Untangling the Knot of Desire

Aaaaah, Spring. We’re deep in it. And this year, for us in the Northeast, we are finally having one.

As the temperature rises and the foliage returns, so does our inner fire and juiciness. Desires, sexual and otherwise, bloom.

There seems to be an air of confusion about desire, the threads of which are entangled in a bulbous knot, which we each carry collectively and individually. Some desires lead us closer to ourselves, and others pull us into seemingly unending chaos. Which desires should we trust; which ones are to be satisfied or ignored? What is healthy about desire? Are some desires simply a product of our over-materialistic environment? Does desire conflict with spiritual growth?

Conscious people seeking to make mindful choices with integrity usually contemplate these questions at one point or another, and as they change and grow, so do the answers. You’ve probably heard the ancient eastern tenet that desire is the root of all suffering. Underlying this belief is the notion that desire is something we can actually control or eliminate and then be happy. Wouldn’t that be great? Then every truly spiritually-oriented person could simply don robes, abandon close relationships, and walk around with a bowl, a stick and no money. Well, I tried that once in my own way, by living in an ashram. There were many great things about that year, but as for eliminating desire, let me tell you, it doesn’t work. I was in constant battle with myself. It was like trying not to use your arms. You just end up carrying dead weight around, frustrated and without the use of an important resource.

Nevertheless, desire can be a source of suffering, so the teachings do indeed point to truth. For example, satisfying a desire for a food that doesn’t agree with you can lead to much discomfort. Following certain desires can steer us swiftly into addiction. And equally as painful, a desire for something you really want that might actually enrich your life can put you in touch with a deep sense of despair that you don’t have it, and an overwhelming, old feeling of impotence that you are unable to obtain it.

And then there are the layers of desire. When one desire is simply masking another, satisfaction is only momentary and new desires arise. If you look closely, you might find that in certain moments your authenitc desires reside just beneath your habitual or compulsive desires. For example, a desire for money may mask a desire for love. A desire for love may mask a deep desire for connection with self. And so on.

Untangling the knot begins with contemplating what your desires can teach you. Where do they lead you? The answers will guide you to the knowledge of which ones to plant and which ones to let drop away like the autumn leaves. I believe there is value in the wanting itself. We are so used to satisfying our desires so quickly that we do not have a sense of what our longing is actually saying, and what levels of aliveness we can experience by feeling through it. Try some of the suggestions below to help loosen the knot of desire we all feel at some point in our lives.

Untangling the Knot:

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Make an honest list of the things you want in your life that you don’t have. From big things like wanting a totally new career, or wishing your boss would evaporate into thin air, to smaller things like “better access to organic produce.” Notice how it feels to admit your desires and where the feelings are in your body. Then mark which ones you believe are good (e.g. I want to eat healthier), which ones you judge as bad (e.g. Although I want more money, it is evil and corruptive like the souls of those gas-guzzling yuppies) and which ones you think are absolutely sinful (e.g. you fill in the blank). See if erasing the qualifiers changes your feelings about and relationships to the desires.

Nature vs. Overwhelm

If you feel like shutting down your desires because they hurt to think about or feel impossible to achieve, just contemplate this: The biggest tree you ever saw, the one that you marveled at, grew one day at a time from a seed approximately the size of a fingernail. It was planted in the right time and place and it grew despite extreme weather conditions, pollution, overpopulation and overdevelopment.

Care-Full of What You Wish for

Tenderly imagine your life with replete with everything you desire. What fears do you have to set aside to even imagine? Who would you be? What would you have to let go of? Can you tolerate it? How would it effect your relationships? What, in G-d’s name, would you complain about?

Delay Gratification

You never know how handy this tool might be in other areas of your life. Practice a day of feeling accessible desires without immediately gratifying them. Be with wanting. Ride it into a new place inside yourself. If you let an itch itch, it might just scratch itself away.

Gratify Everything

Alternately, on another day let yourself have everything you want when you want it. Stay home. Eat till your mind and stomach is content. Do only what you want to do. Notice your energy levels. There is no quicker way to learn which desires are distractions and which are the true desires of your being.

Magnifying Glass

And speaking of true desires, snoop around your inner landscape and shine a light on what desires are simply masks for other needs, and what desires bring you into a state of grace. I believe following your authentic desires leads you to authentic joy, which leads to a better world for you and the people around you.

And  as always,
Love Yourself no matter what.

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