How can you keep desiring what you already have? Here’s one approach.
Desire: It's complicated.
Let's start with the fact that desire is fun. When I order that ice cream sundae, the anticipation is almost as good as the eating. It's a turn-on before the turn-on of the taste.
When I desire another person, that's fun, too. Not so much if the object of my desire is unattainable, in which case it's a prescription for frustration. But if I think I have a chance of getting what I want, it's intensely sexy — and sexy is — you guessed it — fun. That first date, awash in the hormones of mutual attraction — how interesting is that?
Desire is also relentless. We're always wanting something. A promotion. A bigger house. A better partner. In the Buddhist tradition, desire is called a "hungry ghost." It's always there, always pushing us forward. Desire drives us till the day we die.
But speaking of death: Desire is forever, but desire also dies. Let's say that sexy first date turns into an all-out romance, the all-out romance turns into an engagement, the engagement into a marriage, and five years later your partner has put on some pounds and is sitting on the toilet, and you're wondering how you got there.
Desire is also variable. It's morning. All I want to do is cuddle with my partner and feel the love flow between us. Then we have an argument and my desire shifts dramatically. I want me to be right and her to be wrong. I want a confession of error and an apology. I want my space. Cuddle with her? Get real!
Desire is also — and here is where things start to get really complicated — an emotion we seek to bring an end to. That first date, when the partners want nothing more than to fall into each other's arms and tumble into bed? They're longing for amazing sex, and amazing orgasms, and for the peace that comes with sexual release. They want their coupling to bring an end to the desire that brought them together in the first place.
When we desire, we desire the end of desire. Talk about your basic paradox!
The sages have followed this thread to the other side of the rainbow. Enlightenment, they tell us, consists of the end of desire. It's about saying yes to what is, to everything that is, rather than relentlessly desiring what is not.
Like I said: It's complicated. We love to desire, yet we also yearn for the end of desire — and true happiness apparently consists of transcending desire completely.
So what's a hungry ghost to do? How do we manage this paradox? I've given this a lot of thought, and I've decided that there's only one sword that cuts through this conundrum and complexity. And that is the blood-red sword of the heart
To elaborate: What's the one thing we want that is always present inside us, even if we’re not actively in touch with that desire? What's the one form of desire that the sages tell us it’s okay to remain attached to? The answer to these questions is one and the same. The desire to connect.
The desire to connect is the desire that runs deepest in us. We want it even when we don't want it! Even when I’m furious with my partner, my deeper desire is still to connect with her. In fact, the only reason I'm angry with her is because we're not connecting.
Desire has a hierarchy, and the yearning to connect is at the top. It's the stem cell of desire, the desire from which all other desires flow. And so, if you want to cut through all the noise that comes with life as a hungry ghost, the key is to focus on connecting, heart to heart.
How do you 'focus?' By returning to 'connection awareness' throughout the course of the day. There's a meditation here, and it takes the form of questions. What is the state of my heart at this moment? How open to connecting is it?
The simple truth — no, the complex truth — is that desire is a vast, deep ocean that's criss-crossed by more shifting currents than we can track. When you focus on the desire to connect, heart to heart, you get a polestar, a compass, to guide you into the port of happiness.
And happiness is fun.