On Mastering Our Desires

Neem Karoli BabaOne of the most difficult lessons we can learn is how to manage our desires and understand where they come from. If we understand their source and reason for being, we can more easily look at them objectively and not give power to them to control us.

Many people get confused by for example Buddhist teachings that sometimes make it sound as though we should eliminate all desires or eliminate the ego.

Our desires and especially our ego are both inherent parts of our human lives.

The ego allows us to establish an identity in this world, as without some sense of self, we wouldn’t be able to function well here. What would we be without a sense of self? The ego serves as a tool to allow us to pursue a life path and be a part of the community. It is even a tool with which we can understand ourselves more deeply.

The key is in understanding it as a tool and recognizing its limitations, seeing that the ego in itself does not necessarily define us, and understanding how we can put it to good use.

Our desires are like windows into our own minds. They show us where we might feel like we are lacking in our lives, and if we look at them closely, we can learn more about what we value and try to understand why we are valuing it or what type of emotional programming is creating a craving for one thing or another.

Too much focus on our desires however leads to a mind without clarity and a heart that is not at peace, as all we can focus on in that case is trying to gratify them. Once the are gratified, the rush is over, and we may then return to state or feeling of lack as we are basing our feelings of happiness on whether some condition is met.

When we learn to really feel the difference between being at peace and our minds spent thinking about our desires, we may more quickly see that this focus on desire feels empty in comparison and won’t fulfill us in the long run. Because instead of letting things be and work out as they are intended, we are too attached to controlling the experience or using it to match our programmed addictions to feelings of pleasure and perceived happiness.

Now and then I still fall into focusing on desire. I still fall into emotional programming and habits. But the difference now is that I know where that pattern will take me mentally and how it will manifest in my life, and I know it won’t be to nearly as satisfying of a place in the long run if I just learn to let go and let things be as they will — without continually chasing cravings.

As with all things in life, it’s about a balance and keeping perspective. Using lessons we have learned from past experiences is helpful, as long as we can still keep an open mind to the present experience.

This all falls under the umbrella of mental discipline, which I believe is the greatest tool we can continually develop over the course of our lives. One of the most dedicated people I’ve seen in terms of developing mental discipline is Bruce Lee.

The following excerpt is writing that was found in his pocketbook that he continually carried around (found on https://www.brainpickings.org):

WILL POWER: —

Recognizing that the power of will is the supreme court over all other departments of my mind, I will exercise it daily, when I need the urge to action for any purpose; and I will form HABIT designed to bring the power of my will into action at least once daily.

EMOTION: —

Realizing that my emotions are both POSITIVE and negative I will form daily HABITS which will encourage the development of the POSITIVE EMOTIONS, and aid me in converting the negative emotions into some form of useful action.

REASON: —

Recognizing that both my positive & negative emotions may be dangerous if they are not controlled and guided to desirable ends, I will submit all my desires, aims and purposes to my faculties of reason, and I will be guided by it in giving expression to these.

IMAGINATION: —

Recognizing the need for sound PLANS and IDEAS for the attainment of my desires, I will develop my imagination by calling upon it daily for help in the formation of my plans.

MEMORY: —

Recognizing the value of an alert memory, I will encourage mine to become alert by taking care to impress it clearly with all thoughts I wish to recall, and by associating those thoughts with related subjects which I may call to mind frequently.

SUBCONSCIOUS MIND: —

Recognizing the influence of my subconscious mind over my power of will, I shall take care to submit to it a clear and definite picture of my CLEAR PURPOSE in life and all minor purposes leading to my major purpose, and I shall keep this picture CONSTANTLY BEFORE my subconscious mind by REPEATING IT DAILY.

CONSCIENCE: —

Recognizing that my emotions often err in their over-enthusiasm, and my faculty of reason often is without the warmth of feeling that is necessary to enable me to combine justice with mercy in my judgments, I will encourage my conscience to guide me as to what is right & what is wrong, but I will never set aside the verdicts it renders, no matter what may be the cost of carrying them out.
The most beneficial perspective shift that I have had lately is in seeing all negative thoughts and circumstances as a way to train my mind for the better. I have always known it intellectually, but for some reason I never truly applied that perspective until recently. I think it took a certain amount of mental suffering throughout my life and overcoming of that suffering (by primarily relying only on myself to relieve it) for me to really see how much it had rounded me out as a person, and how it had made my spirit only more resilient.

We have so much power within is, we just have to believe.

Past this, I would strive to have more of Bruce Lee’s mental discipline — a daily intention and method to convert negative emotions into a form of useful action. In repeatedly doing this, over time negativity will hold significantly less weight and we may even learn to welcome it as difficult as it may be to deal with.

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