Is desire bad? Some religious and spiritual teachings seem to say it’s how individuals and communities get themselves into trouble.
But even some religious leaders have said we need desire. Desire is part of who we are as humans. It is part of our motivation to do the good that we do, as well as the bad.
As a deeply, wildly, intensely passionate person, I think about this a lot. And the way I see it, things boil down this way:
Extreme, mindless desire can derail a life, a family, a community, a nation, a hemisphere, a world. Extreme, mindless, unmitigated desire creates a Bernie Madoff, a mortgage crisis, a Holocaust.
These are the low desires. The venal, me-first-everybody-out-of-my-way-I’m-coming-through desires. You see it not just in global issues but in the rude, careless, dismissive ways people treat one another on the road, in stores, at work, even at home.
Low desire can manifest, too, in self-destructive urges like addiction. The addict who cares more about her next binge or score or hit than anyone or anything, she’s succumbing to low desire. Cravings, those gut-punching, mind-bending thoughts that you have to have it (whatever it is) right now or you’ll die are extreme, physical manifestations of this low desire.
But there is also high desire. It is characterized by the passion to help others, live with integrity, do the right thing, share privilege, use no more resources than you need, and work for the greater good. It is also, not only in my experience and observation, but in the science of developmental psychology, characterized by the born-in passion to connect with a source of power and guidance bigger, grander and more mysterious that a solo individual.
We all have both kinds of desires in us. We all have seeds of war and seeds of peace. Which will we water?
When we feel into and channel our higher desires, starting with the yearning to listen to and heed the inner guidance, lovely things happen. Following my higher yearning helped me to be a good enough mom, though I had a lot of early mis-training to overcoming. It has helped me write words of healing and hope over the years, including my recent book The Hungry Ghost, about how I healed from binge-eating and how others can too.
And it helps me now, as I ask the Universe to show me, just for today, what can I do to increase the peace? How can I help myself and then others transform irritation, pain and trauma for the greater good?
These, I hope you’ll agree, are desires to be fed and shared. When we pool our desires good things happen. Babies are born and nurtured. Crops are sowed, reaped and brought to market. Broken families reunite. Illness and injury heal. Friends discuss misunderstandings and clear the air. Enemies make eye contact, shake hands and lay down their arms.
High desires, well nurtured and mindfully directed, enable us to walk through this day, doing as little harm as humanly possible and, maybe, doing a little good.