Desire, Craving, and Enlightenment on a Train
Typing “Why travel,” into an internet search engine yields a list of lists with titles like “17 Reasons Why Around the World Travel Makes You a Happier Person.” Each of those top-ten lists includes some version of the phrase “you’ll learn about yourself.” When we take a journey, we learn not only about the cultures we are exploring, but something of the vast emotional landscape within ourselves. When I embarked on my most recent trip to Europe, I had forgotten that adage, and was seeking merely to become closer to my 16-year-old daughter, to become excited again about life, and to relax and cross a few things off of my bucket list: hiking through Switzerland; tasting Tapas in Madrid; and riding the rails through the south of France. During just such a train trip, my mind and heart opened together, slowly and gently like a poppy opening to the morning sun, to an awareness of my own struggle with the nature of desire; a universal understanding of the dynamic tension between avoiding and chasing that which we crave; and a realization that happiness comes from recognizing and honoring the desires of our heart. (The reader will understand that I am breaking convention to switch back and forth between the first-person singular and first-person plural, as I had a singular experience which gave rise to understanding a shared phenomenon, and it is my wish to capture that connection.)
To set the stage and tone, picture a first class rail-car, with cushioned seats, a divine meal of fresh penne with mushroom cream sauce, bread and tomato (a Spanish delight,) salad, red wine, and European coffee punctuated with a small piece of dark chocolate. I had just finished said meal, and the train was gently rocking me back and forth, reminding me of floating in the ocean waves at Island Beach State Park. Lavender fields, deep-red wild poppies, sprays of yellow wildflowers, and grape vines alternating with straight rows of olive and cypress trees rolled past my window. Unlike the vast, geometric fields of Colorado, the French landscape is intimate and organic, resembling a patchwork crazy quilt. I was thoroughly relaxed, more so than I’d been in years. This had been a dream of mine since French class in Junior High School -- to watch fields of lavender roll past me for hours on a train. I was not disappointed; the experience was everything I had always wanted it to be and so much more. “This is totally and completely worth it. I deserve this.” This wasn’t as a thought as much as a feeling.
Wait a minute --”I deserve this?” Where did that come from? How had my deserving space come into this experience? It slowly dawned on me why it took 36 years to get to this magical place; I had to identify, and then move past a deeply-ingrained, self-imposed poverty mindset. I identify strongly as Buddhist, and have long held a belief that I was a Buddhist monk in previous lifetimes, and would therefore have spent my life (or lives) denying any desires. In this lifetime, at the age of 19, I unconsciously took on the vow of poverty, and held to it stubbornly as I tried to fit into modern family life. A sense of low self-worth mixed itself in with that poverty mind-set, and created within me a dynamic tension of feeling that I “shouldn’t” want things, and also that I didn’t deserve the things I did want. This led to feelings of shame: shame for wanting things, and shame for not acquiring them because I didn’t deserve them. Counseling, energy work, and meditation helped me to heal those irrational feelings, and helped me get back to who I am and what I truly want now, in this lifetime.
Buddhist teaching says that desire creates suffering. I realized, on this train, as I was feeling relaxed, fulfilled, and quite happy, that suffering arises not from desire, but from attachment to desire. Anything we avoid creates an attachment to that which we are avoiding. We feel envious of those who have what we are denying ourselves (think of watching somebody eat a delicious meal while we are fasting or dieting.) There are, of course, different forms of desire. Desire that stems from jealousy (I want that person to suffer for what they have done, or I want what that person has because they look happy) is different from desire that arises from love. A craving, such as a craving for alcohol, drugs, junk food, another cute top, that is much different from desire in that a craving stems from feeling bad and wanting something outside of ourselves to help us feel good. A true, healthy desire arises when we already feel happy, and want to increase that happiness, or share that happiness with another. Let me reiterate that. A healthy desire arises when we already feel happy and want to increase that happiness or share that happiness with another. Wanting to find a partner or have children is a perfect example. In the case of this trip, my love for my daughter and myself created a desire to travel together so she can explore colleges in Spain, and so we could see, smell, taste, and do new things. Through that love, I had the support of my husband, family, friends, and clients. Paulo Coelho wrote “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” That is exactly what happened, and what happens consistently when you recognize and value the desires of your heart.
Therefore, to fulfill our dreams and wishes, we do one thing first: be happy. To balance our desires, we first look at the nature of the desire, did my heart create this wish, this dream? We know a desire arises from love if it creates a connection to other beings, rather than a separation. Also, we know it is a heart-centered desire if we are not looking at this desire to make us happy, but are already happy and wanting only to increase happiness or share it with others. If that is the case, then the Universe, God, will support our desire and help us create the conditions to achieve it. In the meantime, we can be happy with what we have now, who we are now, and what we do. Meditation, prayer, yoga, massage, eating well, getting out in nature, these are all things that help us to be happy now as we create what we want next in life. <3
~~I would like to extend enormous gratitude to my divine teachers for helping me get to this point: Jafree Oswald, my first manifesting coach, whose life and writing continues to inspire me; Emory Wilder, for showing me that I have Wings, and teaching me to see through the veil; Leanne Holitza for helping me to find my “enoughness;” Andy Dooley, for giving me tools that bring it all together; and to all the other teachers, past and present, from whom I continue to learn.