I’ve selected this topic because tomorrow is Guru Purnima, the celebration of spiritual teachers in the Yogic Tradition in which it is customary to make a boon or a wish that is offered during a puja ceremony. The process of selecting this wish is an interesting exercise in examining what it is we truly desire.
Most of people right now could probably identify five or so things they want without much thought. A new car, my pre-baby body back (🙋), Keanu Reeves as a boyfriend (also 🙋) for example. But identifying what it is that we truly want, knowing what goals are truly relevant and which aren’t, is the key to knowing which desires to follow and which to ignore.
The nature of desire
The mind is always searching for greater happiness. Before one learns to meditate, most people desire things, relationships and outcomes because they believe happiness will follow. “When I get published, then I will be happy, when I lose 10 pounds, then I will be happy, when I have a kid, then I will be happy,” etc. The reality is however, happiness isn't there. After we hit one of these goals there’s a quick high, then one’s baseline state returns. Whole lives and societies are driven by this false concept, that fulfillment is on the other side of achievement.
Should I relinquish all desire?
You may have heard that in order to find true happiness, you must let go of all desires, that the process of desiring is bad. This is not the Vedic view. Yes, the mind is always searching for greater happiness, and when it finally finds it within in meditation, it to a lesser and lesser degree seeks it outside the self. However, desires still arise, even in those experiencing full enlightenment. Why is this? Why not just sit on a mountain peak deep in the bliss of meditation all day? It is because after a certain point in one’s evolution, after enough meditation and self-identification with the Oneness state of Being, desires percolate up in order to move you around to be a help to others. As a meditator, you start having a positive impact on whomever you come in contact. You are still acting “selfishly” only now the Self extends to all those around you. The mind is now searching for greater happiness in everyone and everything.
The root of the desire
As one meditates, more and more, one’s actions come straight from this state of Being. The intellect is not so much the driver anymore as a passenger who is observing, reflecting and following the intuition’s lead. But until this state is achieved in full, there is still an intellectual process to the question, “What do I want?” One way to examine what it is we truly want is to consider the root of our desires. What purpose is the satisfaction of the desire going to serve? Will it serve the ego or does it stretch beyond serving the individual? A good example would be two people, both who want to publish a book. One desires to achieve this goal in order to prove to his ex-wife that he’s successful and to make her feel sorry she broke up with him. The other feels his intuition pinging him to write a book because the knowledge will help thousands who will read it. Same want, but different roots. The first writer will not find happiness as a result of publishing his book for those reasons. The second is following his intuition and his actions will serve both his evolution and the evolution of others.
Why do we want what is bad for us?
It can be confusing when we seem to want things that are bad for us. Cigarettes, endless hours of social media, a brownie or two, or twelve. This is stress-induced behavior. Without meditation, the body is an uncomfortable place to be. All the tissues have stress stored within them. The moment we stop, we will grab for something to distract from the irritation of that existence. We don’t really want these things, but they do provide a moment of relief, often at a price greater than the relief they provide. As we meditate, the stress that causes this discomfort dissipates, and therefore the behavior eventually stops automatically.
We all want the same thing
Whether we want a new relationship, a tropical vacation, or a set of Queen Elizabeth commemorative plates, we are all searching for the same thing. That thing is called many things–love, connection, happiness. It is the state of experiencing the unity of all things. It’s the state of consciousness in which we see our self in others and the Oneness of all things. This state is not at the end of a to-do list, on a mountain, or at the expense of others. The only place this state can be found is within. The irony is, all those things you thought you wanted in order to be happy–the perfect house, a fantastic relationship, better health–often come as a result of finding this place within, you just realize you don’t need them to be fulfilled.
We are always for reaching for what we want, though identifying what we truly want, what intuition is asking of us, makes all the difference.