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If it weren't for desire, most of the positive things that we have in the world wouldn't exist, most of the positive actions we experience and benefit from wouldn't have occurred, and most of our positive resources just wouldn't be.  Desire is extremely important in life, for it allows us, compels us to work towards something better for ourselves and others.  If I desire a better life for myself and my family, I'm going to work towards that better life.  If I'm satisfied with the status quo, I'm going to remain rather passive, not looking to accomplish much, not looking to advance.

Of course, desire has its dark side, especially when it degenerates into covetousness or envy.  These traits (for lack of a better word) are extremely destructive, and they definitely hold one back from getting the most out of life.  But another dark side of desire has to do with the objects of our desire, and literature is full of examples of characters who have desired the wrong thing and ended up hurting themselves and others because they've focused so strongly on their own desires and on achieving those desires.

An extremely good example of this occurs in the film Dead Poets Society.  In this film, one character's father desires one thing of his son: that he go on to medical school and become a doctor.  Because he's so focused on having this desire become reality, he completely disregards his son's desires for his own life, and his son ends up killing himself because he sees no hope for a future that he desires.

But it goes further than that.  The father's desire obviously isn't just that his son become a doctor.  The father also desires to be proud of his son, but on his own terms.  The father also desires the approval of his peers and colleagues--he wants his son to be a doctor so that these people will look favorably upon him, the father, and the great job he's done raising his son to enter such a noble (and lucrative) profession.  He also desires to be in control, and seeing his son do things that he hasn't sanctioned, such as act in a play or be on the yearbook staff, takes away much of that control, and he can't stand the idea of losing it.

People also have problems when they desire things that are inaccessible. Advertising plays a large part in this problem, for advertising exists to a large extent to create desire in an audience.  The person who desires a new BMW but who makes $25,000 a year, often finds the beauty of life somehow diminished due to the lack of a particular car in his or her life (and yes, I have known such people).  A major problem arises when that person goes ahead and buys the car even though he or she can't afford it--life is now full of money problems that just weren't there before the purchase.  The desire for an object has added stress and strain to a life, and to the lives of that person's family members.

I married very late, and for a very long time, I desired nothing more than to be married.  Because of this desire, I often approached relationships in a very forced way, a very unsure way.  I hardly allowed myself to be myself, always trying to fit some role, even though I was trying to be myself.  It wasn't until I let go of the desire to be married and forced myself to deal with every new woman that I met as a potential friend, not a potential wife, that I was able to act much more naturally.  It wasn't long after I had made that shift in my thinking that I met my wife, and we were married a year later.  My desire for marriage was natural, but because I had allowed it to be so strong and to control my actions, it affected the way I treated people, and thus affected me in a very negative way.

There's nothing wrong with desire; in fact, it's inherently wonderful.  Desire causes us to work harder to achieve goals.  But we must be sure that the objects of our desire are attainable, and if they're not, then we must admit that to ourselves.  Sometimes those things that we desire are the things that turn out to be the most harmful to us and others.  If you desire something unattainable or inappropriate, admit that desire to yourself, but also acknowledge that acting to fulfill that desire would be very inappropriate and harmful. If you desire something appropriate and attainable, go for it--and good luck in getting it.


Welcome everything that comes to you,
but do not long for anything else.

Andre Gide


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We don't need to increase our goods nearly as much
as we need to scale down our wants.
Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.

Donald Horban


Moderate desires constitute a character fitted to acquire all the good which
the world can yield.  Those who have this character are prepared, in whatever
situation they are, therewith to be content and have learned the science of being happy.

Timothy Dwight


Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired,
but by controlling the desire.



Each desire. . . causes us to act and think in ways that result in yet even more desires and cravings.  Like a dog running after its own tail, cause and effect chase each other around in circles.  "But," you may be asking, "don't we need to desire things?"

It is certainly true that not all desires are equal in terms of how they create suffering.  Some desires, of course, are simply a matter of preference that might not really make much of a difference.  Wanting to paint your house pink instead of brown will not harm anyone--except maybe the fashion police.

And yes, there definitely are many good desires.  For example, without the desire for food we would not stay alive.  It is when our desire becomes an unquenchable craving or obsession, or causes us to do harm to ourselves or others, that it creates suffering and unhappiness.  If you have ever been hurt because you tied your happiness or well-being to a person, place, opinion, self-identity, behavior, or goal, then you have firsthand experience of desire.

Donald Altman



One who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.



When one withdraws all desires as a tortoise withdraws its limbs,
the natural splendor of the world soon manifests itself.

from the Mahabharata


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As you grow older you will find that your desires are never really fulfilled.
In fulfillment there is always the shadow of frustration, and in your heart
there is not a song but a cry.  The desire to become--to become a great man
or woman, a great saint, a great this or that--has no end and therefore no
fulfillment; its demand is ever for the "more," and such desire always breeds
agony, misery, wars.  But when one is free of all desire to become, there is
a state of being whose action is totally different.  It is.  That which is has no
time.  It does not think in terms of fulfillment.  Its very being is in its fulfillment.

