The Downside of Desire
The Downside of Desire
The first part of this “quoting post” on desire focused on its many positive facets—in fact, its paramount value. With so many quotes persuasively indicating its exceptional power to motivate us—to enable us not simply to aspire to, but also to reach, our most coveted goals—what exactly is its downside? Well, it seems that despite all its favorable aspects, it can also constitute a grave threat to our contentment, freedom, and happiness. In short, values that, ultimately, may represent a higher priority to us than the object(s) of our desire. And the many negative things that have repeatedly been said about this emotion or state of mind should make us take heed of its dangers. At the very least, we may need to question the degree of our attachment to desire.
So, let’s begin to explore some of its negatives. One basic objection to striving to fulfill our desires has to do with the morality, or wisdom, of doing so. For such pursuits frequently involve blindly surrendering to our instincts and impulses. And overpowering our more rational selves, such capitulation inevitably induces us to “forfeit” self-discipline and forsake our higher ideals. Writings critical of this all-too-human tendency to let our desires take control over us include the following:
The problem with becoming excessively attached to that which we desire—and so unwittingly keeping ourselves from ever experiencing true satisfaction or serenity—is another theme prevalent in the literature:
One thing that writers on the subject have repeatedly emphasized is that desires can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill. And even more than this elusiveness, if actually achieved, the results of desire—or desire realized—can be quite as problematic as the desiring itself. Such perplexing issues throw the whole subject into a boiling cauldron of confusion and ambiguity. So writers have noted:
An Equivocal Conclusion
So if desire—despite its many benefits and advantages (see part 1)—is yet inherently problematic, does that mean we’re caught in an unresolvable dilemma? Consider, for example, the words of the Indian guru Baba Hari Dass:
Yet abstaining from desire—leaving the “field of desire” entirely—may not be feasible either. For:
But is there some middle ground here? Something we can embrace without feeling we’re sacrificing the very thing that enables us to feel ardently, vibrantly alive? If as humans the great majority of us strive to get more, do more, be more, then can we somehow hold onto what makes our lives feel dynamic and meaningful without getting hopelessly caught in the snare of desire?
I think the answer (already suggested in earlier quotes) is in desiring but without becoming so attached to the objects of our desire that we place ourselves in a position that gratuitously causes us to suffer. And, to my mind, Tom Robbins (in his novel Jitterbug Perfume, which has already been cited twice) states it most eloquently in the reflection:
NOTE: If you found this post (and the one preceding) intriguing, I hope you’ll consider passing them on.
© 2012 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.