Sunday, May 17, 2015

Are you Craving? Desiring? or Wanting?

I had a conversation with a friend this week about desire. It’s actually one of my favorite things to talk about because in recovery—and in life—we encounter the dilemma and the paradox of desires.

My friend was asking about the Buddhist teaching that suffering is caused by desire. “So”, she asked, “Should I try not to desire anything?” And I thought, and then said, “What a dull and purposeless life that would be.” And it’s true. But I get the question. I do. It’s not unlike a newcomer asking about surrender and ambition, or when I, in early recovery, confused self-care with vanity and thought that having a spiritual life meant no hair color and not dressing well.

My wise sponsor quickly straightened me out with, “You did not get sober to wear sackcloth and ashes.”

So with that in mind here’s is what I said to my friend this week about the difference—as I see it—between desire, craving and wanting:

There is a world of difference between craving, desire and wanting. Desire can be wonderful: love, art, beauty, libido in it’s truest sense, true work. But it gets distorted when it becomes a demand or an obsession or an insistence. (Or I’d now say, when it becomes a refusal as well.)

Desire is distorted when it becomes a MUST: the belief that I am not enough without this man/purse/house/job etc. There is a felt quality to wanting, “I want that kind of work; I want a loving partner, I want to feel great. Versus, I have to have that job, I must weigh 108 pounds or I’ll die if he doesn’t love me.

The measure may be in this: Where is the rest of your life? And, am I at peace now, without this thing? 

Here is one area of desire that I can relate to. I work many hours each week--many, many more hours than most people. If you looked at the number of hours you’d say “Workaholic!” But there is more to it. 

Some people who work a lot are addicted, and definitely workaholic—there is a kind of suffering and not being good enough or fear attached to that work. They are afraid of what might happen if they don’t work. But for another person—think artist, entrepreneur, activist, advocate, creator, teacher—might work many more hours than the “workaholic” but their work is a joy, creative, exciting, fun or a challenge they just love to chew on.

Another way to think of it: Some people eat candy every day and they are not addicted, while others never eat any candy but they are craving candy all the time. Which one is suffering?

Ask yourself: Do I have a want? a desire? or a craving?


Lots, lots more on desire and wanting (and good sponsors) in the book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

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