“The truth is, there isn’t a single desire you can name that your happiness depends on.” – Gina Lake
Having desires seems so natural to us, so automatic, so ‘the way we are wired,’ that the idea that they could actually be the source of our suffering simply never occurs to most of us. After all, can you even remember a time when you DIDN’T desire something?
In fact, desiring (a.k.a. wanting) is such an integral part of the human experience, that it’s actually quite surprising that it’s almost never talked about. Yes, we talk and think about WHAT we desire practically every minute of every day; but how much time have we spent actually looking at the PROCESS or ACT of Desiring itself, i.e., the mechanics of it?
In Anatomy of Desire, Gina Lake explains how our desires never actually live up to their lofty promises. You would think after a few thousand times we would catch on, but the main reason we don’t is because before we know it, a new desire has popped up to grab our attention. Even if our current ‘desire du jour’ is met, how long before a new one pops up!? It’s endless! Says Gina in the Introduction:
“Wanting is so much a part of being human that we can’t imagine life without it. And yet, wanting causes a lot of suffering: We suffer over not having what we want, not getting what we want, not knowing what we want, and wanting opposite things. When we get what we want, we even suffer over that, as we discover that it doesn’t meet our hopes and expectations.
We put a lot of energy into wanting, and we have a lot of expectations that getting what we want will finally make us happy. But what we find is that getting what we want mostly just leads to wanting more or wanting something different. We are never done with wanting. It is like an itch that is never satisfied.”
So, if our desires are never-ending, how does one get off of the ‘desire treadmill’? The first step is to understand what makes up a DESIRE in the first place. This is key if we are to keep from falling under the spell that desires seem to have over us; a spell that is fueled by our belief that a desire has the power to bring us genuine peace and happiness.
In Chapter 1, The Fundamentals of Desire, Lake breaks down a DESIRE into three components. The first is the most obvious: a desire arrives as a THOUGHT (what else!?). But not just any thought; desires seem to be much more compelling, have more of a charge to them than our everyday ‘garden variety’ thoughts that we have throughout our day, but barely notice. What makes a ‘wanting thought’ more compelling is its second component: EMOTION.
The example Gina uses in the book is that of wanting a new car. Emotionally it can be very exciting to want a new car, as we imagine all the fun we will have driving it around, playing with all the shiny new gadgets inside it, showing it to our friends, etc.
However, the flip side to all the positives of the emotion is also present. What happens if I don’t get this new car? Then I have to keep driving my old car, which because it needs some repairs, doesn’t feel safe. And so suddenly, we have this internal battle going on between the JOY and HAPPINESS we imagine we will experience when we get the car versus the feelings of FEAR and INSECURITY of what will happen to us if we don’t get it.
“If you invest a desire with the belief that your happiness or survival depends on it, it can balloon into something that consumes you. We tend to tell stories about our desires, which make them feel more important than they are. The emotions that result from these stories make the desire feel real, as if it is more than just a thought.”
And this ‘investment’ in the desire, especially when we convince ourselves that our very survival depends upon it, is what brings about the third component to a desire: DRIVE. It’s what motivates us to take action on our desires. So, desires consist of thought, emotion and action; but, and this is the million dollar question: do they really bring us happiness?
In the section called, The SOURCE of HAPPINESS, Gina points out that there are two kinds of very different happiness: fleeting versus changeless. The former (although we don’t think of it as being temporary, although it always is) is imagined to be “out there” in the world somewhere, while the latter is always present:
“The happiness that comes and goes is the happiness we find when we pursue our desires—if we achieve them. The happiness that is ever-present, on the other hand, is not dependent on achieving anything because this happiness is our true nature.
At our deepest core is happiness, peace and contentment. We don’t have to go searching for happiness because we already have it—we are it. The problem is that the ego doesn’t realize this. It believes it needs things and experiences to be happy, so that is what it pursues.”
In the next section called, EGO and ESSENCE, Gina explains how as we let go of believing in the egoic driven false-self, our authentic Self, which she calls Essence, becomes more and more obvious as having always been our true nature. Says Gina:
“The real you exists beyond all thoughts, all feelings, and anything that can be sensed. It can’t be understood with the mind or described by it or sensed with our usual senses; and yet we are all so familiar with it that we overlook it, like the air that surrounds and sustains us but is barely noticed. The real you is overshadowed by the loud and noisy egoic mind, which convinces you that thoughts about you are who you are.”
While mind is noisy, Essence is silent. While thoughts have a form to them, Essence is formless. As long as we are lost in mind, we miss the source of our happiness, because we miss the source of Life.
This slim, 160 page volume explains DESIRES better than any book I have ever come across. It also includes several exercises so that you can have a direct experience of what Gina is pointing to. I highly recommend ANATOMY OF DESIRE, for until we understand exactly how desires work, we will continue to be hypnotized by their compelling stories and find ourselves back on the Samsara rollercoaster.