Attachment to desire equals the root of all of mankind’s suffering, according to Buddhist teachings.
But have you ever tried eliminating your desires? Probably not going to happen! And repressing desire isn’t the solution, either.
Because we are all creatures of desire, we need a real-life approach to handling them. That involves developing the skills of understanding our desires, and observing how our clinging to them causes suffering.We're all driven by either desire or fear. It's behind every single thing we do Click To Tweet
We can also seek to differentiate between useful and unhelpful desires, as well as learn to accept the discomfort and pain that comes with knowing not all of our desires can materialize.
Before we get to the specific suggestions for approaching desires skilfully, let’s look more closely at the link between desire and suffering.
it is not the desires, but the clinging, that creates the suffering
Having desires isn’t of itself a cause of suffering. We suffer only when we adopt the beliefs that we have to have the thing or things. I.e we get attached to them.
Let’s take a common desire – to make a lot of money- and see how being attached to that causes suffering.
- The moment we adopt the desire that we need to be rich in order to be successful, we take a position on wealth that robs us from present moment satisfaction. We believe that we aren’t currently enough. That is one layer of suffering already, before we even do anything.
- Another layer of suffering is added on if we don’t take any steps towards fulfilling the desire. We get frustrated.
- Taking action doesn’t improve things much. Often, we suffer along the path to pursuing the desire for money. We may wind up compromising on what’s meaningful to us.
- Possibly the highest anxiety comes when we actually come close to materializing our desires. Suffering comes in the form of fear of loss.
- When we do obtain our desires, and even if they surpass our expectations, habituation sets in. The joy we felt initially diminishes.
- We find something new to want.
So this is the cycle that happens when are attached to our desires.The suffering caused by desire happens because of attachment or clinging to desires Click To Tweet
Is it possible to have desires without the attachment to them?
It is definitely possible to create freedom from attachments, including desires. And to work towards desires without it being a ‘my happiness rides on this’ situation. I’ll talk about how below.
repression is not the answer
If you cannot currently pursue your desires for whatever reason, then pretending they aren’t there isn’t going to help.
Repressing anything inevitably creates shadow sides to your personality – it is a form of personality splitting. This shadow is something you have to deal with them later on.
It takes a lot of energy to quell desires down. Work towards acknowledging and accepting them as an aspect of you, instead.Don't repress your desires. That'll just make them stronger Click To Tweet
Say you have been repressing a higher need for physical intimacy in your relationship, for fear of ‘rocking the boat’. You will carry the burden of your repressed desires. This may later bubble over into anger and resentment towards your unwitting partner.
Individuals that had religious upbringings, certain personality styles, and people who grew up in an environment of repression, need to be doubly aware of any tendencies. If that’s you, work to develop a more healthy relationship with your emotions. I wrote about a technique you can use for emotional processing here.
This isn’t a license to act on all your desires. It’s more about giving them permission to be felt. It is an internal process.
6 ways to ‘transcend’ desire (without transcending desire)
Here are six ways to stop struggling against, or being pulled around by, your desires.
pursue your desires without clinging to them
Through practicing mindfulness and meditation, we can learn to observe our desires. Simply witnessing them without getting caught up changes the nature of the hold they have on you. I wrote about that more here.
anchor contentment in the here and now
How does a person find satisfaction in the present moment? Especially when the life we desire is out of reach?
It is a question a lot of us, me included, have struggled with.
I have found that contentment has improved as I have learned to see myself with greater clarity. With the help of psychology tools, I discovered the obstacles to contentment I have placed up. And slowly, I have started to stop myself from putting those obstacles there.
practice sobriety, moderation and abstention
This seems like a bit of a kill-joy recommendation. It’s here because refraining is key to developing wisdom and discernment. We need wisdom to figure out what is and isn’t important in life.
Applying restraint to your desires (different to repressing them) shores up willpower and the ability to withstand temptations. It makes you less of a dopamine glutton.Exercising restraint is different to repressing desires. It shores up willpower Click To Tweet
Life has become very excessive in certain respects. The more information we are exposed to, the more we fuel certain extrinsic desires (materialistic desires). That’s because a lot of the extrinsic desires can be caused by perceived lacks and social comparison.
And so practicing moderation and abstention can be helpful tools.
contemplate your bliss
Listen to Joseph Campbell and follow your bliss – just do it wisely!
Is your bliss really blissful, or is it short term gratification?
Is the path harmful to others and you, or is it a step towards a new, more authentic and progressive future for you?
see your desires through
Sometimes, seeing through a desire is how we loosen their hold over us.
For example, let’s say you have a powerful desire to gain significance in your field. Going through the pains of fulfilling that desire allows you to experience its fruits.Sometimes, we just need to see a thing through for it to lose its appeal Click To Tweet
Sometimes in that process, you get tired of the striving and start to question the inherent meaning in the goal.
Eventually, such goals cease to be important. You went there and you got the t-shirt. And you are freed from the particular FOMO you felt.
find the real bliss
We can learn to drive our desires towards intrinsic goals, rather than extrinsic. What’s the difference?
Intrinsic goals, for example cultivating personal virtues, are those which are inherently satisfying to pursue because they satisfy deep psychological needs. Extrinsic goals are usually ego related objectives, designed to quell our fears and insecurities.We can work to change our desires to more intrinsic ones, such as a desire for growth and understanding Click To Tweet
You can learn to drive your desires towards intrinsic goals. In the beginning, you do that by conscious choice. But after not long, it becomes natural as you get a taste of the fulfillment it can bring.
You can’t eliminate your desires, in the same way that you can’t always act on them.
Follow your bliss, definitely – just develop wisdom about what bliss actually is.
See some desires through. That’s how you know the wheat from the chaff. With awareness, eventually you’ll channel your energies mostly towards higher desires.
And for the less helpful desires? Consider giving them a wide (but accepting) berth.