Episode 6: Desire is a powerful force in our lives, and it's one that can too often lead us down a path that damages our health, our relationships, and and even career success. In this episode, we'll be exploring how cravings and desires are able to exert such control over us, and we'll learn how ancient wisdom can help us take back control once and for all.
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Freedom from desire is not the absence of desire. It's the absence of the compulsion to act.
Welcome to this perfect moment, a podcast dedicated to helping you use ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning. Right here, right now. I'm your host Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
These are the words of a wise Sage with uncommon insight into the human condition. His name was Nisargadatta Maharaj and he was addressing the catastrophic effect that unchecked desire can have in our lives together with the ham-handed and well- ineffective way, most of us try to deal with these desires.
Here's the thing, millions of us are literally slaves to our desires and most of us don't even realize it. Now, I'm not just talking about the obvious cases, people struggling with addiction or alcoholism or eating disorders. I'm talking about the power that every day desires have to steer our lives away from our highest good. They have us buying what we don't need. They cause us to put off work that needs to get done. They drive us to do things that damage our health and they can even cause us to neglect our most cherished relationships.
The fact is that desire left unmanaged is responsible for devastating families, ruining careers, and destroying the health for millions of people all around the world. It's literally an epidemic causing immeasurable misery.
So, if you ever found yourself doing something that you knew you shouldn't be doing, or if you ever made a purchase of something that you really knew you couldn't afford, or if you've ever had difficulty following through on a promise to a friend or a loved one, to a diet or an exercise regimen, or even following through with the intention to live with more patience and compassion, this episode is for you, because today we're going to explore how desire drives so many of us in unhealthy ways and in a surprising twist, learn how you can break free more easily than you ever thought possible.
Let's start with this: it's popular in some circles, spiritual circles in particular, to, well, vilify desire as something that needs to be eradicated from our lives. And to that, I say, good luck.
You see, desire is a natural and necessary part of human existence. And if we're honest, even the desire to rid ourselves of desire is itself a desire. So, there's just no getting out of it, it seems.
And that's almost true because while it may be impossible to fully rid ourselves from desire, we can tame it to a very large degree and we can come into a much more harmonious relationship with it as well. A relationship that allows us to reclaim our power and our control. But the first step is understanding what we're really up against.
So what exactly is this thing called desire? Why does it have so much power over us and how can we take back control? I thought you'd never ask.
The answers to these questions are what I call the three insights of freedom. Insights that can leave you with more ease and control in the face of cravings and urges of every kind. And we'll start with insight number one.
Insight number one answers the question, what is desire? Now we could say that a desire is a kind of urge or an impulse or even a craving. But just slapping another name on it does nothing really to help us understand it, at least in the way that we need to if we want to take back control. And a quick clarifying side note here, the terms urge and craving, impulse, desire. These are really just names for the same thing albeit of different intensity.
That is to say an impulse is mild desire, while an urge is slightly more intense and a craving? Well it has more power over us than them all.
This will all make a little bit more sense here in a bit, but for the moment, understand we can use these terms somewhat interchangeably.
So back to our question, what is desire? And it might be most helpful to add "What is desire free from what you have come to believe it is?" I mean experientially, and here's a clue.
How do you know when you have a desire or a craving or an urge? And I'll pause here for just a moment to let you consider this.
How do you know when you have a desire or a craving or an urge?
Do you see something that tells you you have a craving? Do you hear something? Do you think something? And of course, the answer to all of these is no, because we see, hear, and think lots of things that we don't crave or desire. So there needs to be something else, something extra going on that lets us know that we're in the midst of a desire. And here's what it is.
You know you desire something because you feel something that tells you. Desire or craving is a feeling. And without that feeling, you would say you have no desire.
Now, it's time for my standard disclaimer, which is I invite you not to believe a word of this, but to check it out in your own experience because the fact is your blind belief will get you absolutely nowhere. End of disclaimer.
So, here's how you can check it out right now. Say to yourself, I'm dying for a piece of chocolate cake. Now that's a thought and that thought is real and it's here right now. But if you don't feel the pull of a craving or some sort of wanting in the body, you would say that you have the thought, but you don't have a real desire for chocolate cake.
By the way, if you do have a feeling of craving for cake right now, first of all, my apologies and second try the experiment again with something else so you can feel this for yourself. So here we find ourselves with the answer to insight number one, what is desire? Quite simply, desire is a pattern of sensations felt in the body.
So we've determined that desire is no more than a simple pattern of sensations. And of course, this begs the question, how can such a simple phenomenon have such immense power over our lives? And this is where insight number two comes in: where desire gets its power. Here's the interesting thing.
