April 11, 2013
Desire is tricky. It fools us into believing that the object of our desire is literally the only thing that matters. Our world narrows down to the vision of having that car, or dress, or miracle face cream, the boy across the street, the piece of cake or the new job, the bigger apartment—whatever shiny bauble that has hijacked our attention becomes the focus of our world.
It’s crazy, but right this moment I can literally recall the feeling that accompanies that kind of desire. The feeling of being completely hijacked by the fantasy that the only thing that can make my life complete is to have that thing, big or small, NOW!
Which wouldn’t be that much of a problem if while I was pursuing it or waiting for it to come along I was still able to fully enjoy what I do have. But somehow, when that degree of desire is in charge, that doesn’t happen. My imagining of how I’ll feel once the shiny bauble is mine casts a shadow over everything, making my life seem dull and incomplete.
So what’s really going on?! Do we have to give up having desires altogether because we may take them to the point where they become all-consuming? Is the solution to abandon all hope that we’ll have the life we desire?? I don’t think so.
I think we have to see when the desire for something has turned into the trickster. When it’s changed from a want into a need because we’re using it to avoid or distract ourselves from whatever the real issue is.
The vision of the shiny bauble gives us a feeling of relief from whatever’s really going on. We get the momentary experience that there’s a way to fix everything that is easy and quick. Which we know is absurd when we’re in our right minds. But when we’re hijacked, we’re not in our right minds.
So the first step is to literally stop in our tracks when we notice that a normal fleeting thought of a want has turned into an obsessive craving. Let’s use the example of a piece of cake. I’ve been eating in a way that makes me feel good about myself. Then somebody says something that hurts my feelings. I don’t like how that feels. So my mind jumps in to ‘help’ me. It gives me a picture of my favorite chocolate cake and it tells me that everything will be okay if I can just get it. NOW!
I know you know what I’m talking about. All reason goes out the window. So that’s why we stop. We have to notice that we’ve been hijacked. That we’re not in our ‘right’ minds.
Once we notice that we’re lost in a story that is absolutely, positively NOT TRUE—a fantasy—we can bring ourselves back to the present moment. Which is where we can take responsibility for dealing with the reality of our lives, with what really needs our attention.
So here’s what I’ve learned to do when I notice I’ve been hijacked by desire. I thank my mind for trying to help me by offering up the chocolate cake. I breathe. I drop my shoulders. I soften my belly. And I feel whatever it is that I don’t want to feel. I let myself see what I think I can’t bear to see. In the case of the chocolate cake scenario I see that I have a decision to make about how to handle my hurt feelings. Once I’ve gotten off automatic pilot and given myself the gift of present moment attention, I realize that chocolate cake isn’t going to fix the friendship. I can see that after the cake I’ll still have the problem with my friend but it will be compounded by a sugar crash.
So the next time you notice your mind trying to help you by attaching to the first shiny bauble it can find, consider stopping, thanking your mind for its (somewhat lame) attempt to help, and asking yourself what the real issue is. And remember to be gentle in your exploration. Instead of beating yourself up or shaming yourself for being distracted by the idea of the chocolate cake, congratulate yourself for noticing what’s really going on.
P.S. RE COMMENTS. I think we have it figured out. So I’d really appreciate if you’re moved to comment on this post you go ahead and do it so that we can see if it’s working the way it’s supposed to. In the near future I’m going to set up a facebook page, but first we want to make sure the comments section here is working properly.
Thank you for this very wise reminder about desire and how easily it distracts us!
Thanks for the nice words. I’m excited, now we can see if the comments are working the way they’re supposed to! Warmly, Robyn
I have found that learning to let go of my desires is very freeing. After studying the Tao Te Ching I realized that I do not need much. Most of my desires are nothing but wants, not needs. I am learning to discern between true wants and true needs. I’m not perfect, but this is amazingly helpful to me.
You’ve made me think about picking up the Tao Te Ching again! Like you, I’m discovering I have very few needs, and lots and lots of wants floating across my radar. Warmly, Robyn
As always, great post! I am in the process of reading “Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and just finished a chapter discussing this issue. So often the thing, experience, person, relationship… that we crave or feel we need to “complete” us, typically just disappoints if received, because that wasn’t the answer in the first place. Looking back on that piece of chocolate cake, it wasn’t all that great and only created a different stress. It seems that when we don’t let ourselves get distracted by the path to the chocolate cake, we end up much more content with the results:) Thanks Robyn!
Terrific book! I laughed when i read your comment because at the moment chocolate cake sounds really good…but you’re right, there’s nothing about it that’s going to ‘complete’ me!! If I have it, I want it to be because sometimes it just tastes good, not because I’m running away from something else. Warmly, Robyn
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