Desire: Riding the Horse

The energy of desire is incredibly powerful. When we desire something (or someone, for that matter) in our lives, it can consume us. I’ve heard desire described as a horse, in the sense that it’s a very powerful tool if utilized correctly (like most things). In dealing with our desire, it’s wise to be riding the horse. If the horse runs wild, stampeding, that can be extremely dangerous and destructive. If we’re riding the horse, we acknowledge its power, interact with it, and direct it.

The Buddhists would say that desire is insatiable. As soon as we satisfy one want, we manufacture another. This leads us down a path of self-indulgence and selfishness and, ultimately, does little or nothing to alleviate unhappiness. Rather, it seems to breed more unhappiness.

At the other extreme is denial or suppression of desire. This is also a less than helpful approach. Suppressed desires tend to reveal themselves in inappropriate and unhealthy ways.

All this is to say that dealing with desire effectively is a matter of striking a delicate balance.

One of my favorite Vedanta teachers, Swami Bodhananda, distinguishes between binding and non-binding desires. For example, those items at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy would be non-binding desires. Food, clothing, shelter, and safety (meeting basic needs) fall into the category of non-binding desires. Binding desires may be along the lines of, say, a desire for caviar twice a week, or 3,000 square feet of living space. Distinguishing between needs and wants in our culture can be difficult, especially since a virtually continuous barrage of advertising strives to create new needs on an ongoing basis.

Because of the almost endless onslaught of media, it’s worthwhile to pay attention to where your information is coming from, and to limit that flow of information when possible. In other words, to balance input with processing and take time to reflect on your true priorities as part of living a life that more fully reflects your values.

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