Understanding Desires, Urges, and Obsessions

by Gary on August 3, 2017 in


“All going forward comes from desire.” Florence Shinn, The Secret Door to Success

The universe seems to want something: emergence. It is going forward—changing, becoming more complex, creating consciousness of itself—so maybe we can say that the universe is loaded with desire.

We humans are certainly loaded with desire, urges, and obsessions.

If we want to understand ourselves better, we could write a memoir entitled, My Life of Desire, A Story of Suffering and Delight.

Our memoirs will likely reveal that our desires can betray us until we are able to sustain our poise and become more discerning about which ones are right for us.

My memoir would begin with my growing up obsessed with sports, an obsession that drew my devotion and energies. I loved the physicality, the competition, the status of being part of the team. My delight was the doing of it, the blocking and tackling, catching and hitting the ball, running the race, pinning my opponent to the mat, or swimming underwater as far as my friends could. My suffering was not getting the full attention of the coaches, not always making the first team, or getting a competition-ending injury. Overall, though, sport was a delight, healthy and beneficial to my growing up.

My adult desires, urges, and obsessions were more problematic, sometimes leading me toward healthy successes, sometimes leading me toward dead-ends, anguish, and confusion. I have tended to trust my desires without question, a big mistake I see now.

I was right, it turned out, to desire that the small, unloved, and mediocre community-based organization I led could become a national leader in fighting poverty. My desire to make our small agency a national laboratory for ending poverty was the right one, even though nobody in the organization shared this desire at first; later, some would assess my desire to be grandiose. But we did become a national leader, transforming the way we engaged with people in poverty, writing books in our field, and training thousands of professionals all over the country.

Other desires, though, led me down painful alleys to unsuccessful marriages and other relationships, to divorces, and to embarrassing situations that proved that my obsessions are infrequently good guides to happiness.

Wanting things is good
Desires are usually good, strong signals about the future we should create. Getting our desires right allows the banquet of life to be delivered to us.

Desire makes us strive, test ourselves, learn, grow, and develop. I have long wanted to learn to play the piano. Now, in the last quarter of my life, I have finally trusted my persistent desire enough to act. I have found a piano teacher and I take lessons. I practice most days. It’s painfully difficult: half-way through last week’s lesson, I asked my teacher like a child, “Can I go home now?” But I’m learning. My brain is challenged and forced into a deeper concentration than the rest of my easy life requires. But I’m rewarded when I play a simple tune without mistake. Heh, I’m playing the piano! I feel that my life has expanded.

I have trusted other strong desires that led me to remarkable happiness and well-being. After 40 years of urban living, I felt a strong desire to get close to nature. I searched for two years to find a place in the country. One day I found a beautiful wooded ridge of several hundred acres of mature hickory, walnut, black locust, and oak. When I stepped onto the property the first time I had a powerful visceral reaction. I couldn’t explain the physical charge that surged through me, but I felt I had found my spot. I felt the same way with every visit. It would take me a full year of work to determine that 40 acres of the forest were in legal limbo, owned by 44 heirs, most of whom did not know that they owned a share of the property. I found one of the owners who agreed to lead an effort to sell the family property. I had no money but gained a bank’s agreement to lend me $40,000 so I could compete in an auction set up by the court. I won the auction in tense bidding with my last bid of $40.000. I bought an old trailer and moved onto the property. Later I built a beautiful house there. For 17 years I loved living in that place, feeling blessed by nature, nurtured, and protected.

I gained confidence in my desires to live in certain spots and knew immediately when I had found my current home. As soon as I set foot on our mountaintop, I felt an urgent desire to live here. The view is vast, and I knew this is a perfect spot for developing a bigger view of life. For l7 years we have felt blessed, again nurtured and protected by this place and the fantastic view of nature that unfolds, ever changing, here on the mountain every day.

Our desires give direction and meaning to our lives. Desiring love, we nurture our children, make a home, help create communities, nations, and entire cultures.

Our desires to express ourselves create art. Our desires to learn create science and move us toward a state of awe.

Our desires, properly interpreted, are our potential calling to us. All we have to do is develop our listening, so we can hear what wants to emerge, the voices calling us to our destiny.

In alignment with our right desires, we are on a loving path, productive, energized and joyful.

How we pursue the wrong desires
The trouble is that our desires, urges, and obsessions frequently get us off-track, confused, and even crazy.

Where do our desires come from? How do we know if our desires are desires we should pursue or desires that we should resist?

