Imagine what it would feel like to not want anything…
We’re not talking about the things we need to survive, like food, shelter and warmth. Rather, the things we desire – the ‘perfect’ dress, the latest iPhone, that lovely butter with salt crystals in it…
Being free of desire – and the resulting discomfort or pain we experience if that desire is not fulfilled – sounds liberating, and it is! But getting there does take effort. If you’re prepared to put some effort in (and the 40 days of Lent is the perfect opportunity to do so) keep reading.
Why do we have wants and desires?
In life, we mistakenly think that our happiness is dependent on external factors, such as:
- Where we are – school, home, work, the local watering hole…
- The people around us –and what they all do and say!
- Our possessions – the car we drive or the clothes we wear, for example.
- What we eat – from the flavours we crave to the aesthetics of fresh produce.
And because we believe that our happiness is dependent on these external objects, we develop minds of attachment towards them – which makes us want them. On the flip-side, we sometimes think our happiness is threatened by certain people, things and places, and we develop minds of ‘aversion’ towards them. Minds of attachment and minds of aversion are very uncomfortable, as we ‘loop’ the same destructive, ‘sticky’ thoughts again and again.
How our minds work (and why it’s a good idea to Spring clean your mind for Lent)
It’s easy to mistakenly identify something as a gateway to happiness. We see an object – a beautiful item of clothing, let’s say – and our mind exaggerates what we perceive to be its good qualities. We imagine how good we’ll look in it, we imagine ourselves at events wearing it, what people will say about us... and our mind becomes ‘sticky’ towards it. We want it, have to have it, begin to formulate plans to sneak off and get it… And if that item is sold out when we go to buy it, we experience suffering, we feel loss.
What’s happened is, we’ve given that object power. Before we saw the dress, its existence was of no importance to us – it had no power over us.
How to remove an object’s power
We regain control over objects by practising not feeding our desires, and Lent provides us with an opportunity to do that – to install some self-discipline, to embrace a degree of austerity. It gives us a framework for the work we need to do to free ourselves from our attachments and to create a peaceful mind.
We can use the Yogic concept of Tapas to inspire and fuel our efforts, too. As one of the five ‘Niyamas’ (things we should do – The ‘Do’s’, as opposed to the ‘Yamas’, which can be summed up as behaviours we should avoid – The ‘Do not’s!’) Tapas refers to the fire we have within us that allows us to practice mental discipline, to get things done, to do what is good for us and the people around us. In short, Tapas gives us the power – not the objects!
Make a promise to yourself, to Spring clean your mind
Spend a bit of time contemplating what things you identify as sources of happiness, and choose one to give up for the duration of Lent. It could be any of the examples listed above, even something as seemingly innocuous as milk in tea. The point is, if you want it, try not wanting it – exercise your mental discipline! And tell the people close to you what you’re doing – it’ll help you stick to your guns.
Along the way, you will experience a sense of ‘mind friction’. Whatever you’ve chosen to give up, the next time you’re faced with temptation, your mind will be cross with you. Notice that, but don’t react. Tell yourself, “Thanks for that, but right now I choose not to have any.”
In time, your desire will fade and your mind will become more peaceful. You will experience a sense of liberation And that’s where you’ll find the kind of happiness that can’t be taken from you.