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1800 263-YOGA in Canada

1800 783-YOGA or 1800 469-YOGA in USA

1866 446-5934 in Bahamas is pleasurable. I believe in capitalism or socialism or atheism or scicncc or quantum realities or Buddhism, and these beliefs make me feel better than you, who do not believe as I do.

A problem is that many beliefs that make people feel better aren't necessarily conducivc to a wcll-functioning, caring society. The more alienating, divisive, and uncaring a social order is, the more people cling to beliefs—like racism, nationalism, and religious and cultural intolerance — that make them feel superior. But the energy that is put into feeling superior negates life. Each time I convince myself that I'm better than you, which is one of the few pleasures available to many people, I dull myself with self-congratulation that cuts me off from any real connection that you and I might have.

Ours is a world of separate beliefs and identities competing with each other for supremacy. The pleasure I get from feeling superior separates me from you and groups from each other, creating extraordinary sorrow, violence, and needless tragedy in the world. To see this fact— not to try to make it go away or negate it, but just to see the way it works—is a vital inroad into the nature of oneself and one's identity.

We tend to think in terms of high and low desires. I may create hierarchies of desires and evaluate them according to my beliefs —"low" desires for material gain, power, or sensuality, and "high" desires for God, spirituality, peace, and a better world. What we usually consider "high" and "low" desires very often comes from our social conditioning. I'm not saying that all desires are on an equal footing or that one shouldn't have preferences— wc all do. Certainly, desiring something like good health is healthier than desiring to be worshipped. But whether desires arc high or low, better or worse, they all partake in the structure of desire.

As we become discontent with known pleasures, it's not unusual to become bored or jaded and look for new, greater, supposedly higher ones. I may turn to spirituality, searching for bliss, higher states of consciousness, and mystical experiences. Mystics, spiritual authorities, and books promise ecstasy or bliss of one type or another and describe spirituality as feeling wonderfully special most or all of the time, or even throughout eternity Believing them arouses desire, and so I search for those who can tell me how to get there. The promises of these spiritual authorities carry the weight of tradition, and are especially appealing when they coincide with my yearning for something more. I comc to view spiritual experiences as providing the greatest possible pleasures. I may have had mystical experiences in the past, and long to repeat them. Special practices may make me feel better and give me predictable experiences that reinforce my hopes and beliefs.

LETTING GO OF DESIRE The mind is so clcver; thought is so sly It says, "Well, all right. I see that pleasure and desire can contain sorrow and that to seek anything usually means seeking pleasure. So I'll stop seeking pleasure. I'll train myself not to have desires through one practicc or another." Why do this? Do I think that if I let go of desire I'll feel better? Wanting to let go of desire has the same corc desire within it, the agenda of feeling better. The ideal of detaching from desire has the not-so-hidden promise that new, more sublime, more spiritual pleasures will come one's way. Of course this is just another elaborately disguised way of seeking pleasure. The desire to be desire-less is but another desire. The thought that, because this desire purports to be spiritual, it is superior to more mundane desires shows how skilled the mind is at justifying any desire it is attached to.

Letting go of desires, especially unrealizable ones, can make you feel better. Detaching from desires is a control mechanism of mind that can be very useful in freeing oneself from old programming, since many of our desires have been conditioned into us. But since desire is part of the motor of changc, attempting to let go of desire totally removes you from the creative momentum of life. There's real danger in dampening one's emotions, intuitions, and creativity—the danger

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'tu!iU'« * []>n*r»l rti..1» miiK immiwwIu p*mm vwt ■•"lAiii'v.'nr.¡jr Eaffh kn. oob» mt nuti Mf * bn üam ner mm mry dbwra b*Md on tw>gM k» ,tinWi of being "detached" from inner wellsprings. Creativity doesn't spring from being detached. I seek, and I see it's in my nature to seek, pleasure. Sometimes I find ways of feeling good that are satisfying, but many times I don't. If I'm happy and satisfied, well and good; but if not, I see that seeking pleasure can remove me from life, creating sorrow, which brings more desire—a sclf-pcrpctuating loop of pleasure and pain. Then I want to stop, to escape the loop, but the very wanting to stop is another way of seeking pleasure, so there's great conflict.

Looking at pleasure, there seems to be no way out of its conflict. If I try to get out of it, the trying itself puts me back in. So what can I do? Is it possible to become free of all this—to move freely and on occasion break out of the confines of my nature, to move with a freedom in action that pierces through the limits of the conditioned mind?

The question I've been contemplating is not whether there arc better or worse desires, or more or less pleasurable pleasures, but rather how desire and pleasure work in us and how they can hook onto anything. An answer to the question of "What to do?" leads to the basic question ofwhetheran ordinary human being, not a saint or a guru or an expert, can see how this whole process works, and in the seeing itself move in that moment out of the conditioned habits that pleasures and desires generate, so that they are no longer problematic in living. Is it possible?

Of course, if I were to tell you that it's possible and you were to believe me, we'd just be involved again in belief. It's important that you find out for yourself if it's actually possible to come into direct contact with the nature of pleasure and desire, to sec when yours arc appropriate and healthy, and when they might not be. If you can see this as a part of how you mechanically work, without judging it in yourself, this awareness opens the door to its own movement.

Adapted from The Passionate Mind Revisited: Expanding Personal and Social Awareness, by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad (North Atlantic Books, 2009).

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