Yesterday during the retreat here I spoke about the possibility of living without desire. It seemed to be an appropriate topic for a time when we typically make resolutions for the upcoming year.
Let me explain.
We’ve been groomed from early on in life to believe that we need to make things happen. That we need to take control of ourselves and our lives in order to be successful and happy. Ironically, those of us who have been on what we thought was an inner journey regularly fall into this trap because of the nature of the world of self-help and spirituality. It’s often implied that life is about improving ourselves and that we need to know where we’re going in order to achieve anything.
“You will recognize that you have returned to your natural state
by a complete absence of desire and fear.”
Sri Maharaj Nisargadatta
On a personal retreat recently I read the book I Am That, a collection of talks by the Indian sage Nisargadatta. It was perfect for this time in my journey. He emphasizes the absence of desire and fear in many of his teachings. While the absence of fear probably makes sense to most of us, the possibility of the absence of desire may take some reflection.
When we look at our desires carefully we may realize that they are distorted by conditioning, perceptions and fear. In our society we’re conditioned to believe that certain elements are necessary in our lives in order to be happy: a partner, an education, material things, well-behaved children and perfect health are only the beginning of an endless list. Also, when we perceive other people as happy we often try to emulate their lives even though this may not be authentic for us. Finally, our desires often come from fear itself. We want to be thin because we fear that if we don’t lose the weight people won’t love us; we want to get healthy because we fear aging and death; we want money because we’re afraid of what others might think of us if we don’t measure up; we want to be productive because we fear feeling inadequate.
The Self doesn’t need fear or desire to motivate it. Its’ primary motivation, if we can call it that, is to express itself. We are here to realize who we really are and to live it. When we give ourselves to the practice of turning our energies within to touch into the stillness of the Self we find that something other than our personal will begins to move through us, enriching all that we do in unexpected ways.
“Do not be afraid of freedom from desire and fear.
It enables you to live a life so different from all you know,
so much more intense and interesting that, truly, by losing all you gain all.”
Sri Maharaj Nisargadatta
What does a life without desire look like? While desires keep us in the limited world of what we already know, a life without desire opens the door to the mystery of the unknown which holds more than we can possibly imagine. When we give up desires we are saying that we trust the benevolent nature of life, and the intelligence of All That Is. It’s a surrender that is exhilarating and enlivening, and yes, a little (or, at times, a lot) scary. We get out of bed not because we have to but because we notice that the body is getting up. We eat what we feel drawn to. The words come to us in the moment as they need to. We find ourselves doing housework without being aware of the decision to do it. Bigger projects appear in our minds and unfold, seemingly effortlessly.
Nisargadatta puts it beautifully: “Another thing I noticed was that I do not need to make an effort; the deed follows the thought, without delay and friction. I have also found that thoughts become self-fulfilling; things would fall in place smoothly and rightly. The main change was in the mind; it became motionless and silent, responding quickly, but not perpetuating the response. Spontaneity became a way of life, the real became natural and the natural became real. And above all, infinite affection, love, dark and quiet, radiating in all directions, embracing all, making all interesting and beautiful, significant and auspicious.”
We have a choice: we can spend precious energy trying to create a so-called ideal self and life, or we can turn our energies inwards towards the Self that quietly waits in the depth of our hearts to show us the way to the blessed life that we’re meant to live.