When we look at the raw experience of desire, free from what we've come to believe about it, free from our typical reactions to it, we see something surprising, namely desire or urges or wanting or craving is not some indomitable monster with the irresistible power to control us ruining marriages, destroying our health and wrecking our lives.
It's no monster at all, but rather just a simple pattern of sensations felt in the body. The truth is the actual experience of even a rather intense desire is a relatively mild pattern of sensations. Maybe felt in the belly or chest or shoulders or throat. It's an uncomfortable pattern to be sure, but for most of us, these sensations of desire are actually less intense than many of the everyday aches and pains we live with. So, what gives? Why do so many of us end up controlled by this mousy little master? Well, for this we can all thank mother nature.
You see, mother nature has baked into our nervous systems from birth, a very strong aversion to uncomfortable feelings. In a manner of speaking our brains are programmed to do whatever it takes to get relief from internal discomfort. And this is no accident. Mother nature uses this programming to ensure our survival. I mean, think about it. Everything mother nature wants you to do to stay alive and perpetuate the species is driven by discomfort. The feeling of hunger is uncomfortable. You eat and the discomfort disappears. The feeling of thirst is uncomfortable. You drink and the feeling of discomfort disappears. The feeling of loneliness is uncomfortable and you find a mate and the feeling of discomfort disappears. And so it goes with fear and pain and on and on.
The fact is that mother nature needs this aversion to discomfort to ensure that we do what we need to do to perpetuate the species. It's natural and it's necessary. We can sum this all up in well, three words: Discomfort drives action.
So, when we look at things a little more closely, we can see that the answer to the question, where does desire get us power? Well, it's from us.
Desire has no power of its own. It's only a pattern of mildly uncomfortable feelings. Desire's power comes from our inborn aversion to internal discomfort. When the uncomfortable specter of desire shows its face, our nervous systems automatically react by trying to extinguish that uncomfortable feeling of desire. And we do this typically by giving it what it wants because after all we've learned-- give in to desire and feel better, at least in the short term.
Imagine that you've come to want a new car. Your current Toyota is getting a bit long in the tooth and the slick, environmentally friendly Tesla has, well, caught your eye.
So, at this point you may have a mild urge to start looking at Teslas.
So, you do what anyone would do. You jump online, you go to the Tesla site, you learn about the models, check out the prices and then use the online builder to construct your perfect Tesla. An S model, midnight silver metallic exterior, dark Ash over oyster leather interior, premium sound, sports wheel, autonomous driving, the whole nine. You finish making all of your selections. You look it over with the 3-D viewer and smile as you imagine yourself zipping down the freeway hands-free in silence.
By now your urge has grown, you feel it more in your belly and chest with a little bit more intensity, it's now teetering on maybe a full-blown desire. The next morning as you drive to work, you're growing desire is riding along with you and everywhere you look on the road you see, you guessed it, Teslas. You admire their sleek beauty, you compare the colors and trim and again, you imagine yourself passing all the stalled traffic as you speed by in the carpool lane. Oh yes. The rewards of being environmentally friendly.
So, after work you decide to swing by the Tesla shop just for a look. The Tesla shop is in the mall of all places and just a little bit past 5:30 you pull into the parking lot, walk into the entrance near the food court, stroll by Wetzel’s pretzels, take a right at the Armani Exchange, and four stores later, you find yourself standing toe to tire with a model S.
You walk around it, open and close a door or two before lowering yourself down into the plush leather interior. You take a deep breath, "smells so environmentally evolved" you think to yourself. Jumping out of the car, you talk to the salesman, get the full skinny on pricing and financing and warranty and you decide, sure, who needs retirement funds anyway, so you sign your life away.
The salesman smiles, he shakes your hand and tells you your Tesla will be delivered in a short six to eight weeks.
"Wait, what? Six to eight weeks?!" "
We'll call you when it's on its way" he beams with a canned smile and yet another stiff handshake.
You walk out of the Tesla shop, half floating, half crying because after all six weeks, and you wait, occasionally visiting the Tesla website and wait. Every once in a while, and driving out of your way in the Walmart parking lot to take a look at a shiny model S and wait. Your desire, no, now make that craving has grown. Tense in the belly, tight in the chest, shortness of breath.
Your yearning weighs on you day in and day out, and then the delivery day, it's this week, then it's only three days away. Then two. Then tomorrow. And you get up nice and early, make your coffee. You can't stop looking at your watch.
What time do they open? 10! "That's ridiculous!" You say.
You try to get some chores done around the house, but honestly, you're too preoccupied.
