Desire and fear flavor our entertainment, politics, and culture and the messages they broadcast. Just turn on the news at any time or choose a random movie. Our perspective is narrowed and distorted by desires and fears, most of which we’ve inadvertently absorbed from our culture.
Highly influential in our lives is a narrative of scarcity or the fear that we are lacking something both inwardly and externally. We have an intense (and at times very subtle) desire for a dependable bridge to unite our divided existence. Does this mean we’re doomed to be forever hungry for more, and that we’ll stay inside a defensive shell, removed from ourselves and others in solitary confinement?
It is ignorance of our foundational oneness (nonduality) that gives way to a sense of dualistic separateness (duality). Our divided state is characterized by desire, which moves us to pursue something external continually, or to seek a peak experience. Fear, on the other hand, is another aspect of this divided state that causes us to avoid the experiences that might be challenging or unpleasant.
Ego is preoccupied with desire and fear and fabricates a world of superior and inferior people; nothing frightens it more than emptiness and uncertainty. Ego’s biggest fear is the realization of its illusory nature, a far worse death, it thinks, than the body dying. That is to say, believing in difference keeps it alive; its mission is to divide and conquer.
Because of this distortion, we perceive a world divided into separate parts, making us view ourselves as fundamentally isolated, incomplete, and insecure. Existence gets distorted by concepts and projections and from these springs the cycle of desire and fear: solitary confinement by way of an obscured lens.
Our suffering, seeking and false self – the ego – is a product of these perceptual ‘filters’:
Raw data gets filtered through your conceptual model of the world, a world that’s made of a bundle of ideas, desires, and fears. What you see around you reflects your self-conditioning, your repeated patterns of thoughts, feelings, memories, and habits. Out of restless inadvertence, the state of being switched on mentally but switched off spiritually, you’ve become split from the world you created and unfamiliar with your non-dual depths. Imagination (called ‘maya’ or illusion in Advaita philosophy) is the catalyst of this dualistic isolation, and therefore, suffering.
What you are in the truest sense is not a creation of imagination and therefore cannot be named or grasped. You can only be. You are Being it now. Even your sense of Aliveness, though a helpful provisional pointer, is but reflection of your infinite Self. Let the emergence of your Self be your greatest desire, your deepest urge.
Because of its powerful effect on our narrative and outlook, it’s worth spending some time exploring desire, along with its counterpart, fear. Desire is deeply rooted in us. It’s what makes us curious about discovery and hungry for fresh understanding. It’s what connects people and what helps us achieve the impossible. On the one hand, desire inspires in us our childlike wonder and our innocent playfulness, and on the other, it makes us childishly greedy and egotistical. Desire has a very close working relationship with fear, although they don’t always get along. In a desiring state we yearn for experience, while in a fearful state, we resist experience. In this way, desire and fear are polar opposites of the same force: desire pulls, fear pushes. When you have a desire, you find a fear, and vice versa. Fear leads to desire and desire to fear.
Before even imagination, desire was the principal “big bang.” It’s a mystery why or how such a powerful explosion of passionate desire developed out of unspeakable completeness! One can only wonder: “Life desired, therefore I am.” Thus, in partnership with imagination, it created your personal world along with your hopes and fears and everything in between. Desire taunts: “You must be something special and particular. Too much is never enough.” In the face of sufficiency, desire laughs. In equanimity, it provokes imbalance.
I think of desire as a magnetic pull which makes the body and mind feel restless, penetrating much of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. This infiltration fashions a profound sense of deficiency and expectancy in our identity as a separate self.
It was desire that gave birth to the body with which you identify. It was desire that gave you a name and a unique character. It was desire that led you to this book. It is desire that is calling you toward authenticity and Self-realization. Conversely, feasting on desire, the individual is nourished and ceaselessly left pining for more.
Desire is invariably both productive and destructive. Those of us whose lives have been touched and at times devastated by addiction—whether our own or someone else’s—know all too well the creative thinking that gets what’s needed to satisfy the craving, whether it’s a substance or a process addiction. What psychologically motivates us in an addictive state are narratives of desire (“I need a fix to feel complete”) and fear (“I can’t face not having a fix”). Desire leads to fear and fear leads to desire. We could say that the primary compulsion is for self-concepts—to be someone or something distinct.
