Overcoming Desire Without Suppression or Indulgence

The mental consciousness likes to frame issues in terms of black and white determinations, as ‘either/or’ considerations. So we tend to swing from one extreme to the other. Either we try to indulge ourselves in fulfilling desires, in some cases with the idea that by satisfying the desire we will overcome it, or else we undertake harsh suppression of the desire and utilize all kinds of punishing methods to enforce this suppression. It is rare that we find a way out of the conundrum that both of these methods, by fixating on the energy of the desire, are actually strengthening its hold! Sri Aurobindo describes the method he recommends which, over time, attenuates the hold of desire and frees the yogic practitioner from its clutches.

For the human ego-personality, which craves the excitement and energy of ‘doing’ something, the idea that one actually simply removes oneself from active involvement in the desire is a difficult concept to accept. Yet with practice one finds that the process of detachment, and observation with a calm view as if from outside oneself is actually the leverage needed to free oneself from the clutches of the desire-soul.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “… if you want to do yoga, you must take more and more in all matters, small or great, the yogic attitude. In our path that attitude is not one of forceful suppression, but of detachment and equality with regard to the objects of desire. Forceful suppression stands on the same level as free indulgence; in both cases, the desire remains; in the one it is fed by indulgence, in the other it lies latent and exasperated by suppression. It is only when one stands back, separates oneself from the lower vital, refusing to regard its desires and clamours as one’s own, and cultivates an entire equality and equanimity in the consciousness with respect to them that the lower vital itself becomes gradually purified and itself also calm and equal. Each wave of desire as it comes must be observed, as quietly and with as much unmoved detachment as you would observe something going on outside you, and allowed to pass, rejected from the consciousness, and the true movement, the true consciousness steadily put in its place.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Desire, pp. 291-296

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