The desire for spiritual fulfilment

Another Natural and necessary desire I have is to become more spiritually fulfilled. I find myself seeking something more from life that perhaps spirituality can provide. For years I’ve done yoga as the physical embodiment of this spiritual quest, however I’m yet to properly join together or yoke the spiritual side with the physical side, and perhaps this exploration will yield more clues as to how to fulfill this desire. I’ve recently started following Phillip Moffitt on Twitter, and the links to his teachings on his dharma wisdom website are phenomenal. Here is one from I particularly liked on Balancing Priorities where he posits:

If you hope to find lasting happiness, you must answer the question, what is your true priority—your inner life or your outer life?

So, I hope to find the answer to this as I continue this exploration. There’s a lot of ground to cover: from the philosophical: Schopenhauer and Hegel, to the spiritual dimension – Buddhism and psychology, I will be vigilant and keep exploring until I reach a satisfactory conclusion. Just where it ends, I do not know. And perhaps to make it more interesting for me as I tend to be easily distracted, I will add novelty- make it a challenge, something that doesn’t put me into the sure to fail New Year’s Resolutionist zone but something that adds meaning. I love added meaning and I love a challenge, so I will be sure to check out Eric Barker’s Barking Up the Wrong tree blog for some of the best how to be awesome at life advice I have ever seen, and in particular study up on his entry on New Years Resolutions.

I will also be exploring Charles Duhigg‘s new book The Power of Habit, and keep referring back to this excellent flowchart, reminding me what I already knew and had read last year in Shane Parrish’s Farnam Street blog entry 66 Personal Development habits for Smart people. I say it again – there’s a lot of ground to cover, and I think it’s time for a glittering prize: a nap!

The desire to be loved

So if I am honest, I am strongly motivated by the desire to be liked, and let’s face it – the desire to be loved. Who isn’t? But sometimes I feel like this desire to be loved is detrimental to my sense of inner peace. It’s not helpful to spend time and energy helping people if it’s going to increase my suffering. So it is with all of this in mind, that I commence this quest to see whether I can master the sometimes disruptive, sometimes corrosive influence in my life – or at least contain it to a more manageable form where I feel more at ease with myself and at peace in this world – or as the Stamford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says about Schopenhauer here:

emphasizing that in the face of a world filled with endless strife, we ought to minimize our natural desires for the sake of achieving a more tranquil frame of mind and a disposition towards universal beneficence.

Universal beneficence – seems like an ambitious and worthwhile goal. An interview with the Dalai Lama comes to mind here, where he suggested that if everyone was working on their true purpose there would be no war, because there would be contentment, perhaps the universal beneficence that Schopenhauer is suggesting. But don’t get me wrong – I love my life and almost everything in it, but I also feel like there is something missing, like I can do better and develop further as an individual snowflake, with more meaning and purpose to my existence.

Desire is an important element in the human experience, it is not all bad per say, as Epicurus suggested some is necessary and natural – some desire leads me to help others, be kind and good, to fit into societal expectations and go with the flow disturbing as little as possible as I journey. One could say these are all useful ways to relate to others and a good measure of success for life. However, some desires are neither not necessary, some desires, if I am honest, such as my strong or overt relational / sexual desires, demand my attention and distract me from other meaningful endeavours –namely the desire to be happy and find meaning in my life, yet I am not alone in this. Lama Surya Das explains in Awakening the Buddhist Heart:

..many are the errors in judgement committed in the name of love. Who would argue that many of our sufferings are due to romantic attachments? …

Our need for romance, passion, and love often get corrupted by greed, jealousy, fear and the shadows of our personal histories. If we are not conscious and awake, an unrealistic search for romantic love can rule our lives- often at the cost of our happiness and fulfilment.

So when I really think about it, I can choose not to follow every desire to be loved or fulfilled by someone else namely, a sexual partner. And I can choose to stop, look and listen to what is really going on around me and within me and seek fulfilment in myself. Perhaps this journey will help me do this better– we will see.

Desire

I have a confession to make: I am almost completely (and unashamedly) driven by desire. The desire to fill my life spending time accumulating more knowledge and experiencing more beauty – which broadly covers fulfilling the desire to be happy, to be free, to be desired, to be loved and ultimately, one day to become spiritually enlightened. Fairly normal human experience stuff, but I am curious about it and how much it drives me.

Much has been written on desire and I hope to unlock some of the lessons and see how I can apply them, so I can learn and grow. In the Consolations of Philosophy Alain de Botton quotes Epicurus in the Consolation for Not Having Enough money:

To highlight what is essential for happiness and what may, if one is denied prosperity through social injustice or economic turmoil, be forgone without great regrets, Epicurus divided our needs into three categories:

Of the desires, some are natural and necessary. Others are natural but unnecessary. And there are desires that are neither natural nor necessary.

Viewed under the Epicurus lens, I have desires in all of these categories and perhaps it is a good way to start this investigation. Natural and necessary according to me, is the desire for accumulating more knowledge. My thirst for knowledge is seemingly boundless. I value learning so highly I sacrifice a multitude of things in order to satisfy the desire to learn, adapt, grow, change and ultimately be a better person today than I was yesterday. I hope that through this investigation – in reading, researching, reflecting and talking it over with a friend I will really come to understand my desires and the role they play in my life.

Several years ago, after months of significant challenges, both personally and professionally, I turned to a couple of Mark Epstein M.D books for guidance: Going to pieces without falling apart, and Thoughts without a thinker. After a bike accident my life was in turmoil, I took on too many projects, and I lost my self. I could feel my heart and mind closing in to protect me, yet I sensed it would be more useful to stay open to experiences lest life pass me by while I wallowed in self pity. Epstein put it eloquently when he explained the importance of staying open:

The next important quality of bare attention -openness- grows out of this ability to take whatever is given. Requiring the meditator to scan with a wide lens, not a narrow one, this openness establishes a receptive intrapsychic environment for exploration of the personal and private.

And so bare attention -mindfulness – and openness are all key features of this exploration. No matter where it takes me, it requires me to be open. Open to the idea that I could be wrong about which desires are necessary and the prominence I give them. We shall see.