In this nonduality course, you’ll learn to stop fighting desire and instead direct it mindfully toward your consciousness, and let this focusing be a stopping place that leads to greater awareness and ultimately, to indescribable authenticity. Your greatest desire is to Be: every micro desire aims at the macro desire of authentic Aliveness. Try this short exercise to see this truth for yourself.
In overlooking our Self, we rely on things and people to make us happy and secure, and we go to war with, resist, and avoid the things and people that make us unhappy and insecure. As with desire, the target of fear is always in memory and anticipation, past and future.
Fear emerges because we’re so powerfully led to believe we’re self-contained and different from others. Fear is associated with a state of alertness, for “fight, freeze, or flight” and neurochemicals released in a potentially dangerous situation. Even babies, before they can talk or conceptualize, are fearful of loud noises and falling. Our psychosocial conditioning sometimes transfers this feeling of threat to other situations where we may not be physically endangered. However, our fears are often not in proportion to real danger, but a response to imagination gone wild, to ego insecurity. We pull people and possessions toward us to feel safe, but attachment and clinging only ever bring more instability.
We have fear that is not related to immediate or past threats of danger because we construct ourselves from impermanent sources and we imagine ourselves to be dualistically isolated. Fabrication and alienation breed trepidation. Our bodies are so fragile and susceptible to disease and damage and even though we know that death is always around the corner, we still invest our ultimate identity in those bodies. Our very existence infers our extinction and our primal fear is of impending doom.
The light of Aliveness filters through desire and fear—figments of experience particular to the body-mind, which reinforces individuality. Aliveness is shaped by these filters into varying versions of the concept “I must exist as something or someone,” and perpetuates the projecting. Seeing through a divided mind contracted by the pull of desire and the push of fear, we experience the world in the same dualistic way, which, if we’re not mindful, leads to suffering. The energetic pushing and pulling of suffering is a law of motion, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
We usually search for what we most deeply desire within the impermanent appearances of life: within thoughts, states, feelings, self-concepts, and other people. If we can reinforce this stuff, we think, everything will work out well. But in reality, these things simply can’t bring true fulfillment because they’re incapable of fully encapsulating life. Notice how such grasping is unsatisfactory because what we cling to doesn’t last, and what doesn’t last can’t bring lasting happiness. Metaphorically speaking, we cannot keep hold of appearances any more than we can grasp sand. In fact, our experience is an unceasing flow of phenomena; it unfolds and dissolves in our Beingness—the distinct feeling and Deep Knowing of our permeating actuality.
We seek to manifest what we desire by avoiding, removing, or moving away from the things that don’t match what we’re pursuing. While it’s a creative strategy of the mind, our impatient and insatiable quests won’t bring us what we want—they’ll only create more unease. Through restless inadvertence, we’ve forgotten our abiding Self and through embracing—and releasing—experience, we can find it again. When we do, the mind can leave the manifesting in the hands of our Self, because it has a much better Awareness of reality than the mind ever will.
When we’re asleep to the reality that separation is an illusion, our imagining, which is invariably colored by fear and desire, makes us think that never being enough or never having enough is the actual condition of life. This primary illusion not only shapes our experience, but it also becomes our experience, so we search for wholeness outside of ourselves within transitory people and objects. We become dissatisfied with our lot and feel lonely, deficient, and hopeless. Our glass is principally either half full or half empty of a bitter drink called “not-enoughness.”
In an experiential sense, we just need to clean the mirror of Deep Knowing, to blow away the dust of imagination made of particles of desire and fear. Being your absolute Self is effortless since it’s always present—but familiarizing ourselves with our essential Aliveness through adopting a discerning focus will direct you towards it.
According to the message of nonduality, Self-intimacy is true connection. In this sacred remembering, we find authentic acceptance, approval, recognition, and validation, which our desire-and-fear-based relationships could ever only promise. So, when you’re lost, isolated, and afraid, it’s not because there’s a link missing in your life; it’s because you’re unknowingly overlooking the fundamental truth that you are this ultimate link, the common factor, pure connectivity itself.
We don’t have to try to cultivate nondual Awareness; we just need to inquire into how it gets obscured with restless inadvertence—with desire- and fear-based patterns. We can boldly and mindfully open to the anxiety, fear, and desire we perceive, without trying to fight or escape. By being openly aware but not habitually defensive, we can See beyond the illusion of separateness and the suffering.