Dealing with Desire

I was working from home last Tuesday afternoon following a couple of meetings in town. The meetings were arranged around breakfast and lunch. I was well fed.

I had drunk loads of water throughout the day, so I was well hydrated too.

Yet I was craving something at my desk. I sensed some desire at play, without really paying much attention to it.

Sugar? I considered something sweet but I chose to stay away from the chocolate drawer.

Caffeine? No, I had my usual amount that day.

A short while later, I realised that in the space of ten minutes I had twice picked up my phone, mindlessly, for no particular reason.

I began to pay more attention now. I became aware that I was looking for some form of dopamine hit here, some short-term gratification. I was glad I caught myself, now I could do something about it.

I had a couple of important, non-urgent tasks to complete. Things that I wanted to get done. So I used my phonesafe and set the timer for an hour. No distraction.

That worked. For an hour. Time to get up and move.

I went to the kitchen. Popcorn. Fruit. Water. Thanks.

Desire. Craving. Still there. Noted.

Ciara had taken the kids to swimming lessons, so I put the dinner in the oven.

I stuck on my running gear and headed out the door with the dog for a gentle, short recovery run after a tougher session the day before.

I put on Audible and pressed play to listen to Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. I dip in and out of it and listened to it a bit earlier that day which I had enjoyed. A new chapter began to be narrated, Radical Acceptance of Desire.

Good timing, perhaps no small coincidence. The chapter spoke into much of what I had been experiencing that day.

Desire can be a good thing of course, but not when it goes into overdrive.

The author described working with a patient as a therapist. The patient struggled with compulsive overeating for many years. But as the author emphasises, the compulsion could easily be overworking, drinking too much alcohol, overexercising or excessive people-pleasing with other clients/patients.

The compulsions and addictions we develop are typically formed to mask some unmet emotional need.

For the patient in the book, she hated herself for wanting. She felt ashamed about it. She felt like a failure every time she gave into the desire. In doing so, she remained out of touch with the longing for love that drove her addiction in the first place (conditioned by unsupportive and emotionally distant parents). She inadvertently compounded her unmet emotional need.

The patient began to accept even the most excruciating wants and fears by letting herself feel them directly in her body. When she felt consumed by fear or self-loathing she said “This too”. When she doubted anyone could ever love her, she held the fear and said “This too”.

By using this simple tool of acknowledging how she felt in the moment, she opened herself up to the experience more, and eventually, the unmet emotional need (quite extreme in her case).
Often the sense of perspective I get from books I read is useful. But when I get a practical tool that can be so easily applied, I like to share it.

Next time you feel compelled to overwork at the expense of time with yourself or your loved ones, note how you feel and where you feel it. Just acknowledge it with “This too”.
Same with any habit you’re trying to eliminate or replace, note the feeling, note the sensation, note any unmet need. Then, “This too”.

It might be to alleviate boredom, it doesn’t need to be a huge psychological or emotional can of worms.

You don’t have to do anything more. Just accept it and anything that comes with it.

“Whatever has the nature to arise, will soon pass away again” 
– Joseph Goldstein.

Give it a go and see how you feel after. Better an empty house than a bad tenant! No point in avoiding or suppressing things – explore them openly. Learn a bit more about yourself.

Let me know how you get on. Or if you have any other tips or tools to navigate your desires and cravings, let me know that too.