Using desire as an awareness tool for action.
It’s eight in the morning, and suddenly the desire for a beer pops into my consciousness. Wait, what? An image has just flashed in my awareness – a glass mug filled with an amber fluid. The mug is tilted slightly and dripping with condensation. As I start walking toward the kitchen, I wonder, “Why do I have such an intense desire for a beer right now? What am I wanting?” Then I get it: I have been standing here at my desk for four hours, chanting Sanskrit and decoding layers of meaning, and now I need water, carbs, and a feeling of celebration. A beer is all of that – or rather, a beer is a symbol of all of that.
Desires are designed to propel us into action. This particular desire managed to motivate me to go drink some water, eat a bowl of quinoa, and take a moment to rejoice in a good half-day’s work. In the midst of eating and drinking, I was entertained enough to notice that the image my brain used to get my attention looked just like an app on a phone – it was a cartoon-like, almost neon, the international bro-symbol for party time. When I “touched” the icon with my awareness, it opened and showed me what I needed in the moment.
You can do this with any desire. Any desire is an app—you touch it with your awareness and as it opens, notice what it is made of. You may find its elements are quite different from the little symbol used to get your attention. In Sutra 73 of The Radiance Sutras, Shiva sings to Shakti:
Just as a desire leaps up,
And you perceive the flash,
Quit from its play.
In that clear and shining place
From which all desire springs.
jhagit i?cca?m? samutpanna?m avalokya s?amam? nayet |
yata eva samudbhu?ta? tatas tatraiva li?yate
jhagit ichchhaam sam-ut-pannaam ava-lokya shamam nayet
yata eva sam-ud-bhoota tatah tatra eva leeyate
jhagit – a sparkle, flash
ichcham – desire, wish, hankering, longing, craving, urge, will
samutpatati – rise, ascend, spring up
avalok – to look upon or at, view, behold, see, notice, observe
shamam – equanimity, tranquility, to end
naya – prudent conduct, good management, wisdom
yata eva – verily, wherever
samudbhuta – sprung up, arisen, born, produced
tatas – from that place, thence, thereupon, after that, afterwards
tatra – in that place, there, in that case, under those circumstances
liyate – become dissolved, melt or vanish away, absorbed
In this practice, we allow ourselves to be entertained by a desire, and welcome its sparkling energy, without necessarily going into action with it. We allow the desire to play out in our inner world and study what the craving is composed of, and then we have choices. We can absorb the energy, the pranashakti of the desire, and put an end to it. We can redirect the desire from the package it came in, toward something more practical. We can accept the desire as it is and dedicate ourselves to good management. It takes a lot of good management and wisdom to manifest any desire.
With any desire, the basic internal moves are:
Welcome the craving, give it space in your inner world and in your body to express itself.
Look at it, see the imagery it is using, feel it, and notice the sensations in the body. Listen to whatever sounds are part of the desire, use all your senses.
Inquire into what the desire is really about, what gift the desire is giving you.
Use your management skills to absorb the energy of the desire and be in equanimity with it.
For example, say you are at work and your boss is being somewhat abusive and bullying. A desire flashes in your awareness to slap her face or walk out – just walk out the door, shouting, “I don’t have to take your #*@!” In this moment, the desire is giving you the gift of power, reminding your that you have choices, you don’t have to take this. Immediately some of the stress of the situation is lifted, because you are not trapped. And if your boss has a wit in her head, she will immediately recognize that look in your eyes and realize, “Uh-oh, I crossed a line.”
Desires can come from any part of your body, any chakra, any instinct. If you are at a party or on the street and you see an attractive person, you can savor the sparkle of desire, taste it like something delicious for a moment, and then let it dissolve into peaceful vitality. If you are in a restaurant and see an amazing-looking desert, but you don’t want all that sugar, you can imagine eating it, feel the flash of delight, and then feel lit up inside just at the thought of something so delicious.
Sometimes we have less than a second to notice a desire and explore what we are really craving. That’s part of what makes this area of practice so entertaining. Brains work rapidly, and we have to be on our game to catch what’s going on. As you are reading this article, you are probably recognizing several words every second. Third-grade students read about 150 words a minute, that’s 2.5 words a second; college students average about 450 words a minute, that is over 7 words per second. When we are involved in friendly conversation, the rate is often about 110 to 150 words per minute, or 1.8 to 2.5 words per second, and that can feel slow.
One of the purposes of our asana, pranayama, and meditation practices is to keep us tuned and intimate with the life force, so we can be at play with the gift of desire and find our way to be at peace in the midst of the passion.