Desire: How to Work with the Wanting Mind

Have you ever found yourself trapped in wanting or desiring something or someone so badly that it drives you crazy? Whether it’s a person, a fat jam-filled doughnut or that special handbag.

Not only can wanting and grasping feel all compassing, often we condemn ourselves for feeling that way in the first place. It creates tension in the body and the mind. It hurts.

Following Radical Acceptance we can learn to be aware of this aspect of our nature without being caught up in it. As it arises we can feel it fully, softly naming our experience “hunger”, “wanting”, “longing”, or whatever, every few seconds, five, ten, twenty times until it ends.

If you are still in its grip you may want to go a little deeper and really examine this wanting mind.

Take a few minutes, sit quietly and feel into the answers to some of the following simple questions:

How long does this kind of desire last?

Does it intensify first or just fade away?

How does it feel in the body?

What parts of the body are affected by it? Is it the gut, the breath, and the eyes?

What does it feel like in the heart? In the mind?

When it is present, are you happy or agitated, open or closed?

As you name it, see how it moves and changes. If wanting comes as the demon hunger, name it. Where do you notice hunger - in the belly, the tongue, the throat?

You may see that its passes quickly. For example, have you ever wanted something in a shop window and when you walk away forgotten all about it?

When I want something badly I often feel it in the chest area. It is almost as if my lungs and heart are expanding towards it. It’s a similar feeling with jealousy.

Jack Kornfield says we may be able to see how wanting and jealousy arises out of a sense of longing and incompleteness, a feeling that we are separate and not whole.

We can all recognise the familiar refrain: ‘if only I was richer, thinner, taller, more outgoing, less outgoing, whatever…then I would be happy, complete at ease “ However the satisfying of our wants usually give rise to the next set of ‘what ifs…. and the cycle begins again! It often brings on more wanting. We are taught in this culture that if we can grasp enough pleasurable experiences quickly one after another, our life will be happy. The whole process can become very tiring and empty. When we are caught-up by wanting it is like an intoxicant and we are unable to see clearly.

The process of such unskilful desire is endless, because peace comes not from fulfilling our wants but from the moment that dissatisfaction ends. When wanting is filled, there comes a moment of satisfaction, not from the pleasure, but from the stopping of grasping. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT MOMENT.

As you name the wanting-mind and feel it carefully, notice what happens just after it ends, and noticed what states then follow. The issue of wanting and desire is a profound one. You will see how often our desires are misplaced. An obvious example is when we use food to replace the love we long for, or overeat when what we really need is to sleep.

Through the practice of naming, we can sense how much of our surface desire arises from some deeper wanting in our being, from an underlying loneliness or fear or emptiness.

We can develop a skilful relationship to our wanting. We can pause and relax and open to the moment of satisfaction, however brief. Know it and feel it and see if you can discover a wiser relationship to it.

Unskilful desire causes wars, it drives much of our modern society, and as unknowing followers, we are at its mercy. Painful desire involves greed, grasping, inadequacy, and longing. On the other hand, skilful desire is directed by love, vitality, compassion, creativity, and wisdom.

With the development of awareness, we begin to distinguish unhealthy desire from skilful motivation.

Adapted from Jack Kornfield’s book, “A Path with Heart“.