Developing healthy desires

Jack Kornfield, the renowned Buddhist teacher and psychologist said:

“Desire is not a bad thing. It’s a source of life and creativity. But unhealthy desire causes pain and suffering. If we pay intimate attention to the workings of desire, we can discover how to transform it into an experience of health, wealth, and well-being.”

Our world runs on desire. We would not have been born without sexual desire. Without continuing desire we would die. There is desire for love, connection, understanding, growth. When people lose their desire to live, they jump off the bridge or swallow pills. We need desire. And yet, desire is also a great challenge for us. There is no getting rid of desire but how do we differentiate between healthy and unhealthy desire?

Connect the root of desire with the neutral mental factor called the will to do. It is part of the energy of life. When the will to do is directed in healthy ways, it brings about healthy desires. When the will to do is directed in unhealthy ways, it brings about unhealthy desires. The traditional description of unhealthy desires includes greed, addiction, overwhelming ambition, gambling, womanizing, and avarice. Unhealthy desires give rise to possessiveness, self-centredness, dissatisfaction, compulsion, unworthiness, insatiability, and similar forms of suffering.

“Most people fail to see reality because of wanting. They are attached; they cling to material objects, to pleasures, to the things of this world. This very clinging is the source of suffering.” ~ Majjhima Nikaya

“You, the richest person in the world, have been laboring and struggling endlessly, not understanding that you already possess all that you seek.” ~ The Lotus Sutra

Healthy desires allow us to feed and clothe and care of ourselves, to tend our body and our children, to develop work and our community. Healthy desires are associated with caring, appreciation, and loving-kindness. This is evident in the healthy, caring bond between parents and children in some countries. Thai, Tibetan, and Sri Lankan children are held in every lap, with beaming faces, uninhibited playfulness, full of love of life. For all of us, these same healthy desires give rise to dedication, steadiness, stewardship, graciousness, generosity, and flexibility. They are the source of happiness.

It is apparent which desire we will choose to develop but we must remember to do so more freely, without worry and grasping. It feels so much better. With this mindfulness, we will have the ability to enter the world of desire without clinging, playfully and freely. Buddhist psychology wants us to release unhealthy desires and to hold healthy desires lightly.

A quote from Hsi Tang describes this advice aptly:

“Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes, it obstructs your vision.”

One Response to “Developing healthy desires”

  1. Nicolas says:

    Hi Coach! Great article! It is a timely reminder for me that there are different sides of desires. I sometime struggle too much thinking that it is completely bad, but perhaps it is wiser to recognise that it is an inescapable condition and accept it, and deal with it. Thanks!

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