Mindfully Coping with Desire

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Desire or wanting comes as naturally to us as breathing. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want to survive, if we didn’t crave things like food, community and rest. Our desires and wants drive much, or maybe even all, of our existence in one way or another. And yet so much of our suffering is put down to desire – a wanting of something we currently don’t have.

So if we want to be free of suffering, does that mean we must free ourselves from wanting? Or is there another way, one in which we can still enjoy the pull of our hearts (and the adventures and experiences that brings), without being pulled away from the moment?

Why Desire Causes Suffering

If we’re not mindful, we may find that our desires end up constantly pulling us this way and that. A good example of how this can happen is when we’re shopping. We might have started out by looking for one thing that we wanted or needed, but when faced with so many other products we soon find ourselves wanting stuff that we might never have even heard of before! Or perhaps we’re watching a movie, see someone eating a burger and suddenly we’re overwhelmed with a craving to eat the same.

There are other forms of desire too. We can desire to be right, and to have a solid sense of who we are. These desires can make us inflexible and cut us off from being present. For example, when we’re arguing with someone, our internal dialogue is likely to be full of justifications, stories about how we’re right and the other person is wrong.

Our desire to be right often gets in the way of hearing the other person, as well as truly listening to ourselves, so that we remain in conflict much longer than we might really want to.

Instead of desire resulting in us following our hearts true calling, we find ourselves trapped in a perpetual state of never being quite satisfied enough, always wanting something more or different than what is, forgetting perhaps the simple things we set out wanting to achieve.

Desire causes suffering not because of its existence, but because it so often disconnects us from ourselves. When our sense of wanting takes us away from the present moment, that’s when it becomes painful.

Exploring Desire

Through practicing mindfulness we can learn how to dance gently with our desires, learning to recognise when they become restrictive (cutting us off from our presence of being) and also enabling us to enjoy them when they are enriching.

One way that we can become more mindful of desire is to consciously look into it, so that we can notice how it arises, expresses itself and feels in our bodies. We can take a few moments to close our eyes and really focus on something for which we are feeling a particularly strong desire.

How does that desire feel in our bodies? What emotions does it bring up for us? Then we can go even deeper, fully allowing our bodies to express that sense of wanting. If we curl our hand into a fist, what does that fist do as we go deeper and deeper into our desire? Does it soften, or does it tighten?

What happens to our posture – do we relax, or do we sit forward and tense up in our seat? In the midst of our focused desire, do we feel comfortable, or not? As we look at it closely, is this even what we truly desire, or is it a substitute for something else, some feeling or way of being that is currently lacking in our lives?

By spending some time exploring in this way, we’ll be able to see whether we are binding ourselves to the object of our desire and losing touch with the present. We’ll be able to tell whether our desire brings us joy or whether it is actually causing us to suffer. If we do discover suffering, we can then practice letting go, even if it’s only slightly, coming back to this moment now and trying to tap into what it is that our hearts really want.

We may discover that by simply becoming more grounded in our presence, we naturally meet some of the needs we are seeking to fulfil from outside of ourselves, whether it be through food, entertainment, a person, a career or a material thing.

Forgiving Our Wanting

Another trap that is easy to slip into is wanting to be free of desire. Because desire can make us tense and grasping, that may sometimes mean we don’t like how we become when we want something. However, by resisting desire, we are setting ourselves against something which is a natural part of being alive.

Therefore it’s important to cultivate an accepting attitude towards this tendency that we all experience. If we can practice recognising and allowing desire to be, with a gentle compassion, we will not only be free of the more destructive sides of desire, but we can also enjoy a quieter mind – one that is not so full of struggle against what is and how we are in a given moment.

 

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