The Wisdom of Wanting

Swami Ahimsadhara Saraswati, Australia

Wanting is a mysterious and controversial emotion. In essence it is completely simple. In practice its complexities often dominate and confuse our lives.

In fact, it is easy to spend a great deal of life caught up in the emotion of wanting and all that results from it. The frustrations, conflicts and difficulties which so often arise from 'wanting' have made desire the focus of much philosophy throughout human history. Such a lot of energy and thought and effort goes into fulfilling, controlling and denying our desires. It seems to be almost impossible to find a balance between wanting and fulfilment.

And yet, desire is one of the most wondrous aspects of human nature. Imagine the power of this drive if it is focused, directed and free from conflict! There are many successful people who manage to do this - they are known for their single-minded motivation, and the achievements which are the fruits of their strong sense of direction, whether positive or negative. So, although it is often said that lasting happiness can only be achieved by the elimination of desires, perhaps that is too simplistic a view. If desire is accepted as an aspect of human nature, then seeking to eliminate it is to fight against human nature. And in any case, there are desires implicit in the concept - the desire for happiness and the desire to be free of desire. You see, it is impossible. So instead, our goal can be to harness the incredible dynamism which stems from desire. However, there is a profoundly spiritual way of wanting, and that is what I call the wisdom of wanting.

It is not an easy state to achieve. And it is not achieved by making an intellectual decision to function in such a way. It is a state of mind and spirit which comes to be without striving for it, but simply through dedication to a spiritual path and an inner journey.

And it is based on a paradox. It is based on acceptance. Again, acceptance is a much misunderstood idea. It seems to imply, to the Western mind anyway, that one lives passively, without attempting to influence or create change. It seems to imply that one becomes docile, resigned even, to one's lot. This results in powerlessness and ineffectiveness. Look at the greatest saints and leaders - they do not live in this way. Rather, they seek to help others by directing positive change. So what is the real meaning of acceptance, and how can it be the basis of wisdom in wanting?

Real acceptance is a spontaneous, and possibly a divine experience. It is not achieved through making a decision to accept, although this is a starting point, and it is possible to believe that you have developed true acceptance by making an effort in this way. However, to be drenched body, mind and soul in an understanding, to feel it as a totality in one's self, to have this experience arrive spontaneously while one is walking down the street, is to know that the decision-type of acceptance is like a puddle on the road compared to a boundless ocean.

Having said that such a transformational experience can come at any time, I should also say that this type of experience does not occur in isolation. The opposite is true, because these understandings come through grace.

The experience washes all through one, like bliss. In fact, it is bliss. Because with this experience, there is a knowledge of complete harmony. The personality is washed clean of conflict. There is no possibility of arguing with the past or the present. All that is, must be. This sensation of rightness is like a form of energy that suffuses every particle of the body and every layer of the mind. It is the foundation and the very meaning of harmony.

With this deep sense of acceptance, and the absence of all conflict, wanting can also be experienced in a pure form. That is the paradox and the power of it. Strangely, it is only within the wholeness of deep acceptance, total acceptance of all that I am and all that I experience, that the beauty and delight of pure wanting can also be understood.

Because wanting is an expression of inspiration, it is motivation, it is purpose. And when the soul has the experience of acceptance, the wanting is not a problem. There is no conflict anymore. It is as though there are two layers of the personality operating quite distinctly, rather than in their usual muddle of cross-referencing and self-talk. The acceptance is like the ground. It is the basis. The wants are separate, like things. Almost like objects, which can be identified and pinpointed. And it may be that the wanting has a depersonalized feeling. It is as though each desire has its own existence to fulfil, and you are the agent through which this can take place. In this way, you may feel as though you actually want nothing. The wants are no longer personal, because you have so completely accepted what is.

And yet, all at once your power to achieve these wants has increased dramatically. No energy is wasted on conflict or struggle or competing wants or justifying or fighting the desire. A purification has occurred.

The desire may then be simply this - to use my divinely bestowed gifts to their greatest potential, to direct my thoughts and inspirations in the most unique and creative and beneficial way that I can. In this way, desire becomes a wonderful force, a great power to embrace and channel. It is no longer a trap of your own making, tangling you up in its complications.

This type of power is based on the perfection of acceptance, which, as I have said, is an experience, not an idea or belief. However, the experience may not come in this way for some time, and even when it does, it will most likely pass, remaining as memory and knowledge. When the desire is for acceptance, the experience can become an aim. In this way a seed is planted. Because now you know and believe that it can be experienced.

That is what I hope to convey here. For I had never thought about it in this way, until the experience arrived one day. Although you cannot anticipate these things, you can prepare your heart and mind to be open and then to understand. Because transformational experiences like this one do not announce their approach. For me, the experience came during my lunch hour. I was in the city, going to banks and shops, nothing spiritual. As I walked along, I realized that I was drenched in something divine, my whole being was in deep deep happiness and it was because of the feeling of acceptance. All inner and outer conflict was neutralized. There was no resistance. This was an ordinary work day. Not an ashram in sight. No meditation, no mala, no swamis in sight. I was waiting to cross the roads, thinking about the sad state of my bank balance. I don't know why it happened then, this great harmony and beauty, my emotions completely balanced with my mental being, except that it came through grace of guru.

So this is how I came to an understanding of two concepts - acceptance, and wanting. It is so simple when experienced, but so hard to grasp and live.

And then, bathed in this beautiful understanding, I had to go back to work. And of course, no one knew. It was just another day.