Can we talk about desires? It’s a subject that can generate quite a bit of confusion, especially for people on a spiritual path. What is like making peace with desires?
I just finished reading a book written by a best-selling author whose writing style I love and whose perspective I often find reassuring. Her deeply held conviction about personal desires is that they should be surrendered to the Divine so they can be softened into preferences, with a release of all attachment to their outcomes.
My deeply held conviction is somewhat different, even though I appreciate the great wisdom in her teachings, which are founded in ancient sacred texts of yogic philosophy.
I’ve come to understand that all spiritual texts reflect the particular stages of cultural, emotional and spiritual evolution of the times in which they are written. Their points of emphasis reflect what is needed at that time and in those contexts, which may not be fully relevant in ours.
True spiritual wisdom is alive and accessible in every moment, by every person. And while ancient texts may be immensely helpful as catalysts for remembering deeper truths, they can also be misleading, especially when you factor in errors of interpretation and translation over the centuries. Even perfectly chosen words such as “surrender” and “detachment from outcomes” can obscure the nuances of clarity and meaning that were intended.
I believe we serve ourselves best by learning to recognize, trust and honor our own inner knowing, perhaps stimulated by ancient texts but without giving our power away to them. Whether it’s the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita or your Aunt Fannie’s kitchen-table wisdom, you have the freedom, the right and the self-responsibility to discern and embrace only the aspects of those teachings which resonate deeply with you.
That’s true, of course, with what I offer as well.
In that spirit, I’d like to share with you my perspective on desire in the hope that it will enhance your own clarity and allow you to feel at ease with your desires. Take what feels right and let everything else go.
Desires + Detachment
So, let’s get back to the idea of detaching from outcomes and surrendering all desires to the Divine so they can be softened into preferences. As I was reflecting on this in my journal, I wrote that I agree that attachment to desires (and desired outcomes) isn’t helpful – but not because our personal desires are inherently inappropriate or selfish, which is often how the nonattachment principle is interpreted.
To attach means to join separate things, and that is the crux of the problem with attachment. When we feel ourselves to be separate from our desires, it’s the same as feeling ourselves to be separate from Source (the Creator, the Divine, the Universe, God – whatever name feels right to you). And it is the belief in separation from the Source of life that causes all pain.
In the remembering of who we are as extensions or expressions of Source – whose eternal impulse to create is the very essence of desire – we merge with our desires, recognizing them as our own impulse to create and express more and more of who we are. It is in saying YES! to our desires, becoming one with them and honoring them for the Divine inspirations they are, that we become a conduit for their realization.
What we need to let go of – to fully detach from or deactivate – are our judgments, fears and doubts.
I believe desire sometimes get a bad rap in spiritual circles because many people, in believing they are separate from Source and feeling an inner void because of that belief, think they can fill the void with material things. As they come to realize that the desire and pursuit of material gain is often a hollow one, personal desires can be viewed as immature or misguided.
But what’s easy to overlook is that the purpose of things we desire from a place of feeling separate from Source is different than the purpose of things we desire from a place of alignment with Source, even if those things appear to be the same on the surface. The problem isn’t with the desire, it’s with the false belief in separation from Source.