Separating our Needs from our Desires and Distinguishing between Competing Desires.
In the confusion of everyday life it is difficult to distinguish between what we really need, what we want and what is expected of us. How many of us have ever considered this dilemma and if we have how have we acted on it?
In a culture where notions of upward mobility and success and ambition are the norm it is hard to consider that there might be an alternative view or way to live ones life. In a culture where competition is valued it is inevitable that there will be those who do not make it, at least not make it to the levels that are promised or expected. This creates a sense of failure for those who do not. But the failure or success, is in terms of societies values and does not have to be what we value personally.
From a personal point of view, not becoming lost in the values of society may be anything but failure. It may be the situation that forces us to reflect on what life is about, and maybe come to a recognition that we might be something other than just a cog in the wheel of society. It may be the situation that provokes us to reflect on what we really value. It may be the opportunity to identify our own values and follow our own desires.
Do you value your own life? Do you value your own happiness? What is happiness based on? Is happiness the result of success in societies terms? What makes you unhappy? What is happiness anyway and where does it come from? What are the features of happiness – peace, contentment, security, belonging, love, joy? Where are these attributes found, inside of you or in the world?
If you feel it is pointless to spend your life accumulating wealth or accolades of any kind and choose to not buy into it you are then left with the question of how best to spend your life. You might wonder “what really matters?” What is possible for a human? Is there a potential for something else in me?
What is a meaningful life? Are there possibilities other than becoming lost in societies values?
Literature, films, wisdom teachings give us the clue that there are values and goals other than those promoted by consumer society.
Having come to the idea that we can use our lives for our own purposes we need to actively do something about it. Society sucks us in unless we take control of our own direction and find our own values.
Having grown up in society we have automatically absorbed the ideas of society and even while we are rejecting the more blatent values, we may find it difficult to identify our own values. We may fall into the trap of thinking that self-improvement is the way to go, but this is also in relation to societal values.
We are part of society. We need to find a way to have our basic needs met within society without becoming lost in societies values.
This is when we need to separate needs from wants or desires. I suspect that anyone reading this has a desire for spiritual fulfillment. And you are probably aware that this desire cannot be met by chasing worldly desires and promises.
So, the question is: how do you live in the world while following an unworldly desire?
This is the essence of what I am trying to write about here, how to separate your needs from your desires or maybe how to distinguish what is your most important desire/value from all the other competing desires.
You set your life up so that you have your basic needs for daily living met but leaving you enough time and energy to follow your main desire – spiritual path. You carve out time from daily life to follow your main goal. This is something you have to actively do and be conscious of what and why you are doing it because worldly matters have a way of imposing on us. Until it becomes an established habit it requires discipline. We become distracted and easily fall into the ways of society around us. It takes effort to not be sucked into social life.
This is why in the past people who had a spiritual desire left the world for a nunnery or monastery.
You can’t relegate your spiritual need to an hour on Sunday morning, or sitting a retreat a few times per year. A spiritual life is about who you are every moment of the day. It’s about who you really are apart from your worldly identity. In every moment you are either lost in your worldly identity or challenging it. Challenging it means noticing what you are doing, thinking, and feeling and questioning it.
Until you become aware of how you are spending your time and energy on a daily basis you are lost in the world. This is why you need to create the conditions which allow you to observe yourself and reflect on what you notice.
If you are chasing worldly desires you will neither have the time or inclination to follow your main goal. Life passes by lost in values that were not of our choosing unless we actively identify what we really value and then make room for it.
This is what I mean by the need to separate needs from desires and to distinguish between our various desires so that we really live the life we value most.