Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The Myth of Desire

Gina Lake

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Purchase Gina's book: 'Anatomy of Desire: How to Be Happy Even When You Don't Get What You Want'
from US or UK.

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The following is an extract from the above book.

Desiring is wanting what is not presently true, or real. If it were true, or real, you wouldn’t need to desire it. Inherent in desiring is a feeling of lack—of something missing. Also inherent in it is the feeling, or belief, that if that were not lacking, you would be happy.

We long for what we don’t have because we believe that having it will finally bring us peace and happiness. We don’t realize that the lack of peace and happiness we are feeling is actually a result of desiring what we don’t have. The desire is the cause of our unhappiness, not the fact that the desire is unfulfilled.

When we examine this, this seems so obvious. Desire is painful. We suffer because we believe we are lacking something necessary for our happiness. That is a very sad (and untrue!) story, but it is essentially everyone’s story. Everyone feels this way because the mind is programmed to be unhappy with whatever is happening. No matter what is happening, the mind comes up with complaints about it or ways to improve on it. That is its job. That is what it is programmed to do, and it does it very well.

This situation is painful for two reasons: It is painful to not have what you want, but it is also painful to discover that there is no end to wanting, even after you do get what you want. What we really want is the peace that comes from no longer wanting. We hope to experience peace and happiness once and for all by getting what we want. However, peace and happiness are not achieved by getting but by loving what is, just the way it is. We are so afraid that if we love what is we will never get what we want, when that has been the secret to happiness all along!

Loving what is would seem to be the simplest thing possible. It involves no effort, no struggle, no longing, and no disappointment. But loving what is goes against our programming, so it is difficult. It requires vigilance to counteract the egoic mind’s automatic rejection and resistance to whatever is happening. To experience the peace and happiness that exist in this moment, it is necessary to stop listening to the egoic mind, which undermines this peace and happiness with complaints and judgments. These are the tactics it uses to take us out of the present and into its world of desires, hopes, and dreams. It woos us with fantasies of a more perfect world, a more perfect mate, a more perfect experience, and a more perfect you, all of which are unreal and will never be real.

Your fantasies, dreams, and desires don’t create reality or even reflect reality accurately, although they do affect your experience of it. When you are focused on your desires, dreams, and fantasies, you are not experiencing this moment, and you are missing out on the real richness, peace, and happiness that are right here, right now.

 The Nature of Dreams

Most of us assume that our dreams are meant to be fulfilled. We believe that our dreams are meaningful and have a purpose. They spur us to take action, but is the goal—the dream—a worthy one? We assume so, or why would we have it? Like every other thought, we assume that our dreams are true and meaningful. We believe in our dreams, and they define us to some extent: “I am someone who wants….” Our dreams shape our choices and our actions. They shape our lives.

The problem with assuming that our dreams are meaningful and that they will make us happy is that dreams and the desires that make them up are just thoughts, most of which come from the egoic mind, which is not so wise about what will make us happy. We assume that our dreams are our personal prescription for happiness, and that just isn’t so.

Dreams are just not that important. It is an illusion that our dreams are meaningful. Just because we have a dream doesn’t mean it is meant to be fulfilled. Everyone has dreams, and many people have similar ones. They are part of our programming as humans and not meaningful messages from “above.” They are messages from the egoic mind, but that is hardly a worthy guide for our lives.

This doesn’t mean there are no true dreams that do have meaning for us; however, these don’t come in the form of specific images. Essence, our deeper self, releases impulses to create something in the world, but the specifics of how it will look are not given ahead of time by essence—or even known. Any specific image you have is generated by the mind, as it attempts to foretell and affect what will happen. The mind doesn’t like uncertainty, so it makes up a complete image and pretends that that is how it will be—or should be. This image may have little to do with what essence intends, and it has the potential of sidetracking or shaping the end result, but essence allows this. Thus, the manifestation of every dream is usually a co-creation between the egoic mind and essence.

Although many believe that holding an idea in your mind long enough and strongly enough will cause it to manifest, this simply isn’t true. If this were true, then many more people would have exactly what they wanted and imagined. We all know that getting what we want isn’t as easy as that, and even when we do get what we want, it doesn’t look exactly like we imagined. It is impossible for anyone to imagine something exactly as it will be, and yet many feel they have failed because they haven’t been able to manifest what they have imagined.

The mind comes to some very irrational conclusions at times, and the idea that you can get what you want by holding the thought of it in your mind is not only irrational but contrary to all evidence. Nevertheless, the egoic mind clings to this belief because it wants this to be true because this would give it some sense of control in a world where the ego, in fact, has very little. Rather than delivering the desired result, this strategy brings suffering because it is ineffective and people tend to blame themselves when it fails. However, if they looked around, they would see that no one else is succeeding with this strategy either. But the ego doesn’t encourage such a rational approach because it doesn’t want the falseness of this cherished belief exposed.

The ego wants you to believe that it can get you what you want. It wants you to believe that it is a worthy and trustworthy ally so that you will continue to turn to it. If you didn’t believe in the egoic mind’s ability to guide and assist you, it would be out of a job, and it wants to exist in its current capacity, even though it fails miserably at bringing you happiness.

 Desires and Dreams Are Not Meaningful

The belief that our desires and dreams are meaningful is a core assumption we rarely question. We can’t become free from the domination of the egoic mind without questioning this core assumption because desires and dreams are key thoughts, which keep us tied to the egoic mind and keep us busy with plans for getting what we want. They also generate a majority of our feelings: When our desires and dreams are getting met, we are happy and confident; when they aren’t, we are unhappy, sad, angry, ashamed, and fearful.

