More

My niece, Beatrix, is like most children. She wants. She wants more. She wants more and more and more.

For her recent birthday, Beatrix received a set of “Critter Creatures,” along with their special playhouse. This set-up got about an hour of play before Beatrix was asking to go online and find more creatures. Specifically, she was aiming to use a Target gift card, another birthday present, to increase her collection.

Suddenly, and all too quickly, the creature set she had wasn’t good enough. It just wasn’t as fun to play with, knowing that there was so much more, and seemingly better, to be had. I marveled at how the universally human desire-mechanism was already in full force for Beatrix at such an early age.

As adults, desire wreaks havoc in every aspect of our lives. We can’t enjoy the home we have, for instance, once we see someone else’s that’s more spacious. We can’t celebrate our romantic relationship once we see another prospective lover who’s more beautiful, clever, wealthy, or whatever other quality we’re currently craving. We can’t enjoy our career once we focus on one that offers more freedom, power, or prestige. And of course we can’t enjoy our physical bodies when faced with the media barrage of those that are more svelte and toned.

So, what of it? Are we destined to a life of desire that snatches us from the joys of what’s present already, right now, in this moment of our experience? Luckily, no. There’s a simple practice that allows us to separate desires that propel us forward in directions we truly want to go from desires that leave us feeling perpetually empty and unsatisfied.

Here’s how the process works. First, we must become aware that we’re in a “fit” of desire. That requires recognizing desire’s inner grip, the way both our mind and body literally clamp down when we focus on something that we want but don’t yet have. As soon as we’re aware of this grip, we can put it under the microscope. By that I don’t mean analyze the desire, or otherwise dissect it. Instead, I mean that we can look at it both dispassionately and compassionately. We can experience it directly, up close and personal.

Putting desire under the microscope isn’t about the object that we’re craving – it’s about the craving itself. How does this sense of craving feel in our body? What does it do to our quality of consciousness? Do the thoughts generated by this body/mind state have a particular content or quality?

When we experience any desire directly in this way, something amazing happens – its grip releases. Even if only for a moment or two, the new house or lover or job that’s been obsessing us no longer holds such sway. This temporary reprieve is all-important. It allows us to gain perspective about, and assert control over, the previously overwhelming desire function. Fighting any desire, by contrast, only serves to increase its strength.

Putting desire under the microscope is also crucial for another reason. Recognizing that we can diminish desire’s grip without succumbing to it offers us a way forward in our lives that’s peaceful and joyful. Desires will never stop coming, regardless of how much therapy or meditation we experience, or even how much we practice the process I’m recommending here. But with each new desire that comes we now have a new, empowering option.

Rather than turn on what we have and fixate on what we don’t, instead we can relax into what we have. In such a relaxed state we can accept the arising of any desire simply as a form of information. It lets us know that something appeals. This appeal becomes data to consider, peacefully and joyfully, along with all the other forms of information we receive about the topic at hand from all the other available sources.

At six, Beatrix is not ready to hear very much about this liberating approach. She just wants more creatures. Her unexplored wanting is a kind of self-erected prison.

How about you? Are you in the same kind of prison? Which desires are holding you captive? Are you ready and willing to escape?

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About Raphael Cushnir

Raphael Cushnir is a popular contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine. He has also been a teacher, activist, screenwriter, and film director. His own heart was rekindled after a period of profound grief. His first book, Unconditional Bliss: Finding Happiness in the Face of Hardship, was twice nominated as Best Personal Growth title of the year and introduced the "Living the Questions" process. His second book, Setting Your Heart on Fire: Seven Invitations to Liberate Your Life, is used as a teaching tool in churches and spiritual centers around the country. His third book, How Now: 100 Ways to Celebrate the Present Moment, was named one of the "Best Spiritual Books of 2005" by Spirituality and Health magazine. Raphael shares his work in talks and workshops worldwide. For more info: www.livingthequestions.org; www.heartonfire.org; www.hownow100.com; www.innermanagement.biz.
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10 Responses to More

  1. Modern capitalist society encourages the building of dissatisfaction to encourage consumption. This is not surprising, and it is certainly a part of the “addiction” to compulsive consumerism. There is a neurochemical payoff as well, (not quite like, but totally unlike what a gambler experiences.) Watch how the process of fulfilling desire creates a temporary high in a compulsive shopper.

