Here is an essay on understanding the core of our desires, and an observation on what it means to grow.
In a hurry? Read the digest version.
To be fulfilled on the path means you ought to spend time doing things that are in line with your values.
To do things that are in line with your values, it helps to know your values.
To know your values, it helps to know who you are.
Because the basis of all desires is to be who you are.
All Desires Point to Who You Are
When a child is born, there is little that prevents him/her from being who he/she is. Well, actually, there is –if his fundamental needs (such as food, comfort, closeness to a parent) are not met, then the child isn’t who he is meant to be. When this happens, the child cries — let the world know that he isn’t fulfilled. We parents use the child’s mood to gauge how he’s doing. If a child appears to be happy, we assume that all is well. If not, we start looking for a problem.
A child grows up, and starts exploring. Exploring is a big part of who a child is. Not allowed to explore, a child gets bored and frustrated. We parents go a great length to keep a child stimulated.
When a child wants a toy, he is saying “I want to be stimulated.” Understanding this fundamental need, parents decide whether giving him that toy is really the effective and appropriate way to allow him to be who he is: a well-stimulated, exploring, curious child.
A child continues to develop and start displaying more individuality. Curiosity and exploration is universal, but each child goes about it in different ways. Some like to run outside and get dirty. Others like books. A parent observes his tendencies and provides tools and opportunities to be who he is. Because a child can’t analyze and understand himself, some of his methods are either ineffective, inappropriate, or both. A mentor ought to guide a child, so that he can continue to be who he is.
Fast forward to adulthood. A grown-up is still doing fundamentally the same thing. Let’s say you go buy a new hybrid car. Underneath that decision is a desire that says “I see myself as a person who have enough resources to buy a brand new car, one I don’t feel guilty about driving.” Maybe you’re eco-conscious or maybe you’re simply trying not to spend as much on gas. Either way, you buy a new hybrid because you believe it is an effective tool for you to be more of who you are.
When you buy a piece of clothing, you are saying “I envision myself with this piece of clothing. This piece is in line with who I am.” When you go out with your friends, you are saying “I envision myself to be a social being. It’s fun to be with these people.” If you put money into savings, you are saying “I am a person who enjoys the security of having money in the reserve.”
What Prevents Us from Being Who We Are
But not all our decisions are based on our desires, are they?
Somewhere along our development, we are subjected to different voices. It starts with parents, then goes on to schools, friends, churches, and community. It’s a voice that says “you can’t be who you are.”
Why? There are many reasons. Some of the methods you choose may be inappropriate, disruptive, or inconvenient. A lot of times, they simply have their own, different ideas about who you are, or who you should be. Going back to a child who wants a toy — a parent may not understand that what he needs is a new stimulation, a new world to explore. The parent may feel that you need to start early in conditioning a child with the message that he can’t have everything he wants, because that’s just how life is. Or the parent may have different ideas of what the child should be, like learning alphabet instead of running outside chasing bugs.
A school is an institution designed to mold and shape children into beings that are convenient for mass-handling. They give them one schedule to follow, one set of subjects to be taught in one way. There is no room there for being who he/she is. If who he is happens to be somewhat compatible with what the school demands of him, then he is lucky. If not, there will be substantial conflict. Not being allowed to be who he is, he may act out, or withdraw, or lose interest. The parent can tell that this is going on — and some try to make the child fit the school, or seek a compromise by seeking another institution or educational approach. Either way, most of us try to make our peace at school, not because it allows us to be who we are, but it is compatible with society.
We learn that we cannot be who we are. Not all the time, not even most of the time. Our parents, our teachers, and many other people tell us so.
What they may not understand is that they are denying our most fundamental desire. We are not allowed to be who we are.
The Difference between Desire and Ways to Fulfill It
A very common misunderstanding is that when a person wants something, we assume that that is all there is: a desire for that thing. But our desire is never that shallow. It’s important to know that our surface-level desires are simply ways in which a soul is trying to allow oneself to be who he/she truly is. It is a good idea to try, experiment, and explore various methods. Some methods ought to be denied or rejected. But it’s never a good idea to deny the fundamental desire.
Back to the child with toy analogy, you may not buy the toy for the child, but you must understand and honor his fundamental need to be stimulated, and offer a better method to fulfill that desire.
Doing what we love, finding the right career, finding the right spouse — these all stem out of our ongoing pursuit to become more of who we are. Once you get those things (and if they do indeed allow you to be who you are) you’ll seek more things, situations, relationships that allow you to be even more of who you are. The pursuit never ends.
Who we are is something we are given. It gets more realized as we grow, but it’s in our DNA, or our soul-print. We simply learn more about what we are as we grow.
The methods we employ to allow ourselves to be Who-We-Are, this we explore and/or make them up, mostly by trial and error.
For example, a healthy adult has a healthy desire for sexual satisfaction. That’s a desire built into our beings. But not all the ways of pursuing it are effective or appropriate. For example, prohibiting an adolescent boy from indulging in pornography shouldn’t necessarily equate to telling him that his sexuality is dirty, nasty and is an invalid desire. Instead, more appropriate ways to allow him to be a sexual being he is ought to be provided.
The Distance between Reality and Truth
Most of us have grown up with Who-We-Are compromised. The society has conditioned us that we can’t be who we are. They do that because it’s easier to ensure our collective survival. It’s easier to reduce our needs down to common, controllable few and suppress the variations and inconvenient ones.
We in the self-improvement circles are trying to undo the damages done, by encouraging each other to do what we love, find the right partner, pursue the right career. To understand who we are and figure out effective ways to allow ourselves to be that.
The less the distance between Who-We-Truly-Are and Who-We-Actually-Are, more fulfilled we become. This will be evident in your mood: happiness, optimism, joy. We become a better version of ourselves.
Our growth starts out with a process of getting back to the basics, our fundamental. To remove the clatter and false information that got piled on top of our foundation. To remove the excess and be left with nothing but the essence, only the parts we were given when we started out. Once we remove all the junk, that’s when we start truly expanding.
We have to cut down before we can build. Some of that is painful and scary — but at a deeper level, it’s very relieving. Because we are giving ourselves permission to stop being something other than Who-We-Are.
This article was featured in The Twenty Sixth Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life.