THE BLOG

The Power of Desire -- What Do You Want, Anyway?

02/04/2015 04:07 pm ET | Updated Apr 06, 2015

Desire is inescapable, and one could spend years trying to discover if human desire is a blessing or a curse. But right this minute a more practical question demands attention. How can you get what you want? Beyond the basic necessities for food, water, and shelter, which are enough to satisfy the desire to survive, human beings invent countless other desires. What we all experience is that some of our desires come true while others don't. That seems clear enough, but in fact people approach this simple fact from very different angles. If asked, "How do you get what you want?" or an even bigger issue, "How do you make a dream come true?" people will offer answers that aren't at all compatible:

-- Desires are fulfilled and dreams come true if you work hard enough and never stop fighting for what you want.

-- Dreams come true only if they are meant to. It hardly matters what you do; destiny or karma plays the major role.

-- It's pure luck which desires come true and which ones don't.

-- Making your dreams come true is a spiritual journey. Prayer, meditation, and good karma are critical.

-- Dreams come true by the grace of God. To make your dream come true, you must surrender to divine will.

-- Desire is self-fulfilling. Every intention includes a path to fulfillment within its structure, however remote fulfillment may seem to be.

-- Getting what you want is inevitable, but you have to look deep enough. Fulfillment can occur on the level of fantasy, dream, or imagination. It doesn't have to be physical.

Out of this list of explanations, people pick the ground rules of desire that they choose to believe in, but do principles, rules, and deeply held beliefs really help us? The picture of desire seems more confused than ever, because fulfilling a desire could require hard work or the opposite, total surrender. If something wonderful falls into your lap, does it matter if God or random chance caused it? These appear to be exact opposites, yet in India's wisdom tradition, the Bhagavad-Gita fuses opposites when Lord Krishna says, "Perform action without attachment to the fruits of action. In other words, use focus, determination, and hard work all you want, but stay detached about the outcome." In that dictum a commitment to action and surrender to the outcome are fused.

But why is this a wise strategy? In everyday life we're all attached to the outcome of desire. We want the paycheck, the girl, the raise, the nice house. Focusing on those desires without caring about the outcome doesn't seem like wisdom. It seems self-defeating. We need to go back to the common experience of having a desire. Let's say three people want a piece of chocolate cake.  Person A goes to work and earns enough money to buy a chocolate cake. Person B comes home to discover that by coincidence, his wife just that day baked a chocolate cake for him. Person C orders chocolate cake at a restaurant only to be told that the last piece was already sold -- sorry.

The unlikely truth is that all three desires operated by the same mechanism in consciousness. This mechanism is intention working to a conclusion.  Despite the fact that an actual piece of cake appears -- or doesn't -- the entire mechanics of desire takes place in consciousness.  Why don't people see this automatically and accept it as a fact? Why don't we expect our desires to come true without hindrance or struggle, letting fulfillment unfold through consciousness alone? According to Vedanta, consciousness is always in play from the seed of desire to its completion in the outer world. If you want chocolate cake in your dreams, it appears instantly. Vedanta holds that consciousness as it operates in waking life is meant to be exactly the same. The possibility that all desire is self-fulfilling is the central mystery of desire.

The inner path of desire is masked because a person's consciousness varies enormously according to many factors:

-- To be effortlessly fulfilled, an intention must be clear. Mixed messages bring mixed results.

-- We send out mixed messages because of hidden beliefs and self-assumptions that muddy the waters (such as, "I don't deserve to get what I want" or "It's sinful to want too much" or "God wants me to be pure").

-- Intentions can take a direct path but also many indirect ones. Forcing your fulfillment to come only one way while being blind to other ways often leads to disappointment.

Intention will reach a conclusion unless blocked or thwarted. A desire is blocked or detoured by karma, unclear or conflicted desires, self-judgment, the person's level of consciousness, etc., all of which are internal obstacles Intention is not blocked by external obstacles except insofar as they reflect internal obstacles. On its own, the mechanics of intention works to find the shortest and most economical path to fulfillment.

There are so many variables in even the simplest desire that the mind cannot calculate them. Wanting a piece of chocolate cake, persons A, B, and C followed the same mechanics of desire but got three different results, and now we see why. Their intention was the same, but their inner world wasn't. Your awareness is like a filter through which a desire must pass, or better said, awareness is a maze of twisted turns that intentions must negotiate.

You are too complex inside -- and there are too many unforeseen circumstances in life -- for you to control or even figure out. Therefore, the Gita's advice to remain detached isn't just a snippet of ancient wisdom.  It's practical advice, which can be literally stated as "Let the mechanics of desire bring your fulfillment without interference. The more you interfere, the less likely you will get what you want."

A skeptic might protest that this whole scheme makes no sense, for two reasons.

  1. Intention isn't what makes desires come true. There is no connection between a subjective event (the mind saying "I want chocolate cake") and the external outcome.
  2. Invoking some kind of inner block anytime a person doesn't get what he wants isn't a real explanation. Any sort of imaginary inner block can be hauled in to justify failure.
These are strong objections; they make perfect sense in a belief system where only tangible things are real. Seat-of-the-pants materialism is the default belief of almost everyone. We feel secure with things we can see and touch. To get beyond this bias, you have to experiment with your own desires. If the whole path of intention is inside you, only you can work through the various obstacles in your own awareness. If you remove them and find your desires coming true more effortlessly, then the Gita was right after all.

In the next post I will describe the process of clearing the pathway for desire. This is accomplished by a special kind of action that most people don't know about but which lies at the heart of getting what you want.

(To be cont.)

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The Future of God