We don’t like it when we are not getting what we want because this results in feelings we don’t like. In particular, we feel powerless and afraid. We feel that if our desires and dreams are meaningful, then we should be able to attain them. If we aren’t able to, we feel we have failed at something important. We feel as if our life is going wrong—or worse: We are afraid we will never have the life we want, and that will mean we are doomed to unhappiness, failure, and shame—forever.

We take our desires and dreams very personally. This assumption that they are meaningful implies that they are personally meaningful, that they are specially made for us. If we aren’t able to attain them (preferably immediately), we feel ashamed, as if we failed at a mission we were given. We feel betrayed by life and by ourselves. We thought we were powerful enough to make life happen our way, and now we see we aren’t. That is a blow to the ego, which assumes that it is that powerful. This humbles us, which is a good thing because it shows us the truth: We are not the one in control of our destiny. We co-create alongside something else that is shaping our life.

It can take many experiences of the failure of our dreams before we begin to catch on that maybe our dreams are not true. Maybe other things are more important than them. Maybe the dashing of our dreams and what is learned from that is more valuable than the fulfillment of any dream.

Having our dreams dashed forces us to see that life goes on, and it goes on as it always has: unpredictably and in a way that is beyond our control. Having dreams and desires gives us a story line, a sense of destiny, while life is never that clear. We don’t really know where our lives are going, but having desires and dreams gives us a script, so we think we know: The plan is to fulfill our desires. This plan, however, was created by the ego, and it doesn’t really know what life intends for us. It doesn’t know essence’s plan or even that there is a plan beyond its desires. It is convinced its desires and dreams are what life is all about, and we believe it.

Having desires and dreams gives the ego something to do. It gives our life structure. What will I do today? I’ll go after what I want. End of story. No need for further questioning. They also keep us focused on the mental world, where plans are made for getting what we want and fantasies are created, which drive those plans forward. All this mental activity keeps our attention off the deeper questions and gives us a pseudo reason for being. It would be one thing if this strategy brought us happiness, but its lack of success at doing this eventually causes us to question the value of our desires. If life isn’t about desire-fulfillment, then what is it about?

The ego has no answer for this, but essence does. Essence’s answer, however, doesn’t come in words. Its answer is released in the moment, as essence moves us forward toward more meaningful activities, ones that don’t necessarily fulfill our desires and dreams but fulfill us on deeper levels.

 Freedom from Desire

You will never be free of having desires, but you can be free from the need to have your desires met. We suffer not because we have desires but because we feel we have to have them met . It is possible to have as many desires as you have always had but not suffer over them. We suffer over them because we believe they are essential to our happiness. This belief is actually what causes our suffering.

For most, the solution to the suffering caused by desiring what you don’t have is trying to get it. Consequently, many spend their lives going after what they want, which is what they believe they need to be happy. But there is another solution to this problem of desiring what you don’t have, and that is to see it for what it is: Desire is just the thought “I want….” Can a thought cause suffering? Yes, if you agree with it. Who is this I that wants?

When you see that the I is the ego and not who you really are, it puts wanting in perspective. Wanting is forever coming out of the ego. If you give your attention to it, you will be chasing one desire after another. The ego is in the business of manufacturing desires. There is no real rhyme or reason to what it desires; it wants one thing and then another. Often, it wants opposite things (e.g. “I want a relationship and I want to be independent”). It wants whatever it thinks of or whatever it sees. It is easy to see the ego at work in small children in stores: “I want that. I want that. I want that!” People are designed to want. It is automatic and not meaningful.

Once you are able to separate yourself from this I and see how undiscriminating, random, and constant the ego’s wanting is, you gain some distance from your desires, and there is freedom in that. You can be more objective about them. They no longer seem like they belong to you, and that makes them less compelling. What makes the “I want” so compelling is that it is happening inside you, so you identify with it and believe you do want that—and need that to be happy.

Once you have some distance from this I, you are free to choose whether to listen to it or not. You are more able to evaluate the desire and come to a conclusion about it yourself. Sometimes desires are worth listening to, or at least harmless. The desire for some ice cream, for instance, or for some other pleasure, can bring enjoyment if it is not indulged in too often.

Giving Your Attention to Essence

It is exhausting to be wanting so constantly and so strongly. If you give a lot of attention to the ego’s wanting, it increases, and so does your suffering. By giving the ego’s wanting less attention, you decrease your suffering. Then, it is possible to give your attention to something more rewarding: essence. When your attention is being given to the ego’s wanting, it is not being given to something more fulfilling and true. Shifting your attention from the ego’s wanting to essence not only lessens your suffering but increases your peace, contentment, joy, and happiness. That is a good tradeoff!

The peace, joy, happiness, and contentment of essence are right here, right now, but we overlook them because we pay attention to the loud and noisy mind and its demands: “I want!” They get our attention not only because they are so loud in comparison to essence, but because they are so insistent and full of fear. The ego tells a story that makes its desires feel urgent and important: “You may not survive, and you certainly won’t be happy unless….” The fear that is stirred up fuels action, but it is painful to have this as a motivator.

 Copyright © 2007 Gina Lake

Excerpted from Anatomy of Desire: How to Be Happy Even When You Don’t Get What You Want by Gina Lake.

 Gina Lake has a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology and over twenty years experience supporting people in their spiritual growth. She is also the author of several other books on spirituality, including: Radical Happiness, Living Your Destiny, Return to Essence, Getting Free, and Choosing Love.

 Gina is available for astrological and channeled phone consultations that support spiritual awakening. For more information about her consultations, to read book excerpts, to listen to satsang talks online, to sign up for a free newsletter, or to download Radiance: Experiencing Divine Presence for free, visit

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012