Issues of what to desire or aspire to are addressed more than once by the dying man, Morrie, in Tuesdays With Morrie. He says: “People haven’t found meaning in their lives, so they’re running all the time looking for it. They think the next car, the next house, the next job (will be the answer). Then they find those things are empty, too, and they keep running.”
In another passage he suggests, rightly, what can give people meaning and purpose: “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
It has often been said in spiritual circles that material possessions hinder us on the spiritual path. But, desires and material possessions do not hinder the spiritual life as long as one is not attached to them or controlled by them. In other words, as long as you are free to be yourself and are free to choose your responses to ever-changing situations, then desires and material possessions are not hindrances at all. Then they, too, can be enjoyed and appreciated.
Desire has two sides: (a) craving (wanting to possess); (b) aversion (wanting to dispossess or avoid).
These two sides of desire exemplify the working of a universal law, the Law of Attraction, along with its implication – repulsion. This law is reflected in physics in the saying, ‘for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.’
Buddhists consider these two aspects of desire “poisons”, and they add a third one, “delusion.” Delusion is the perception that something is what it is not. It is a bias of perception and cognition caused by an “afflicted” mind and emotion.
Both of these two aspects of desire are movements – toward something or away from something. Both cause pain because we give these drives or desires some of our power – the power to control us. Only through detachment are we free to move as we, in our essence, choose.
John Nash, in the movie, The Beautiful Mind, says something true of our personality life: “Our dreams and our nightmares – we have to keep feeding them for them to stay alive.” It is usually our desires that feed the dream and our aversions that feed the nightmares.
It is interesting to note that craving – and by implication also aversion – has a brain based association. One area of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens, is activated by craving. This centre is an area very rich in dopamine and appears to be involved in all forms of craving and addictions. Dopamine is associated with heightened feels of pleasure or well-being. The curious thing is that the brain circuitry associated with liking is different, and it has an inverse relationship to that associated with craving. The more we crave something, the less we like it. This is what makes us crave something even more so we can satisfy what we like. But it doesn’t work, and eventually we can end up in addiction.
Everyone has both negative and positive within, as does all manifest reality. Perceived negativity within ourselves is only ever a problem when it is an object of aversion – for then it controls. Virtually all conditions that are judged to be negative become objects of aversion. But so, too, the positive eventually becomes a problem when it remains the object of craving, for this type of attachment negates wholeness. When we crave the positive it is not because we have due recognition or appreciation of its presence within us, but that we feel we lack it, and therefore must get it or become it.
When we crave something it is always something outside of ourselves. It is curious how craving for something positive, such as acceptance, for example, always brings us an experience of the negative, such as rejection. We usually don’t see this, and say that it is because we experience rejection that we crave acceptance. We don’t see that the craving for something external does not bring us what we crave, because there is an inner reality that must be first embraced. In this example, we must accept ourselves before others will accept us. And in order to accept ourselves we have to embrace both the positive and negative within ourselves. And when we don’t accept the negative within us, others will bring it to our attention or possibly reject us because of its presence. Once we see it and accept it, it is no longer an issue in relationships.
According to spiritual principles and laws of life, satisfaction and fulfillment come from giving ourselves in response to the needs we recognize in the world where we live daily. Fulfillment is derived from experiencing meaning in whatever we do, not in accumulating or demanding anything. What we have or want in terms of possessions, or even in the responses we get from others, must in some way be related to what it is we attempt to give and express that makes life more beautiful or more authentic in some way.
When we do not express what we need to express, which is some aspect of our essence or soul, we feel a lack. This lack is felt as a dissatisfaction which then results in craving of some kind. When we are afraid or insecure about who we are and what our value is we tend to become defensive, which often results in aversion – trying to push away and reject what threatens us. When we are soul-centered we do not experience aversion because we value who and what we are. Your ultimate value is who you are. Your fulfillment comes through sharing yourself with others. It is through this expression that causes craving and aversion to diminish and unity to be experienced.
1. What do you crave and when do you crave it – i.e., what are you feeling about yourself when you experience craving?
2. Toward what do you experience aversion – i.e., what are you feeling about yourself when you experience aversion?
3. Reflect deeply on what it is within you at a soul level that is seeking to be expressed. Then make a decision to start expressing it more.