desires, which keep us in the treadmill of doing the same things over and over, reaping little real reward, always hungering for that magic time in the future when our desires will all be FULFILLED and we will FEEL COMPLETE???
I think the answer is to create an ADULT relationship with desire.
When you’re an adult, you recognise that some things you want you will achieve, and some you won’t. Some of the things you thought you wanted you’ll realise you don’t really, and some of the things you desire will turn out totally differently than you expected and that will be perfect.
What we’re really talking about here is the difference between honest wanting, and fantasy.
Fantasy is an addiction that promises you you can conquer the world, be an instant bestseller, find perfect love and transcend all difficulties. As good as it can feel sometimes, it’s a TRAP that will never deliver you real results, and will ALWAYS leave you hungry, and ruled by your desires.
Honest wanting is getting as close as you can, as accurate as you can about what YOU REALLY WANT, not what the world tells you you should want, or what your sense of limitation longs for, or what you HUNGER for, but just the simple, beautiful things that will enrich your life and expand your contribution to humanity. And then you go for them, as passionately as you can.
Desire is the pathway to both – to fantasy and to honest wanting – so YOU must learn to recognise the difference.
And you must NOT let desire rule you, because it doesn’t know the difference (between fantasy and honest wanting) – only YOU know that.
You don’t want desire to rule you, because then you’ll be bound, and you cannot live an inspired life whilst you’re wearing chains. But the answer isn’t to not want anything. The answer is to want honestly and passionately, but hold it loosely. Cup your desires in your hand like water. Love deeply, act passionately, but also surrender easily.
The truly inspired life – it’s like a gorgeous dance between human will and cosmic destiny.
Don’t try to impose the power of your desire on reality and force it to bend to your will. Rather, find your flow inside the flow of life, and allow yourself to be carried easily and joyfully to all the things that really matter.
By Willow Davies
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