Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of December 10, 2012

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Beyond Desire

(Learning to Be: Part 4)

Our muddled inner life is driven by our desires: we want this and we dont what that. Some desires are superficial and can easily be disregarded. Others are fundamental and deeply ingrained, such as the need for food, clothing, shelter, and security, the need for intimacy, sex, and procreation, the need for friendship and respect, the need to be useful. These desires are not easily disregarded. When one of them is thwarted or threatened, our whole inner world turns desperately and obsessively to resolving the situation.

Most of the time, though, the desires that control us are somewhere in between the superficial and the fundamental. We are happy when they are fulfilled and upset when they are not. This makes our inner life a function of what happens to us and around us. In an automatic, deterministic way our emotions react to events, real or imagined, and sweep us away

Just as our thought-stream captures us, our emotions do also, but even more powerfully. When we feel an emotion, we are quite sure that is how I feel, though typically it is just a preprogrammed reaction with nothing intentional about it, without our true I in it. It is not I that wants; it is the want that wants. It is not I that am angry; it is the anger that is angry. These things happen in us, to us. They are not our doing. They are not us.

You like one thing, she likes another. You dislike a thing, while he likes it. Our likes and dislikes are predominantly learned behaviors and attitudes that drive our life. The same goes for opinions. We defend our opinions, either secretly in our mind or vociferously out loud. Our likes and dislikes, our opinions and reactions, all seem to be aspects of who we are. But the truth is they are not. We can let go of any of them, even if only temporarily. To do so is instructive and useful to our spiritual work.

We choose a particular like or dislike and set ourselves for a definite time, weeks or months, not to indulge it. This exercise is not about getting rid of our likes or dislikes, which would make life dull indeed. Rather we learn in the process. We learn discipline. We gain confidence. We learn that we are not our likes or dislikes. And more fundamentally, we learn to let go, we gain a measure of freedom. When we can be, just be, we can watch the arising of an impulse of liking or disliking and watch it pass away, without slavishly acting on it. We remain, we are, while all these things pass through us. We just watch and be. We are not slaves to our own conditioning. After the time period is up, we can drop the task and return to acting on that like or dislike, when we so choose, but now with the understanding that we are truly free in front of it. Whereas before we had no choice, because we thought we were that like or dislike, we were lost in it, now we have a free choice, our possibilities increased.

The problem is not our reactive emotions, likes and dislikes, desires and opinions per se. The problem is that we identify with these processes in us. When one of them arises, we believe in it, we collapse into it, we become it, and we lose ourselves in it. We cannot say that I am. Rather, the emotion is, the dislike is, the opinion is, the desire is. We stop living. We stop being.

But it does not have to be that way. The more we work to be free, the more we learn to let go, the more we find equanimity and peace. Beyond our reactive emotions, beyond our thoughts and opinions, beyond our likes and dislikes, beyond our ordinary self, is a realm of consciousness and peace. This is not an emptiness, not a mere lack, although it may appear that way at first, due to our not yet being accustomed to perceive what is there, what is here in us. Equanimity, peace, and consciousness are substantive in their own right, all-pervasive and infinite. We can participate in that, live that. It is here for the taking.

Equanimity is the first of the conscious emotions. It is not indifference. A person with equanimity does care. They can and do act responsively and vigorously as the need arises and as they choose. But they are rooted in their being. They live a life of peace and freedom and, yes, joy. Even in the face of difficulties with regard to fundamental needs, they can act and respond and still live in equanimity, in being. To come to that takes sustained and well-balanced spiritual practice, practice that renders transparent the layers that hide our own being. Learning not to be driven by our desires is basic and necessary. For that we need meditation, to gain the taste of peace, the work of being aware of our likes and dislikes in the moment they arise so that we can watch them pass by without needing to act on them,   and the work of being aware of our opinions as opinions when they arise, so that we are not automatically shunted into believing our opinions are absolute truth.

For this week, practice equanimity. Practice awareness of the things that tend to knock you off center. Practice letting them go. Even when a strong desire, emotion, or opinion comes up, stay yourself. Be.

See Also: Equanimity


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