Should desire be indulged or denied?


Most people think of spirituality as being against desire. If pursued, desire would lead only to more desire. Trying to quench desire by satisfying it would be like trying put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it.

But if these older traditions are examined more closely, they are not as against desire as they seem. 

The Bhagavad Gita counsels against lust, greed, and anger, not against sex, possessions, and aggression. It warns against eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little. Similarly, the Buddha recommends following the middle way. Aristotle and Confucius, to take two widely differing examples, recommended similar ideas.

Throughout eastern culture, it is not simple denial of desire that is counseled, but balance. Harsh repression of desire is just as bad as simple indulgence. In either case, you deviate from what helps ensure a quiet mind.

How to find that balance? Here is where my advice differs from most. I believe that our desires have in them a natural balance. We usually don't know this balance because we don't take the time to express our feelings. Expressing exactly what our feelings are like in words or in other symbols helps us see what they are really pointing at. Often, the needs they really express are not the ones that they seem to target on the surface. If we target the wrong needs, then of course we fail to soothe our feelings, and get more and more frustrated.

To understand what needs our feelings really target, we have to experiment: envision possible new scenarios or test certain actions, then express how we feel again.

To delve into our feelings, express them, test them against possible actions, and attempt to find a way that they can all co-exist harmoniously is the true path to the moderate expression of desire, and to the acquisition of mental and emotional balance.