Radical Acceptance: Enhancing your Life with the Heart of the Buddha (pp 128-160)
Is Desire the Problem?
A common misperception of the Buddhist teachings (the dharma) is that that desire is bad and should be repressed or resisted. There is often great reluctance to follow teachings that seem to have the potential to take the fun out of life. This misunderstanding stems from not looking deeply at what desires are and not realizing the nature of clinging or attachment that is the cause of suffering. Desire is not the problem; it is how we relate to our experience that is the issue.
What is Desire
Phillip Moffitt in Dancing With Life defines desires as “energetic states felt in your body and mind that arise from pleasant and unpleasant feelings associated with various thoughts and sensations which have the potential (my words) to cause the mind to move toward or away from some experience. Desires can arise and pass without contracting into craving.” p. 80-1. Desires are like all phenomena that arise in the mind. They are impermanent, unable to give lasting satisfaction, and are of selfless nature.
So no matter how pleasant an experience might be, because it is impermanent, it is bound to change. Yet we try to hold on to that experience and are dissatisfied when it goes away.
The Wanting Self
When we try to hold on to a desire, we forget that there is no “we” or “me” doing the holding. The self that we envision is simply a concept but it seems very real. The sensations and thoughts that arise from wanting are not our self either. Until we can see the wanting for what it is, an energetic state felt in our body and mind, we will feel compelled to act or react and when we don’t get what we want, we feel emotions such as disappointment, shame, fear and anger. These emotions are also not our self; they are simply more energetic states arising as reactions.
Two of our basic perceived needs are to be loved and to belong. (What we don’t get is that we are loved and we do belong). When we don’t obtain the love and belonging that we perceive that we need, we often employ other strategies to gain a sense of satisfaction. This was previously noted in the talk on the Trance of Unworthiness regarding our self image. As noted, these strategies include altering our behavior to please others or to substitute an addictive behavior such as workaholic activity, drugs, food, or alcohol to get some temporary relief. None of these strategies can provide lasting peace, love, and belonging. And the more we are caught up in substitutes, the harder it is to find the roots of the problem.
What kind of wanting self do you perceive you are? Can you look without judgement?
- Are you a victim of desire? (“I can’t help myself.”)
- Are you fighting desire? (I resist but in it won’t go away.”)
- Do you have unhealthy desires? (“I know it’s unhealthy but I do it anyway.”)
- Do you have to have something more, something different from what is here, right now? (“I can never be satisfied.”
Awakening from the Wanting Self
“Kabir, the fifteenth-century Sufi poet, writes, “The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love.” This love is what we long for. When we bring Radical Acceptance to the enormity of desire, allowing it to be as it is, neither resisting it nor grasping after it, the light of our awareness dissolves the wanting self into its source. We find that we are naturally and entirely in love. Nothing is apart or excluded from this living awareness.” P. 154
Love is the refusal to separate, to make distinctions from I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Awakening from the wanting self is to recognize our human tendency for clinging, craving and attachment to desires. The desires will never go away; it is our realization of what desires really are that will allow us continuously to let go. We will enjoy life much more without the attachment. Relationships will be more meaningful without the conditions that we are tempted to put on them. We can enjoy each other from moment to moment, always being present. This is true love.
Letting go of our self and just being is challenging. Remember that the wings of Radical Acceptance are wisdom and compassion. Wisdom knows that there is no one who suffers and compassion knows that it still hurts.
- Reread this talk daily and reflect on it. See what you experience when desires arise especially the sensations in the body. See if you can just be with the desire.
- Meditate as usual in your daily practice with concentration and mindfulness.