Humans are programmed to sustain themselves, and in order to do so, we need to cover some basic needs like eating, resting and reproducing. These basal attributes are something which we share with all life forms. But unlike the rest of nature, humans are also the result of nature’s experiment to view itself, thus we have been given the ability to think and to reflect. This leads us to think that we are not only sustaining life, but we also develop a view that what we are sustaining is an individual self detached from the force which by far exceeds our ability to think in the first place. When the ability to think is mixed with our basic needs, a new phenomena is born — desire.
I guess most of us can agree that too much desire is not a desirable thing. Still, so many elements in our (western) culture use desire to fuel its mechanisms, and I would say consensus is that a little bit of desire is OK - at least as long as the type of desire fits into the moral framework of society. But I would suggest that even the slightest bit of desire is destructive in the long run. Before I move on with the subject I would also like to state that the threshold from «need» to «desire» is highly individual, and I would suggest that everyone investigates this threshold for themselves.
If we take more than we actually need (not what we think we need), we are bound to make someone lose in order for us to gain. Nature is a well balanced system, and it works in a constant giving-and-taking relationship. This relationship is a product of necessity, not desire. Every life form in its natural state understands this, not intellectually, but merely as a result of nature ordering itself in the most harmonious way possible. If we take more than we need, even though it does not appear as someone is losing there and then, it will have effects in the long run. To be frank, just look at the condition of the world today, and we will see that this is true. Some of the world’s biggest problems stem from our need to feed our desires: starvation, materialistic poverty, war for land, destruction of forests, habitats and oceans, overpopulation. The list goes on.
My second reason for pinning desire as a destructive force is related to the second topic of this essay: dissatisfaction. If we fail to meet our desires we feel dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction can lead to so many different types of neurosis: inferiority complexes, suicide, isolation and megalomania to mention a few. Compared to only a couple of 100 years ago, most of us live like kings today. How can it be that we are not satisfied? We don’t have to work in the fields, yet we can eat everyday. We don’t have to lift stones or chop wood, yet we can live in facilitated homes. In our western culture we have access to a vast assortment of different (and ample) food items, we can be entertained with a couple of swipes and clicks with our fingers, and many of us work less than our ancestors did, heck, a lot of us even have our hobby as our source of income! On closer inspection we see that the result of dissatisfaction is not only human neurosis, but actually the very thing which has made society what it is today. The very fuel that keeps things going is dissatisfaction itself.
And there you have it. Technology and scientific advancement are rooted in dissatisfaction. For each new milestone we cover, we want to go one more. No matter how much possessions we have, no matter how much spiritual credit we may possess, and no matter how advanced our life becomes we will always feel the urge for something else, a higher level of satisfaction. Pushing borders are not necessarily bad. Sometimes it is needed, but here again there is a balance between «need» and «desire».
Still the question remains: why is it so hard for us to be fundamentally satisfied? The fact of the matter is that If we accomplish satisfaction in the game created by society we will at the same time ruin the very basis that our society is built on, which in turn throws us into a new loop of dissatisfaction (insecurity, fear). This is why, I think, we can never be satisfied, at least not in the conventional meaning of the term. On the other hand, if we don’t do anything about our current situation the very foundation of our own existence will cease to exist. To give an example: The earth is 4.6 billion years old. If we rescale that to 46 years, modern humans have been around for about 4 hours. Our industrial revolution began 1 minute ago, and in that time we have managed to wipe out 50% of the world’s forests. Blinded by desire and dissatisfaction, humans think in a dualistic, short-term, short-range and ego-centric manner. When we are driven by our desires, we treat ourselves just the same way we treat nature, and the result is always misery. In order for us to see the greater scope of things we have to befriend our own desires. Nature did not design us to lose, because nature did not design us as something set apart from itself. One could argue that since nature doesn’t reflect upon itself, nature doesn’t really care, so why should we? But that is also dualistic thinking. If we look more closely, we see that we did not simply come into this world, we grew out of it. We are a part of it all. We are nature’s eyes, ears, nose and mouth. We are the very own reflexive organ of nature, and that is why, if we could just abandon our desires for a moment, it makes so much sense to work with and not against the flow of nature. If nature loses, we lose. If we lose, nature loses. And if we keep following the same direction we’ve done for the last decades, we will lose for sure, and nature will find a new way to reorganize itself.
Surely, human societies which have developed a way to live in harmony with their surroundings, and who treat their existence as a part of the whole and not separated from it, do exist. But for those of us who do not live in an intimate relationship with nature, or rather live in circumstances where it is hard to see this connection, we have to find other methods for seeing into the fabric of reality. Answers are everywhere, but the content of these are often wrapped up in a way which easily gets distorted by our habitual thinking, and the solution ends up being lost in the metaphor. I don’t want to give any generic answers to our problems, but I think that taking the time to observe the fluctuations of our own mind is vital, regardless of the form it is practiced in. Secondly I also think it is important to occupy the mind. There's the saying "Idle hands are the devil's workshop". Find something to do, and be careful with what you spend your time on. The ability to think and reflect is a beautiful experiment from nature’s side. We just have to be wary of the use of the tools which have been given to us. "With great powers come great responsibility", right?
Desire is a part of the human condition, and to be rational I don’t think we can ever get rid of it. Even though we are aware of the issue, we are so conditioned, it constantly works deep within our subconsciousness, and try as we might, we just can’t stop it. As we are standing in our own way to rid ourselves from it, It’s futile to fight it, but that doesn’t mean we should give into it either. To actually see what is going on, to see how our ego-attachment is driving us into neurosis because we long for satisfaction, that is the only way we can actually be sane. In other words: we have to be satisfied with having dissatisfaction. Some people live their whole lives being dragged around by their wants and don’t-wants. I would like to paraphrase Alan Wilson Watts on something he said during one of his many recorded talks: "The only way to enjoy things in this life is to disbelieve in them. If you can’t disbelieve in them, it is much better not to have them". To disbelieve in things does not mean that things do not exist, but to disbelieve that things exist as separate entities. All things, including our own desires, exist as a part of a whole, and must be treated respectively. If we can disbelieve in the things that give us temporary satisfaction, we will maybe be able to distinguish needs from desire, and even be satisfied with having just what we need. Enough is as good as a feast. If we want more than what is enough, it means we can't really handle it. If we can't handle it, we lose control, and in turn we suffer. The world suffers.
I will always remember a quote from a refrigerator magnet attached to my ex-girlfriend’s (ironically) refrigerator door: "Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get". If we can be happy with wanting what we get, then we can turn the energy created from our desire into a constructive rather than destructive force, and direct it somewhere else rather than towards our own ego. Only then can we learn to manifest the tremendous power which are already in our possession, and be the super heroes we so much desire to become.