I’m beginning to love the ancient eastern Vedantic teachings. And this happened because I was blessed to be a part of a year-long class, where we studied some of the foundations of Vedanta. One topic which I really resonated with was the breakdown of different types of desires and how we can overcome them so that we can experience self-realization.
I found this to be a powerful subject which you might enjoy as well. So I wanted to lay it out for you, by expressing my personal reflections on the topic of enlightenment versus getting entangled in the pursuit of temporary desires.
Before we begin, let’s address this question.
Are desires normal? If not, why do they exist?
For every person, our desires are just as unique as our stories. We all have something we seek or want in our experience, the pursuit of which brings life into us!
It is, in fact, a natural part of evolution to want something.
Think about it. If we were too content, would we bother building a house or going hunting for food? Of course, we needed these things to survive, and so primal desires emerged in order to keep the human race alive.
Then over time, as we evolved, our desires shifted towards material gains and fame as a means to get respect and be accepted in society. Ever since coming into existence, we have been moving up the ladder, always longing for more.
The whole idea of being infinite like the Universe has become so bizarre to us that we have become fully consumed by our desires.
Desires are natural, but also fuel for separation from Source in our spiritual journey. Because when we have desires, they come from a place of insufficiency and lack of contentment.
We seek outward, believing that having something or someone will make us feel whole again. And yet, we are disappointed. Sometimes, as was my case, it can lead us into an identity crisis.
Our desires can lead us down the rabbit hole, always wanting more and never having enough. So what should we do? How do you clean your slate and become free of these desires so you can walk towards the path of enlightenment?
Let’s explore what Vedanta says about this.
The 3 Types of Desires
Desires are also called vasanas, in Sanskrit. And you can beautifully examine these vasanas, by the intensity with which they exist in your life.
These are the simpler and smaller desires that inspire us to take action. Kind of like a bucket list of things that you might enjoy doing once. And then once done, you feel content with the experience.
For some people, a light desire might mean saving up money for a great vacation in the Maldives. Or taking on a hobby class for the summer. These things may take up your time and energy, but eventually, you are able to let go of them.
Reflection: These might not be the types of desires that need much effort to release from your mind. But if you do notice yourself getting sucked in by a light vasana, think of the idea of “letting it go” by experiencing it fully, once and for all. Be as present as you can be in the experience, and see if you’re able to EXHAUST your desire for it.
These become a little more enticing because even though you’ve done them once, or a couple of times, you find yourself still wanting more.
Personally, I have to admit that chocolate chip cookies were a huge weakness. It might sound funny, but truly, it was what brought out my shadow self – my addiction to sugar. Once I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop.
I would want my share of cookies every.single.week! And for months, that’s all I thought about every time my husband and I were picking desserts. Initially, it looked cute and I enjoyed the title of the cookie monster.
Eventually, I started seeing how addicted I was and that it wasn’t helping my weight or my mental health to consume that much sugar. So then, it was time to substitute this desire, because it wasn’t light enough to simply let go of.
When you substitute a desire, you want to think of how you can cater to your needs from a higher place. For instance, I substituted artificial sugars for more natural sweeteners in my diet. And my weekly chocolate chip cookie became a Cookies & Cream Protein shake.
Because you are so deeply attached to the medium vasana, it can be difficult to go cold turkey. So be mindful of the underlying deeper desire, and focus your outer goals around that.
Reflection: When you aren’t able to let go of your need for something, think of what you can do as a SUBSTITUTION. Think along the lines of doing something of higher value to you in your journey, which would not only fulfill that desire but lead you to something better for your growth.
This is the type of desire where you begin to lose touch with yourself because you are so driven and triggered that you are no longer able to be your true self. You might get lost in vengeance, for instance.
Or you may have anger issues, and realize that you become unrecognizable when someone upsets you.
At that moment, you are saying “I am angry”. Whereas the truth is, you are only experiencing anger. You are not the anger itself.
This tendency of ours, to be so fully consumed by a desire that we lose ourselves to it, is a lifetime of baggage that we’ve been trying to let go of. However, this hasn’t been very successful so far, which is why we feel disconnected from our true nature.
Reflection: The best way to overcome a heavy vasana is to address it head-on and DESTROY your identification with lower tendencies such as the ones above. There are many ways you can work to heal your karmic patterns and evolve past these gripping behaviors. Consider exploring journaling, inner child healing, or taking support from someone you trust as ways to help you disconnect from your heavy desires.
The different types of desires hold different degrees of control on our freedom. The more deeply persistent you are to get something, or someone, the more trapped you will feel in your own experience.
However, the most empowering thing about this journey is realizing that we have a choice. Even for the heaviest of desires, we have the choice to step away and say no more.
So don’t treat your desires like something that is in control of you and your life. Rather, start seeing the different types of vasanas as an opportunity for you to work on your wounds, and to realize that the fulfillment we are seeking is not outside of us.
Rather, it is within, and it is in the NOW.
Vasundhra is the Founder & Writer of My Spiritual Shenanigans. After seeing 11:11 on the clock one fateful night, her life turned around. Ever since, she has been blending modern psychology and ancient spirituality, to help herself and people around the world elevate the quality of their lives.
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