desire

The only real cure to constant procrastination (and it’s not “just do it!”)

What does procrastination have to do with spirituality? A lot: it shows the deep problems in your psyche that happen when we are not being honest about what we want.

Enotional honesty with ourselves is necessary for a quiet mind, and a quiet mind is essential to the spiritual search.

In aligning your desires, beware the shiny and seemingly attractive

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One of the key steps for seekers is to obtain a quiet mind, and, unlike the traditional method of renouncing all desire, I advocate that people be honest about what they want and pursue it. Of course, this is easier said than done. You might be reluctant to recognize what you actually want because your family or society would disapprove, because you’re afraid of rejection or failure or success, or for any number of other reasons. This is why finding out what you actually desire is an iterative process: you imagine or try something, express how you feel, and if it doesn’t feel quite right, adjust the idea. And you do this again and again. And good psychoanalytic therapy can be very useful for this too.

This whole process of refining and understanding what you want, which I call the “science of desire,” is completely different from just asking yourself what you want and accepting whatever answer comes to mind. This is the problem with questions that appear in self-help books like “What would you do if you had unlimited money?” Often the answers that come to mind when we ask ourselves such questions are totally wrong.

This is because we can be very easily deceived by what we think we want. Often shiny ideas like money or prestige sound good. “Of course I want that!” we seem to say to ourselves. “A beautiful, office, lots of money, tons of respect as an investment banker, a job where I’d be working on high-profile corporate deals that will change the world? Sign me up!”

This is all very superficial. The actual work and settings and people involved in that kind of job, for example, may be extremely different than that shiny TV-ad-idea you have of it. This is why actual experience of the job, talking to people, getting real data, is so important. The guts, the flesh of the thing, has to be understood as well as possible, and that has to be evaluated as to its emotional resonance, not the top-line surface of it.

So next time you’re evaluating something, beware of shiny summary. Look beneath the hood to what the option actually involves in all its muscle and blood, try that, experience that, and then see how you feel, and re-evaluate if necessary.

Desire is a game of 20 questions

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The game of 20 questions, where you get that many yes-or-no questions to guess .the particular thing another person is thinking, used to be a great way (ok, a decent way) to pass the time on car trips in the era before smart phones.

The series of questions, if cleverly asked, acted as an efficient path by which the answerer could tell you if you were getting hotter or getting colder, closer to or farther away from the answer. But every answer opened the space for more questions. If you figured out that it was an animal, then you could then ask whether it was a mammal. Otherwise you knew the entire idea of animal was simply getting "colder" and you'd move on to something else.

Desire is the same way. We don't know our real desires in full. We discover them progressively over time. Our imagination and our actions are questions. "Do I want this kind of thing?" we seem to be asking someone invisible. Then our emotions and our experiences are the reply. If we notice and express what it is like to have those emotions and experiences, we can grasp whether we are getting warmer or colder. If we are warm, we refine our hypothesis, staying within the same category. If colder, we try something else. On and on goes the game of learning what it is we want.

For in this game, there are not just 20 questions but an unlimited number... and multiple seemingly paradoxical answers may be given. The other player sometimes seems to cheat. Which is in fact, we may find, the most important answer of all...

You can't just get from here to there. Unless you can.

In psychoanalysis, a client resists getting better. If they weren't somehow getting something out of their current way of being, they wouldn't keep it. That way of being provides some utility or protection. So it fights for its survival by resisting change. And so therapists must point out, at the surface level, that resistance, even as they also attempt to delve deeper. These surface resistances often manifest in the client's interactions with the therapist over what seem to be other issues. And as one layer of resistance is pointed out and softened, another, deeper one, often arises -- until the point when the client is ready to deal with the deeper issues.

It's like an archaeological dig. You can't go directly to the deepest layer. You must start with the top and strip one layer away after another.

So it is with the spiritual search.

What prevents us from progressing in the spiritual search, and often in life, is that we are aligned with our own desire. The ultimate misalignment is our belief that we can get what we want from somewhere out there rather than from our own being. 

Yet our current mode of desiring resists deep change. So we must address it at the surface levels, where it interacts with daily life. We have to be honest about what we want in every sphere of our life. We must peel away our illusions about our own desires, even if that reveals we want things that "we" (i.e. our nagging should and should-not thoughts) disapprove of.

How do we do that? There are many ways (therapy can help!). This is one:

  1. Find some dissatisfaction with a particular area of your life (it could be something very small, like what you drink for breakfast in the morning) .
  2. Try to write or speak about just what is so dissatisfying about it.
  3. Imagine some new scenarios that might address this dissatisfaction. As you imagine each one, write or speak out loud how you feel about them.
  4. Experiment with attempting, at least in small ways, a new possibility that seems promising.
  5. Write or speak about how you feel about it.
  6. If it feels more aligned with you, that's progress. If not, rinse and repeat.

So it's an iterative process of discovery. We cannot necessarily depend on spirituality to take us directly out of the game until we are ready for it. Rather, we must pursue the spiritual game in parallel with the alignment of ourselves with our deeper desires.

Being in greater alignment with our desires is like dealing with resistances in therapy. It is necessary before the deeper issues can be effectively dealt with. Without progressive alignment to desire, the mind is usually not quiet enough to grasp the Truth. It doesn't desire it enough.