    Now some desires are useful stimulae to encourage behaviours which are good for us, so it is important to not throw out the baby with the bathwater. A desire for the svelte body, when taken to a reasonable level, can lead to dropping that extra 20 pounds that has crept on during the years. (Case in point, is I cycle a fair bit, about 40 km per day for commuting. Early in the year I set a goal of wanting to do a 200K ride by the first day of summer. I did 220, and felt great, except I slept for 12 hours afterwards.) I have also used desire for a particular thing to motivate me to save. I remember the joy of working all summer for something I had set my sights on as a teenager, and now that I am on a budget I use that to encourage me to save on my daily budget on unnecessary things. (i.e. Instead of the daily cappacino, I get a good regular coffee, and instead of a Sushi lunch, it is a falafel.) The point is that it is a way of using desire to encourage a useful behaviour. I may not even buy the thing I am saving for, but I have learned how to use desire to encourage a behaviour that will help me out of my current budgetary constraints.

    As for the big home and all the toys syndrome: Just this weekend I went and visited a friend who has all this, and all I could think of was, “How many hours does it take to clean this place, and how much effort and money is required to keep on top of maintenance?” I have a small bedroom, no big recreation room, but I am creative, and pretty happy with the person I have become through life. Sure, I would love to win the lottery like almost everyone else, but I doubt it would result in my becoming a compulsive consumer. (I would love a great new bike, but you know 17 years with my old buddy with whom I have ridden over 80,000 K, would be missed.)

  2. Tammy says:

    This process truly sets us free and empowers us to live more contently. Jealousy is a human trait. When we try to repress the feelings that it stirs up inside of us, it doesn’t go away. It makes us so much less than who we are and who we can evolve to be. Be honest with yourselves. It may be a bit uncomfortable and embarrassing at first, but the freedom you will feel from this process will last a lifetime.

  3. Oceana says:

    I can’t believe how timely it was for me to read this. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking more deeply at how my desire for material stuff has shaped my world. I have the finest quality materials, and I have mediocre quality relationships. I give lip service to wanting better relationships, but I have invested far more heavily in creature comforts.

    The practice you suggest supports this space of self-love that is also growing within. For instance if I just observe my desire for a clean, comfortable, and beautiful home; I immediately hit this defensive feeling. I can then sit with that and notice that my emotions are like my children longing for attention . . . . .

    I will continue and see where it takes me.

  4. KathyCunningham says:

    Raphael:

    I am so happy for you. Your words leaped off the blog into my heart.

    Thank you for being you and going deep inside to share.

    Kathy

  5. jock says:

    well put. we are so fortunate and yet we are so unhappy. a few years ago some friends were in haiti a while, and reported a joy of life that we quite lack. they with so very little were ok with life. they had an interesting insight into this when they discovered that for them to enjoy the hospitality of a meal with a haitian family, someone in that family had to go without eating that day since there was not enough food. naturally when they learned this they could not eat. they felt incredibly guilty. then a wise haitian pointed out to them that they had the wrong idea. that when you had nearly nothing it was all the more important to share it. that the gift of hospitality was what you could always give. but how could you give it if no one would receive it? with this new understanding they found that being invited to such a table was a communion experience.

  6. Nice post.

    Thats hedonic adaption for you. One way to combat it is savouring and an attitude of gratitude.

    There is always someone much WORSE off than ourselves

    (better to compare down, like the happy bronse medal winners than compare up, like the unhappy silver medal -wannabe gold- winners ๐Ÿ™‚

    love and kindness

    hugs

    Very Happy Phil
    ๐Ÿ™‚

    Author, ‘How to boost your happiness’

  7. Cindy Spirit says:

    When the children around me have that problem, I cradle them and tell them that stuff isn’t love and encourage them to let out (express) their feelings, then they return to feeling good (full) again and the gimmes disappear. ( I do that with adults, too…although lately I think I have forgotten to do it for me?! Go figure!)

    Not accustomed to the sensory input in stores, etc, it is my opinion that children pick up the anxious energy of “this will fill your emptiness” like sponges. Children, aiming to survive ( i.e. aiming to please) just mirror what is all around them. As adults we have adapted and/or become immune and therefore we are baffled by it. Nonetheless, upon reflection (pun intended) we can notice that indeed that energy/intent is there and upon expression dissipates. Ahhh….

  8. kath says:

    Timely for me, thanks. Still find that letting “go” and “be” results first in la resistance. To welcome the feeling, and ask if I’m capable, willing to release the feelings and “when” does not come um… first. It comes. Both/and both/and both/and both and.

  9. Evie says:

    Big area for me- not in terms of the material, but in terms of the experiences that I want to have before I leave this world – The desire for a reciprocal heart expanding love relationship, to see more parts of the world – I do feel that my sense of acceptance to what is grows daily, as I understand the type of energy that feeds and nourishes me (and of course expands me) and that energy that does the opposite. There is so little I can control, but being at peace with my choices and what is is very helpful

  10. While reading your post one word kept coming to mind. Creativity! We need to encourage our children’s natural creativity and limit their exposure to TV, the God of Desire who feeds and fuels our restless craving for stuff!

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