What Are Desires Anyway

by Jacquelyn Small

Desires are the hopes and wishes your dreams are made of-the fuel that drives your interests.Your desires are your longings, your attractions and your passions. This is one of the hardest psychospiritual truths for us to assimilate because of our religious imprinting.

We’ve often been warned to fear human desires and to repress them as shameful or less than spiritual. Or, we’re told to never allow strong feelings to show. And it’s certainly true that strong feelings can be chaotic and overwhelming, and when captured by a desire, we can feel out of control. So we block them.

Strong attractions do indeed come upon us like Fate; they manifest beyond our intellect’s control. For instance, what is it, do you suppose, that attracts you so strongly to another human being? It’s certainly not the intellect. You know that it’s impossible to make yourself feel in love with someone, no matter how logical or perfect that choice might seem.

Therefore, we must conclude that every magnetic pull we feel comes from a deeper place within us and contains either a necessary lesson or a soul expression seeking to come forth. Our desires are our motivating force, the cosmic Law of Attraction in operation in our lives.

Some spiritual paths even tell us we are to “kill off desire” and starve our human needs for gratification if we are to be spiritual. This, however, is a violation of psychological law, the law of human nature. The saddest, most frustrated people I know are those who hold themselves away from living, afraid they are violating spiritual law by allowing themselves to enjoy being human.

When a strong human desire is squelched, this becomes an unmet need that gets buried in the closet of repression and denial in your subconscious mind, and then, this need will act out when you least expect it. The married minister gets caught in the arms of a lover. The perfect couple wind up in a devastating custody battle.

One of the most important tasks on the sacred journey to wholeness is learning to trust that your desires are how God’s love translates into a human heart. Everything you’re drawn to is a reminder of something you need to feel whole, even though what you might need may be a tough lesson. Otherwise you wouldn’t feel the pull so acutely; there would be no interest.

If you’ll think back over your personal love story, you’ll see that every attraction contained a necessary soul expression or lesson about love and unlove that needed to be made known. You can trust that the true desires of your heart-what mythologist Joseph Campbell calls “our bliss”-are compelling nudges that come straight from the Self.

The key is to know yourself well enough that you can discriminate between a soul desire and a compulsive ego need. A desire coming from your soul feels like an intense yearning to be someone greater-someone more spiritual, more loving, or further along in your life’s work and expression of your true Self.

You can actually feel this desire as a yearning in your heart. This is a fourth level of consciousness desire that comes from love. A soul desire will always lead you to a better place and never causes harm to yourself or another.

An ego desire, on the other hand, is felt as a pressure in your gut, like a clutched feeling in your stomach. This is a third level of consciousness urge toward some unfinished psychological business, which may need to be recognized, acknowledged for its desire, and then contained. The compulsive and addictive cravings of a needy ego can give you valuable information about your unmet needs-that is, if you remain conscious.

You can learn to discipline the ways you allow these ego needs to act out. Once you know what the desire is, you can often find a healthy way to meet the real need buried under what might be masquerading as an ego drive for power or attention. Do you see what I mean? You learn to ask yourself, “What’s really going on here? What am I really seeking?”

People with serious addiction problems know that place of urgency that says “I want what I want when I want it,” with little thought of consequences. Sugar binges, sexual acting out, getting drunk, or wasted on drugs, and sometimes even violent outbursts of emotion can be the disastrous result.

Acting out base desires has extreme consequences such as prison terms, the loss of prestige or success, the loss of family and friends, and public humiliation. We all know this. Yet, any one of these may be prices necessary for an obstinate personality to pay to get the lesson, or to learn that one’s addiction needs treatment.

An “old timer” in AA once warned me: “Don’t you ever take pain away from a drunk! It’s what will eventually lead him to health.” The intensity of your desire nature is what will eventually lead you to the fulfillment of your ideals.

Therefore, we never want to denigrate what we long for or seek to destroy our passions through mechanisms of repression. Denying our true feelings is a seedbed for shadow and a contaminated, pseudo spirituality. Whether a desire is straight from your soul or from an unmet ego need, discounting or repressing the urge to express it is never appropriate psychologically.

Repression activates the shadow, and you can bet it will act out your unacknowledged desire in unconscious ways you’ll feel awful about later. I’m sure you can relate. How often have you been embarrassingly caught in a jealous temper fit, or flirting with someone’s mate, or gossiping about a good friend-only to realize later it was all about you.

Jacquelyn Small. The Sacred Purpose of Being Human: A Journey Through the 12 Principles of Wholeness (Kindle Locations 1081–1093). Kindle Edition.