Desire is inexhaustible, we will find much desirable in the course of our day and our lives, but once you have acquired the object or substance you desired, desire ceases momentarily, and the satisfaction is as impermanent… as we quickly move on to the next thing.
Desire: Inexhaustible, but impermanent!
In the context of weight management…
An interesting study in the American Journal of Addictions (Barry et al, 2009) spoke about the connection between obesity and addictive behaviour. They seem to have something in common. Research is finding correlations or trends in temperament or character and overeating. People that overeat tend to score highly in “novelty seeking behavior” and low in “self directedness”. So if you find that you get bored easily or are a naturally curious person that requires a lot of stimulation, make sure that you allow yourself opportunity to pursue your passions and keep busy or you will get bored and throw yourself off track and seek pleasure in less constructive ways. And you may need some help or extra support to keep you accountable if self discipline and self directedness don’t come naturally to you.
Here are some other things to think about with regards to handling desire, whatever the substance or compulsion:
The problem is not desire, but rather whether we can recognize the feeling of desire rising up and how we learn to direct its energy skillfully. When we are able to notice, pause, and then choose not to pursue an unhealthy desire by replacing it with a more wholesome alternative, our conditioning gradually decreases and loosens its difficult hold upon us. We become able to notice desire but not be distracted or consumed by it. Thus, little by little, we become free of the prison of inexhaustible desires.
We can learn to “urge surf” the desire wave. We will find desire will appear, grow intense and fade away. The more practiced we get at this, the easier it will become to control impulses and conditioned responses, which used to be: feel desire and give in also known as “instant gratification”. Desire, no matter how intense or acute has a “shelf life”… it simply is not sustainable over an indefinite period of time, it would take too much energy. Typically, also as soon as we possess or acquire the object of desire, the “wanting” signaling subsides.
See there is an interesting phenomenon at play, the parts of our brain and chemistry that control wanting are not the same ones that control liking. So we can want something and then not necessary like it when we obtain it or at least not to the same degree we would have anticipated if we weighed it against how much we “wanted” the object.
Recall that pair of shoes or the bicycle or book that you just “HAD TO HAVE” and then once you had purchased it you very quickly lost interest in it. This moment’s “passion”, time and time again becomes the next moment’s disinterest or sometimes revulsion, and ever new desires surface in the void.
The more we practice not giving in to the object of our desire, the stronger that circuit becomes. Practice the art of distraction, become a master “urge surfer”. It’s not about deprivation, it’s about redirection.
At the heart of addiction and desire, is pain or an unmet need. Desire can be the thing that leads us towards our goals and a magnet that motivates us to pursue something worthwhile. Equally, hedonism is when desire becomes the brain’s way of calling us into a false sanctuary, a way to soothe, comfort or distract us from the pain of the true need.
Know yourself, learn the origin of your pain, explore your unmet needs, and use desire to direct you towards goals worthy of pursuing and celebrating.
Lisa Cutforth works in the field of addiction recovery at The Banyans