From the urgent way lovers want each other to the seeker's search for truth, all moving is from the mover. Every pull draws us to the ocean. ~ Rumi
Another Valentine’s day has come and gone. And for those of us who have not found a special someone to share our life journey with, it can bring up a lot of difficult feelings. Along with the lack of chocolate and flowers, there can be a deeper sense of lack, of unworthiness, of somehow being incomplete. Those are natural human emotions of course, and they can be heightened in these situations when everything on the outside is telling us where and how we should be, and when many are interested in selling us quick fixes to assuage that sense of lack. Those feelings are universal, of course, as is the longing to be free of those feelings. Even during those times when I have been in relationship, those feelings have come up, often amplified and masquerading as one of the many demons that haunt us all - unworthiness, judgement, comparison, fear, anxiety, depression, and so on…
These can all be traced back to the one thing that many great Sages throughout the ages have said lie at the root of suffering - the trance of desire. It’s all too easy to find ourselves stuck in a loop of chasing down desire. But the irony is that in the chasing, we ourselves get caught in wanting. We forget what we’re doing here.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with desire. It’s the electricity of life. It’s the “how” behind all of us being here. It’s what attracts the sperm to the egg. It’s what turns atoms into molecules. It’s what keeps planets spinning, appetites churning, species evolving.
But it’s not the “why” behind us being here.
I identify strongly with Tantra as a school of thought that makes sense to me as an embodied Being. In short, this philosophy places everything in the physical world as an embodiment of Universal Consciousness. There is nowhere to go, there is no path outside of ourselves, there is nothing here that is not Pure Divine Essence at its core. This makes life a journey that is a feast for the senses. This philosophy lies at the root of most modern yoga practices, with a focus on asana as a practice that has merit beyond mere preparation for meditation, for example. So it’s a very attractive way to live. But it’s not to be taken lightly. The medicine can very quickly turn to poison in the wrong doses.
I also identify with Buddhist teachings, and staying at the surface of those teachings has resulted in a bit of friction with the Tantric view at times. The Buddha taught that the root of suffering is desire. From the Dhammapada: “There’s no sickness like the hunger of the heart. Extinguish this thirst.”
An unwise reading of this teaching can lead us to an aversion to life, which is not healthy or helpful. There are so many natural pleasures of embodiment. There is so much beauty in this world. There is no shame and indeed no suffering in recognizing both the enormity and fragility of this beauty. Quite the opposite. But there is suffering in not recognizing the inherent trap in allowing enormity of desire.
Indeed, the primary source of both enormous joy and deep suffering in my own life has been desire of some form or another. This paradox can be seen as a problem to be solved, or I can embrace it. Thankfully, Yoga is not one or the other, it’s one and the other. And so I solve the problem by embracing it. And in embracing it, I release it.
Desire does not have to be a direct path to suffering. It certainly can be, but only if we identify with the desire itself rather than the source of the desire. This is the shadow side of the popular feel-good “Follow Your Bliss” attitude that’s encouraged by so many New Age proponents. This can easily lead unconsciously to more striving than arriving, and attachment to the ornaments of an external appearance of bliss, rather than realizing the true source of bliss. The ornaments are impermanent, and attaching to them can result in much suffering when they inevitably dissolve.
It’s much like identifying with one particular current or wave in the ocean rather than the ocean itself. Or perhaps an even better metaphor is the idea of river versus ocean.
We can see desires as rivers or currents in awareness. They’re there, and they’re useful and necessary. And if we get hitched to a particular river, we can get to thinking that it’s all there is, and it’s all we need. It can seem limitless and vast. Its source can remain a mystery and we can be lulled into thinking that where it leads doesn’t matter, as long as the river keeps flowing. But it’s been my experience that sooner or later, the river stops flowing, or either provides too much or not enough, depending on the season of my own life. And so sooner or later, I seek another river, cutting a path through the forest which is often exhausting if not dangerous. I find another river, and it too for a time seems limitless and vast, and I hitch myself to it for a while, maybe even construct a dam to draw more power from it. But if I remain unaware of what is happening upstream and downstream, I inevitably find myself caught in that cycling current of suffering.
Rivers are compelling. They contain many blessings. They are the source of much beauty. But if you’re like me, those hikes along a river get most exciting and interesting when you come across a waterfall or some rapids. What if we paused to reflect on what those waterfalls represent?
What if at those times we woke up to the beauty and majesty of water seeking the most direct path to the deepest part of itself, the Ocean? And what if that could inspire us to seek the most direct path the the deepest part of our own Being?
All rivers lead to the ocean, and embedded in the river is the ocean. All desires lead to love, and embedded in desire is love. These are facts as inescapable as gravity, and to deny them is to destroy the ecology that makes life and love possible.
Yoga allows me to practice meeting the many sense flows with the whole of my body, mind and spirit, and cultivate an attitude of strength, resilience, and trust. It’s the only way I’ve found to liberate myself from feelings of lack, and with practice it’s fostering the ecology that makes love possible.
Try this practice:
Sit with desire. Bring to mind something you really want, or something you really don’t want - they’re ultimately the same thing. Go ahead and let your face and body fully express that desire. Notice how you feel. Allow it to make its way through all the sense flows in your body, creating whatever rapids or waterfalls it wants. Notice your posture - are you leaning forward or backward, or are you centred?Notice your jaw, your eyes, your heart. Inspect it from every angle. Allow it to be here, and as you do so, investigate it fully. It’s presenting itself to you, so go ahead and open your eyes fully to it. Poke it. Prod it if you like. Is it real? The answer is likely yes. Acknowledge that. And then investigate what it reveals about you. What lies at the source of that desire? In all likelihood it’s something along the lines of “if only x would happen in my life, I would finally be happy.” Allow that. And then ask yourself if something real necessarily has to be true. What is the fullness, the depth of truth? Right here, right now. What is lacking? As this breath comes into a soft belly, what’s missing? As you exhale into a softening body, what’s incomplete?
Practice this over and over again. Deep inquiry over time will reveal what lies behind the desire. You’ll discover that the other side of the desire coin is perhaps grief, or fear, or anger, and perhaps it goes back further in time than you might imagine. Or maybe it’s not a coin at all but instead a set of dice that have every imaginable emotion on all sides. And just maybe you’ll discover that embedded in that desire is the enormity of all that you are, including the love, trust, strength, and wisdom that will take you to the ocean. The game is rigged. No matter how you throw the dice, you'll get desire. The key to winning is knowing where to place your bet - river or ocean?
Just as the many rivers can flow back to the ocean without ever making the vast ocean overflow, so flow the streams of the sense world to the great sea of peace that is the Sage. ~ Baghavad Gita