You decide to go down to the mall and you wait there for the delivery. Once in the mall you wander, pace more like it, until 10, then make your way to the Tesla store. You find the salesman, sign the final paperwork, and he hands you the keys or the fob and leads you outside. He walks you to your brand new shiny electric Steed. You're beside yourself with excitement. He opens the door, shakes your hand, you get in and close the door with a satisfying clunk.
You lean your head back on the leather headrest. Inhale, a lung full of the smell of new technology and a faint, but oh, so satisfying smile comes across your face.
And so, the question is, what just happened? Why do you now all of a sudden feel so great?
I mean, you relax back into a comfortable leather seat, but that can't be it. The seats in your Toyota are, well, they're just as comfy. You're sitting in a brand-new Tesla. Maybe that's it. No, you've done that plenty of times before and never felt this kind of bliss. Well, maybe it's because you're sitting in your new Tesla. Well, we're getting closer, but still that's not quite it.
Here's the thing. If you look at what happened, literally in the moment that you shut that door, that "ahhhhhhh," that sigh, that ease, all of that was caused because the uncomfortable nag of desire in that moment evaporated and you were left free and at ease.
Your nervous system got what it wanted: Freedom from internal discomfort. And without the discomfort, you're not driven to act, and you relax into the perfection of now.
Here's an unfortunate fact. Giving in to desire works. It gets us what we want--a feeling of relief and ease and well, happiness.
I say it's an unfortunate fact because our habit of giving in to desire is what has gotten us into this powerless mess we find ourselves. When your nervous system desperately craves relief from the discomfort of desire and the only strategy you have to get that relief is through fulfilling desires. Your entire brain and nervous system get programmed to give in to desire almost automatically. And this dooms us to a never-ending desperate struggle to fulfill desire after desire after desire and each and every time we become ever more powerless.
It's a process that turns us into dutiful servants of desire enslaved by its every whim.
Want a pint of Ben & Jerry's? "Yes, sir" we say. Feel like staying home instead of going to the gym? "No problem, sir" we say. Want to watch football instead of going to the park with the kids? "Absolutely, sir" we say.
With desire out of control in this way, our entire lives are in jeopardy and this is no exaggeration. Our health, our relationships, our career success and on and on. All of this can suffer because of out of control desire. And if you don't believe me, just look to Hollywood, where some of the most successful, appreciated, and wealthy people in the world are miserably out of control, all because their single strategy has been to use their fame, their power, and their money to serve their desires.
And this brings us to our final insight. Insight number three: how to take back control.
It's here we'll revisit Nisargadatta's words. "Freedom from desire is not the absence of desire, it's the absence of the compulsion to act."
Remember, desire is a natural and necessary phenomenon and even the desire to end all desires is itself a desire. So, the eradication of desire, well that's a nonstarter, but then we recall that desire is merely a relatively mild pattern of sensations. It's not an indomitable monster with overwhelming power. It controls us through our reactions and those reactions-the ones that have us habitually giving in to desire, are driven by programmed tendencies that live in our brains and nervous systems.
And here's the good news. These tendencies can be changed through something modern scientists call neuroplasticity or something that the ancient yoga masters called, well yoga. But to be clear, not the yoga that has us bending and breathing and bending ourselves on a little rubber mat, but the lesser known deeper practices of yoga that are rarely taught today.
So here's how you can get started breaking free the next time you feel the discomfort of a desire. Remember, by giving in, you're deepening your brain's programming to give in on autopilot and you're solidifying your role as a powerless slave to desire.
So instead, breathe and relax and do nothing. At first, I'll be honest, it's going to be a bit uncomfortable. You're going to have to wait out the desire and as you do, the desire is very likely going to get a little bit more intense as it protests your lack of compliance. But we do this in the knowledge that we are literally changing our brains. And this is true.
And the temporary discomfort, just like the temporary discomfort in the burn in your muscles in the gym, is just a sign that the change is actually working. When we do this again and again, we slowly but surely begin to change our relationship with the natural and necessary experience we call desire. And as we do, we enjoy more freedom, more ease, more often. To paraphrase the words of Nisargadatta, we become free from desire, not by its eradication, but by us reclaiming the power we've always had.
Well, that's all the time we have for today. As always, thanks for listening and keep your comments and questions coming by dropping me a note from my website at ericwal.com. Also, please help me spread the word about the life changing power these ancient teachings have for us all by sharing the podcast with those who are interested in living happier and healthier. And don't forget to hit subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes. Thanks again and remember, I'm here to serve you, so let me know how I can help. Wishing you all the best. I'll see you next week.