Desires are like buses at a bus terminal—there’s always one waiting to arrive behind the one that leaves. When a desire comes up, we tend to feel like our contentment depends on the fulfillment of this one last desire, and almost before we’ve attained that, a new desire is already pulling into the terminal for the mind to board.
It’s natural that the mind harbors desires. Desires don’t ask your permission, they just drop in and stay. When they drop in and stay, that’s when they create trouble for you. When they drop-in, you should see them off. —Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
The globally renowned spiritual master and founder of the International Association for Human Values and the Art of Living Retreat Center, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, talks about the nature of desire and joy, “Desire kills the joy, yet the goal of all desires is joy. Whenever happiness has disappeared from your life, look deep within, and you will see that it is because of desires. Yet all that we desire is happiness. When your small mind gets tired of running here and there, of wandering everywhere, it reaches a conclusion—my desires have killed my happiness.”
Despite being aware of the emptiness of chasing desires, we often continue reeling feverishly and running for them. So how does one handle desires to live a peaceful, liberated life? Is it even possible to control one’s desires? Let’s find out!
The Power of Iccha Shakti (Power of Desire)
It is important to know the nature of desire in order to overcome it. Everything in the creation is born out of desire. Even the wish to know, learn, or be dispassionate and meditate are desires. One can never be rid of desire—it is so integrated into existence—but it can be observed, surrendered, and sublimated.
Origins of Desire
A desire can be a result of several factors, as shared by Gurudev:
- A desire arises with the memory of a pleasant experience and past impressions.
- A desire might arise through listening.
- A desire can be triggered through association with certain people and places.
- Someone else’s need or desire may manifest in you as your own desire, e.g., when someone is hungry, you get a desire to feed them, or someone wants to talk to you, and you get a desire to talk to them.
- The destiny or a happening in which you have a part to play may trigger a desire of which you have no idea.
Do Not Judge Your Desires
“Go beyond labeling the desire as good or bad. Just look at the energy behind it. Irrespective of the nature of the desire, just see it as a Shakti or power,” Gurudev says.
Certain desires come up in our subconscious mind as a result of past impressions or samskaras. If we engage in them without being aware of them, either by rejecting them, trying to repress them, or running behind them, we will have failed to end the karmic cycle. “We need to observe and reflect on the desires that come through intellect or samskara. Just realizing the desire without judgment is enough for us to transcend the desire,” Gurudev says.
Find Out More About Your Desires
We are stuck in desires because we do not know how they work. The real hack here is to watch it and be present in the moment fully to witness the desire. What is it that you want? What are the consequences of a desire that gets fulfilled? How long with the contentment last? Look back at your own life; when you wanted something and received it, how did you feel? What is your state of mind where this desire is arising from, and what is the state of mind once the desire is fulfilled? You’ll find that the mind returns to where it was before the desire arose.
“When you are stressed, the nature of desires will be different. So watch the state of your mind when desires arise. Depending on the state of sattva, rajas, or tamas, different desires will come up. This will give a good indication of whether or not to act on the desire,” shares Gurudev.
For example, when one feels hate or anger for someone, the desire may be to hurt them. Is the desire coming from a space of intelligence? What will be the result of acting on such a desire? What will you go through if this desire gets fulfilled?
All the aggression and violence in the world happens because of this lack of understanding of the mechanics of desires. —Gurudev.
Going Beyond Craving and Aversions with Meditation
Like a small speck of dust is enough to hinder your vision, desires born out of cravings and aversions can stop you from seeing the big picture, seeing the totality of life. You can move beyond this duality by hooking your craving and aversions to a higher calling. Having the desire for the highest brings one out of craving and aversion. Without cravings and aversion, surrender your desires. To do that, you must have a big heart and mind. Meditation will enable that opening up.
Know that Fear Follows a Desire
Gurudev offers a great secret that can help loosen the mind’s grip over desires. “Our existence yearns for something higher, but when we are caught up in desires that are mundane, then fear comes up—fear of whether we will get these things and, on getting them, losing them. And after we lose them, we fear we will regret the loss. But when our love is for the highest, the divine alone, we never feel fear.”
Ultimately, every desire is just energy, and we get to choose how we deal with this energy rising inside us. By making a slight shift—from the desires themselves to what the desires represent—we begin to observe all desires as an expression of energy alone; we progress in leaps and bounds in our spiritual path.
Read more of Gurudev’s thoughts on handling desires here.