Throughout our lives we’ve probably been faced with the complex notion of embracing a desire-less life. Whether this lifestyle encouragement came to you through your yoga practice, a religious doctrine, or a philosophical pondering, the overarching tenet is the same. But could it be that desire is actually a fundamental, biological and physiological component of existence? One that we should embrace rather than poo-poo?
Every living thing has a primitive, instinctual desire to live. Whether the creature is cognizant of that desire or not, is irrelevant. We’re biologically programed to desire life. Trees, flowers, marsupials, humans, dolphins, butterflies, spiders, ants, bacteria, and every creature in between lives solely because its cells desire sustenance in order to live.
So, life is the product of desire. Our desires shape the outcome of our lives, which means desire is not the problem:
It’s the seed from which our desires spawn and the intention with which we feed them.
Not to snuff the timeless wisdom of Gautama Buddha (I am, in fact, a Buddhist), who declared that desire is the source of all suffering. But if that were explicitly true, our bodies would not desire air or water; unless he meant that life was to be a futile series of suffering upon suffering… Maybe the bigger message lay in the fine print of said declaration.
I believe, as does my Nicheren Buddhist philosophy, that desire is critical to the positive development of our human existence. It’s as fundamental to the function of the lungs as it is to our work, our relationships, and our manifestation of a better, brighter world.
Rather than fixating on what you desire or berating yourself for experiencing desire at all, try eliciting from your mind’s imagination what it is that you truly desire out of life. Avoid focusing on the material and instead imagine a wholesome experience of your life, or the outcome of a new job, move, relationship, or idea. Allow your cells to become nourished with a different experience of desire, one in which you begin to attract from the universe what your soul craves by depositing equal energy into it.
The secret is not to rid oneself of desire—asceticism is not for everyone and even then the cells are still full of desire!—rather, we may need a shift in the intention behind desires. Again, what we receive in life is a direct reflection of what we put into the universe; just like a mirror. Your joy will beget joy; your anger will beget anger; and love will beget love. Deepak Chopra, meditation expert, asserts, “When negativity is attached to desire, intentions can run into trouble.” As a result desires may become obsessive, unjust, or greedy. If we first practice cultivating wholesome and positive intentions our desires will manifest more strongly and with positive “life supporting force”, as Chopra calls it. Our desires can be the reflection of our overflowing love, joy, gratitude, compassion, honesty, and appreciation.
“In nature’s scheme there is enough abundance for every living thing to survive and thrive,” Chopra declares. We can and should have desires; it’s what motivates change and challenges complacency. It’s a natural and critical occurrence in our living experience. Recognizing abundance without taking advantage of excess is the greater challenge.
Have desires, but watch them closely. This is a constant, life-long practice of mindfulness. You should be ready to challenge each desire that arises, because more times than not, desire is impulsive and unnecessary. However, when channeled with wholesome intention, desire is the fuel that builds empires, strikes injustice, and enriches lives.
What do you desire?