On Desire

Desire is on my mind; it seems as if it always is. 

What is this insatiable appetite for things - objects, experiences, people, food, sensations, etc.?

As soon as I’ve quenched my thirst for that which I was desiring, it seems as if a new desire is waiting for me just around the corner. Do you ever feel this way?

I’ve set out to explore desire. What is desire? What is its purpose? Why do I feel the need to hide some of my desires? Can I turn the energy of my desires into something useful?

We come from a culture where desire is simultaneously shunned and encouraged, especially sexual desire. We’re constantly bombarded with sex in ads, movies, the media, yet, when we want to explore our own sexuality, it all of a sudden becomes a very taboo and private topic.

As such, we’ve perverted and short-circuited desire’s potential to be a gateway to spiritual expansion. We have created a world where we objectify people, where we feel “in need” of the object and expect that the object gratify us. Yet, the object always seems to fall short somehow.

It is in the reconciliation of the gap or “separateness” between us and our beloved/lover/partner where intimacy can grow and where we can explore desire’s true potential. 

So, what is the purpose of desire? I borrow on ideas from Dr, Mark Epstein, author of “Open to Desire,” and Buddha, that other cool guy. While one aspect of desire's nature is certainly the gap between satisfaction and fulfillment, desire's ultimate goal is to free us from clinging. Desire, in its most fundamental form, recognizes the sense of incompleteness that is endemic to the human condition. It seeks a freedom from this incompleteness in any form imaginable: physical, sensual, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual…to see desire as limited to the realm of ego and therefore always potentially dangerous is to miss its true nature. Ultimately, the power of desire can be harnessed for spiritual growth.

Now what? Where do we go from here? How can we prevent desire from being sucked up into the vortex of “clinging?” How can we use desire to help us know ourselves more fully? 

Joseph Goldstein states: as an object of desire, that which we long for causes suffering, but as an object of mindfulness, it can lead to awakening. The trick, from a Buddhist perspective, is to accept the fact that no experience can ever be as complete as we would wish, the two object can ever satisfy completely.

Why not simply acknowledge desire in its fullness? It is both gratifying and frustrating, pleasant and painful, sweet and bitter. When we play at both ends of the spectrum, we can experience the intensity at each end, as well as the feeling of “nothingness” in between. While this gap may feel like an unsettling place, I invite you to see what comes up when you toe the line between comfort & familiarity and discomfort & the unknown. You may be surprised at what you find. 

To set desire up as the enemy and then to try to eliminate it is to seek to destroy one of our most precious human qualities, our natural response to the truth of suffering. - Dr. Mark Epstein