Florence Shinn said that our desires are God speaking to us, so we should listen to them as guides to our life. But if God is speaking to us through our desires, how come pursuing our desires gets us into trouble so often?

Powerful desires are tricky, hard to ignore or dismiss, often difficult to understand and pursue. As a single man, after a couple of marriages had already ended, I wanted a mature, loving relationship, but instead of searching for a woman in a similar stage of life, I was attracted to women much younger than I was. Even though I knew that marrying someone much younger is playing with fire, I ignored the obvious and married a wonderful woman 18 years my junior. The marriage brought many blessings to my life, but ended painfully as our generational differences emerged fully.

Now my desires are almost always desires that I should be pursuing in order to realize my potential and to expand my consciousness. Still, I screwed up a desire a couple of years ago. I found the car of my dreams on the internet, a used BMW 750 X drive. Still under warranty, it was beautiful and I became obsessed with having it. I was awake enough to realize that I was obsessed, that my obsession was unusual for me; I was suspicious of my very desires. Even so, I bought the car at full price and had it shipped 2,000 miles to my town.

Over the next two years, the car was in the repair shop a total of three full months. It broke down on road trips. The car demanded constant attention. Mechanics were frequently unable to find mechanical and electrical problems: the car was a mystery of internal flaws. Ultimately, the repair bills exceeded $50,000 (mostly covered by warranty). I couldn’t trust it to get me to my destination.

I realize now how I made my mistaken purchase. This insight can probably help us check out any desire, urge, or obsession:

        Don’t ignore the danger signs

My desire overrode obvious danger signs:

  • I didn’t like the salesman, who didn’t seem to care about the sale, who was sometimes unfriendly to me on the phone, and who gave me incorrect information about the car.
  • The CarFax check revealed an accident in the past, but didn’t say how much or what damage had been done.
  • The repair record showed electrical problems that had persisted over several years, without any final solution.
  • The auto dealer had bought the car at auction.

Normally, I would not buy this car. But I did, ignoring all the obvious problems, my obsession driving my decisions.

All of our wrong desires, urges, and obsessions are accompanied by danger signals. We ignore them at our peril.

In a state of sustained poise, we can discern our right desires
We’ll no doubt make some mistakes following our desires, but most of the time we will find our right desires in a state of sustained poise:

1. Presence: We will find our right desires in the present. Living in the now, we are tuned into ourselves and everything around us. Not present, but living in fantasy, obsessed, we will never be able to hear our right desires.Present, our mind can finally relax from its frantic searching and maneuvering. Present, our mind can listen and finally recognize what wants to emerge in our lives.

2. Connectedness. Our right desires can only be fully discovered when we’re connected to other people and to this beautiful earth. We will discover ourselves in relationship. But if we’re in conflict with others and with the earth that sustains us, we’ll be forever lost and frustrated, convinced that someone is doing something to us, convinced that life is unfair. Connected, we’re on a loving path, highly aware that our personal desires are part of a much larger pattern.

3. Gratitude: The paradox is that we can desire things for ourselves and, at the same time, feel that we have everything already—that our cups are filled to the brim. Full of gratitude, we want to become more aware, to see more of life, to be more fully what we can be. Lacking gratitude, we will never be able to hear what wants to emerge. Grateful, we give thanks for what we already have and what is constantly being delivered to us, answering every desire for our emergence.

4. Creativity: Once we are on track with our right desires, we will let loose all of our creativity to achieve them. At this stage it’s a sure thing: you will experience the full banquet delivered to you. Nobody else can deliver to us what we want: our creativity will make the journey fun and exciting.

5. Lightheartedness: If we’re earnest about our desires, heavy and humorless, our ego is running the show. The ego takes itself way too seriously, of course, so we bring our light spirit, our humility, and our laughter as we pursue our desires. Lighthearted, we will easily adjust if we find ourselves wanting the wrong things. We’ll laugh and say, “Wow, that wasn’t what I wanted; it will be fun discovering what it is that I’m supposed to want.”

As we become more and more poised, as we finally quiet our minds, we gain great joy and practical advantage. Ordinary desires for wealth, love, and pleasure are all fulfilled.

Still, we want to keep our desires alive. Desiring the highest level of consciousness we can achieve in this short life, every moment is precious.










by Gary on August 3, 2017 in


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  1. Great piece. Practical advice to keeping our desires in check. If we remain present and grateful especially, we will be alert to the right desires. When our minds are not quiet, we risk making the wrong decisions. Your advice applies to all major decisions in life including relationships, money, future goals, and what we fill our time with.