We all want things form life. Love, a great career, adventure, good friends… Our deepest, general wishes take the shape of specific desires and expectations that we carry around with us daily. When our desires are not fulfilled, we can feel resistance and frustration. We could start thinking life is incomplete, that we are incomplete or incompetent, and that we will never be happy. After all, there’s so much to want, and so little time and means to get it all!
I want all kinds of stuff. I want a compelling job, lots of love, and time to do anything that tickles my fancy. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the things I want, and the fear that I’ll never be able to do it all. When I really let myself be drawn into this feeling, I become stressed, impatient and even unhappy. I’ve had times I raged through life like a race car, going from one thing to another. I hardly took the time to eat properly; when I came home from work I rushed onto the sports club, to see friends or some other project that I was busy with.
There’s nothing wrong with being busy, unless you’re doing it to get something out of it.
Life became a haze and I couldn’t get no satisfaction. I looked for ways to get more into my day. You know where this story is going… I never found release in more activity. It just got worse. I remember telling my then girlfriend about this. She looked helpless and said: ‘But I don’t know anyone that’s as busy with things as you?’ By wanting so much I made myself unhappy, and I even soured up our relationship with it. In doing one thing, I had to neglect another and as such, nothing worked as it should.
I realised there had to be another way. When I look at the goal behind my activities, I can bring them back to a few fundamental wishes. Health. Love. Interesting, diverse activities and feeling like I’m getting better at things. And some recognition for my efforts. That’s about it!
Off to the convent!
At first I though I just had to let go of my wishes. That I would be saved when I gave up on my desires, a bit like a priest denounces the worldly for the spiritual. No career, love or time- and money-consuming hobbies. When my desires would be gone, I would be free.
Needless to say I never made it there, nor has anyone else that I can think of. When I felt my desires being put behind a wall, life lost its lustre. All the things I desire are what makes life worthwhile for me! I realised I was alternately doing on of two things: either letting myself be governed by my desires and becoming their overworked slave, or taking distance from them and losing my lust for life.
Anthony Robbins calls this kind of perpetual cycle a Crazy Eight. You go from one extreme to another, constantly reacting to the negatives of the other extreme. I was trapped in an eternal pendulum, going from giving into my desires and taking distance from them again. At some point I thought: there must be another way!
The third way
As is to be expected from a synthesis between to seeming opposites, the third way comprises a bit of both previous approaches. Going for the fulfillment of your wishes, and at the same time letting go of the struggle to have your desires fulfilled. In short: stopping the search, and finding.
Let’s make that concrete shall we. For example: how can you find love without looking for a partner? A question I have extended experience with. On the one hand you want to be together with the right kind of person, but in the meantime loneliness eats its way through your peace of mind and you just want someone that you feel cherished by – if not just for a moment. These two movements create another Crazy Eight: it could go from a forced independence to head-over-heels dependence. What’s the third way? How can you still your hunger without eating?
Let go. Your desires are not who you are. Hunger passes. It can feel like you’ll die when your desires aren’t fulfilled, but you know you can survive without. That’s the beginning of letting go: accepting your desires are there, not pushing them away. You become aware of them, and in becoming aware you realise there is more than that desire. With that insight comes peace, and you can focus again on creating the conditions under which getting what you want gives you true fulfillment.
The difference between desire and pleasure
There is a difference between desire and the actual pleasure you get from a certain situation. Desires are a kind of mental/emotional construction, a projection of what we think we’ll get from a certain situation. Needless to say they hardly ever correspond to reality. That doesn’t make desire bad, but it does make them unfit as the only criterium to base our decisions upon. The best criterium is the actual pleasure you get from a situation, the reality of your fulfillment.
Like one of those nights you initially didn’t feel like going out but that turned into the wildest party ever! Or New Year’s Eve, the typical example of a night so overloaded with expectation that is doomed to be unsatisfying.
Desire is there, and it is important. It’s an indication of what inspires and motivates you. It drives you on. Then comes the true fulfillment. You can desire a promotion at work intensely and get, only to realise that it involves more work and stress without offering a satisfactory pay rise. Or you finally find someone and then notice that it’s not all that, and that you have to compromise to a situation that only suboptimally fulfills you.
The balance between desire and pleasure
Making the fulfillment of your desires the main goal of your life, means that you will never be satisfied. Put your desires back where they belong: in front of the cart. When you are taken over by your desires they are in the cart, and you’re pulling. Desires have no rest, no end destination. Once one thing is reached they move onto the next. That’s why you need to become the driver of your life.
That implies having a satisfied sense of self, being satisfied now. As your desires will never fulfill you for more than a few seconds, they are only signposts along our way.
Like in a game: don’t focus on the end result, as you don’t directly control that. What you do control is every separate step you take. The desire to win may be in the back of your mind, driving you on. But it’s focus and fulfillment in the moment that wins every point. Life may not be a game, it is a path full of challenges. When you can let go of the fear of not having your desires met, most obstacles disappear by themselves.