J. Krishnamurti

There are many objects of desire, and therefore many desires.
Some are born with us, hunger, yearning, and pride of place, and
some are the foolishness of the world, such as the desire to eat off
silver plates.  Desire is a wild horse to be tamed.  Virtue is a habit
long continued.  The taming of desire is like the training of the athlete.
Discipline is not the restraint but the use of energy. . . . When I forbid
myself what I may have, no person is going to tempt me
with what is truly forbidden.

Guy Davenport

Articles and book excerpts on desire:

The Energy of Desire     Steve Brunkhorst

Understand desire, and you understand happiness and unhappiness.  If desire
is the fuel, intention is the engine.  Intention is the strength of purpose and will
that powers you up past the steep inclines and keeps you chugging along
over the bogs.  Without intention to utilize your desire, the desire will pool in
your mind, dormant like the gas in the tank of a car that sits idle in a garage.
And unless you periodically fuel your intention with desire, you'll sputter to a stop
despite the best intentions.  The unabating desire for things of this world--money,
sex, fame, name, people, beauty, bodies--with all their particular insistent
requirements, keeps us revved up, falsely advertises the destination "Happiness,"
and keeps us cruising down those roads.  But when and if we ever arrive,
we're never there.  At least not for long.

Michael Goddart


If one gives way to all one's desires, or panders to them, there will
be no inner struggle in that person, no friction, no fire.  But if, for the
sake of attaining a definite aim, one struggles with desires that hinder
him or her, that person will then create a fire which will gradually
transform his or her inner world into a single whole.

P.D. Ouspensky



It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most people live
only for the gratification of it.  The beginning of reform is not so much
to equalize property as to train the noble sort of natures not to desire
more, and to prevent the lower from getting more.



Every time you have a desire, in a certain sense you have a goal,
something you would like to be, do, or have.  Some desires are
merely passing fancies, but others stay with us and go deeper.  Our
desires and our goals give us direction and focus.  They help point
us down our path of action in our life.

Shakti Gawain


Never, never underestimate the power of desire.  If you want to live
badly enough, you can live.  The great question, at least for me,
was:  How do I decide I want to live?

Marya Hornbacher
Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

One of the teachings of Eastern religions is that our biggest problem is
desire.  Sadness comes from the disappointments of unmet desires.
   Eastern philosophers say the problem is having the desires in the
first place.  They suggest we put our energy into eliminating expectations
rather than satisfying them.
   Somewhere within each of us is a balance point between expectation
and satisfaction.
   What are your expectations?  Trace where they came from.  Ask
yourself why you have them and what is in them for you.  Are these
desires built on your needs or someone else's?
   People rarely question their expectations.  Instead, they question
their personal adequacy.  Evaluate what truly brings you satisfaction and
peace and let the rest go.

Jennifer James
Success Is the Quality of Your Journey

If I want to free myself from endless cycles of struggling with temptation,
I need to keep rediscovering that the pain of the struggle is greater than
the pain of the desire.  If I develop the habit of restraining myself, I'll enjoy
the relief of feeling the desires pass, and I'll remember that desires are not
the problem.  Feeling pushed around by them is.  I'll continue to have desires,
of course, because I'm alive, but they'll be more modest in their demands.

Sylvia Boorstein



But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks
for another day of loving;
To rest at noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart
and a song of praise on your lips.

Khalil Gibran


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Never confuse desire with vision.  Desire has to do with
what we want.  Vision has to do with what we need.

Joan Chittister
Seeing with Our Souls

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember
that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.



The world is little, people are little, human life is
little. There is only one big thing--desire.

Willa Cather
The Song of the Lark


There are two tragedies in life.  One is to lose your heart's desire.
The other is to gain it.

George Bernard Shaw
Man and Superman

Desiring another person is perhaps the most risky endeavor of all.
As soon as you want somebody--really want him or her--it is as
though you have taken a surgical needle and sutured your
happiness to the skin of that person, so that any
separation will now cause a lacerating injury.

Elizabeth Gilbert
Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage


Human desire tends to be insatiable.  We are so anxious for pleasure that we
can never get enough of it.  We stimulate our sense organs until they become
insensitive, so that if pleasure is to continue they must have stronger and stronger
stimulants.  In self-defense the body gets ill from the strain, but the brain wants to
go on and on.  The brain is in pursuit of happiness, and because the brain is much
more concerned about the future than the present, it conceives happiness as the
guarantee of an indefinitely long future of pleasures.  Yet the brain also knows
that it does not have an indefinitely long future, so that, to be happy, it must try
to crowd all the pleasures of Paradise and eternity into the span of a few years.

Alan Watts
The Wisdom of Insecurity



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