How many times have you yearned for something, thinking you just really had to have this certain special thing, or be in a certain special situation, in order to be truly happy? Sure you have. We all have. For the longest time, I wanted a David Yurman ring, the big bulky ones with a square stone in the center and two smaller stones on the band. And then, for my fiftieth birthday, I splurged and bought that beautiful ring with an amethyst stone and two smaller peridot stones, my birthstone. It was a spectacular birthday gift, and I said to myself, "Now that I possess this lovely ring, I have no need for any other jewelry. This truly satisfies me." Ha. It wasn't six months before I was at the Winter Park Art Festival and fell in love with a ring designed and crafted by talented artist David Stonnington from Chatanooga. Overlapping bands of gold and silver studded with small diamonds all around. I simply had to have that ring. The desire for it was palpable. It rose from deep in the belly and lodged in my throat where it came out as a small aching whine of greed.
You laugh, but it's the truth. I was shocked at myself. What is wrong with you, I asked, that in such a short time all the contentment with David Yurman just disappears? Well, it didn't really disappear, I told myself. I still love David Yurman. But I love David Stonnington too. Can't I take two lovers?
I have likened desire to the small, tasteless candies in a Pez dispenser. You click and a candy appears for you to grab. And when you pull the candy out of the dispenser, another one pops right into its place, ready to satisfy your need for sugar. That's the way it works in life, too. We get what we think we want; we enjoy it momentarily; and before we know it, another desire pops out of the desire dispenser to stir our yearning all over again. And on and on it goes.
Some of us spend years working hard to fulfill a never-ending series of desires. Some of us can wear ourselves out doing this. If you're lucky (or skilled), you start to notice this endless stream of pop-up desires. You begin to see that, wow, I get one thing I thought I wanted and before I know it, another thing has taken its place. And while the objects of desire begin to pile up in your house, you notice that the feeling of desire seems ever-present. Just being aware of this phenomenon, of course, is the first step to changing a habit or pattern that is not useful or is causing you to suffer. You feel a desire rising, and you say, "Oh, here it is again, that feeling in the pit of the belly telling me I want this bauble."
And eventually you begin to see that you do want something, but it's actually not the bauble in the store window. Awareness gives you the opportunity to actually start working with the pattern. You can begin to shift the way you respond to the endless chain of desires the mind dangles before you. You can examine what deeper need or belief is being buffered by this lovely chain of superficial desires. And that's when the good work begins to happen in your life.
This awareness is key to developing a new habit of mind, a different way to handle desire. That's when you begin to discern conditions and attitudes that genuinely support a sense of well-being, abundance, and happiness.
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with wanting nice things. And to this day I love my David Yurman ring. But it's our attachment to these "things" that often secures the grip we have on our "desire dispenser." It's the belief these things are going to complete us in some way, or solidify our presence on this earth. I enjoy my ring because it truly is lovely, but I'm quite clear that it is in no way necessary to (or even related to) my well-being, to my sense of worth, or to genuine contentment.
I asked students in a Rollins yoga class I teach to identify items of desire that they find themselves pursuing relentlessly, things they have assumed would bring them some sort of happiness. Jeans, food, tech items, jewelry, purses, cars, clothes, shoes, parties. The regular suspects came out in the open. They did a great job of confessing some of the ridiculous behavior their desires instigated. They really got honest with their own out-of-control shopping habits.
This conversation led nicely into the yogic notion of santosa, or contentment. In the classical yoga tradition, we examine the mind for the many ways it misdirects us in our living, and santosa is a big antidote to some of our mistaken notions. According to yoga teacher Beryl Bender Birch, santosa means “to enjoy and accept what is and to be grateful for what we have.” We all want to be content, but we think contentment means acquiring certain things and conditions: the right house, the right job, the right friends, the right accomplishments. And again, I repeat, there is nothing wrong with wanting to live well and abundantly. But the practice of santosa teaches us the value of being content with the present moment and all the conditions it presents. Right now, this minute, everything is OK. I am content with that. I release myself from striving, yearning, grasping, obsessing over the fulfillment of desires. I am fine and OK just as I am and with what I have. It’s a practice.
This is part of the mental practice that yoga advocates, and it is facilitated by the physical practice, the postures, or asanas. Moving mindfully and breathing deeply is an excellent way to quell the ever-present desire for things that our mind loves to obsess over. I would love to practice with you or share the practice with you in a class I teach. I teach at College Park Yoga on Sunday mornings and Mondays evenings, and at Balanced Body Studio on Tuesday mornings. Please come and experience the burning away of useless desire.
And thank you so much for stopping by the LifeArt Studio today. As we approach our day of Thanksgiving, may you be deeply aware of the many reasons you have to be grateful and deeply satisfied.