Succumbing To the Egoic Needs
“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.”—Aristotle
The most significant thing we can do to control our desires is to let go of the attachment we have to them. The Buddha believed desire is the reason for pain and suffering in the world. This is embodied in the endless cycle of wanting and craving that keeps us trapped. Similarly, the British philosophical writer James Allen once wrote: “Desire is as insatiable as the ocean, and clamours louder and louder as its demands are attended to.” He touched on something relevant: the more we feed our desires the more they grow in intensity. Consider this in your own life. Do you have a desire to be in a relationship, lose weight, get promoted at work or qualify for a certain position? These are reasonable desires and if not met, we become disappointed, angry and even depressed.
But how is it possible to be free of desires in the modern world? Everywhere we turn we are flooded with marketing and advertising selling us a way of life that is out of reach for many. It is thrust into our faces without our consent. We are like infants waiting for our next feed, sobbing until we get what we need. And yet, we are certain if we get what we want, we will be fulfilled. Though, it is not always the way. Can you identify with this? Have you often thought being in a relationship will make you happy, yet it turned out to be contrary to your expectation? I’m not suggesting relationships are not fulfilling, however if we don’t understand our true desires, we are unlikely to be happy when we receive what we want. I enjoy the tale told by the Buddha where a man asked him: “I want happiness.” The Buddha replies: “First remove “I,” that’s Ego, then remove “want,” that’s Desire. See now, you are left with only “Happiness.” He was identifying how the ego strives for more and we fall into its trap because we succumb to its needs.
So how can we overcome the trappings of desire whilst holding on to our humanity? The key is not to resist temptation but acknowledge it as part of our human nature. It is well known what we resist, persists. Whereas acceptance leads to personal power because we understand the motives underlying our desires. Acceptance helps us understand the natural process of desire, so we can work with it. Wanting and craving is not the source of our problem, it is not receiving what we expect that causes pain and suffering. Does this idea make sense to you: where not getting what you want may sometimes be a blessing? The answer lies in self-enquiry so we recognise what is at the heart of our desires. For example, are we trying to hide behind our childhood wounds? Or are we running away from our core emotions that require healing and integration?
Turn Towards Your Thoughts and Feelings and Be With Them
“Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.”—James Allen
We must understand our urges so we are not dictated by them. This requires noticing and accepting our thoughts and feelings since this is the gateway to inner knowing and self-awareness. Knowing comes from self-observation without judgement. Sometimes it may mean we are angry, sad, depressed or even overwhelmed with grief or anxiety. Most people run away from these emotions via activities that dull or anaesthetise their emotions. Can you see how running away from your emotions intensifies them so they come barrelling down a cliff later on? We must stop and turn towards our thoughts and feelings and be with them compassionately. We mustn’t stow them away, but observe them as we would a child throwing a tantrum. Once the outburst is over, we can hold the child in our arms and comfort them knowing they are in need of love. And so it is with ourselves.
Any time we experience negative emotions, our core-self is inviting us to practice self-compassion and self-love. We ought to be more mindful and less judgemental of ourselves when we experience such emotions. When the experience has passed, we can look objectively at our thoughts and feelings with openness and empathy. It is through this lens of self-enquiry that we come to understand them better and respond appropriately. Considering this, reflect on your desires and note three on paper or your phone etc., whether they are associated with a relationship, career, finances, health or otherwise. Beneath, write what you hope to achieve by having your desires met? Will you be more happy, fulfilled or content? Keep asking WHY do I want these things? If an answer doesn’t appear at the time of writing, allow yourself some space and keep coming back to it over the coming days and weeks. Undoubtedly, once we accept our desires, we begin the exploration into ourselves which is the foundation of our personal power and self-mastery.