The basis of human dysfunction can be traced to two forces. Cravings, which are the ego’s ways of aggrandizing itself and aversions are the ego’s way of moving away from something that it considers unpleasant. Our entire lives revolve around acquiring things that the ego craves for and avoiding things that the ego considers unpleasant. Look at our careers, our interactions, our relationships, our family conversations, our purchases – pretty much everything comes down to these twins – cravings and aversions. Let’s look at little more deeply at these forces.
When we crave for something, we expend a lot of physical and mental energy to acquire it. Sometimes this comes at enormous costs. We want fame and success and this comes at a cost of our family and loved ones. We crave money and this comes at the cost of our health. We crave stability and this comes at a cost of losing out on new experiences in life. And the root of craving is to reach out to something greater that what we are. The mind is pulled towards an external object, through which it assumes satisfaction can come about. However, our experience of life shows us that the goalpost always shifts forward. This is a mirage. Once the object of our craving is attained, joy comes about for a short while and then the seeds for the next craving have already been sowed. Cravings result in constant dissatisfaction. And this is an inescapable facet of the mind.
But why do we crave at all? Some desires are required in order to satisfy basic human needs of food, shelter, clothing, love and companionship, intellectual discovery and so on. Understand that craving is rooted in security. And the need for security is rooted in avoiding fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of suffering. All of us need to feel safe and complete. When we are hungry we crave for food. When we need emotional support, we crave for people. This is a temporary feeling that is inbuilt into all of us. The dysfunction is when we base our lives on craving – one object after the other. Often most of us are not even aware that we are postponing joy because we crave for things. This does not mean that we abandon all cravings and renounce the world. No! Recognize the cravings in us and realize that we need to move beyond them.
Aversions embody the opposite energy. We want to avoid / run away certain people, feelings, situations, things. This too is rooted in fear. We fear that we will lose something – perhaps ourselves when exposed to this object. Many of us start arranging our lives to avoid certain discomforts, avoid certain people and so on. We move houses to be away from family. We change jobs to escape a boss. We avoid eating in a restaurant because it reminds us of an ex. Understand again that aversions per se aren’t bad. But if our entire life energy revolves around this, then we have a serious problem.
So if our lives are dominated by cravings and aversions, what do we do?
Step 1: Recognize that your actions are dominated by cravings and aversions. Awareness is the first step. Becoming aware of our patterns already means that we have one foot out of the quicksand.
Step 2: Identify small activities that are beyond craving and aversions. This can be doing the dishes – as long as you don’t say “Oh no! I have to do the dishes”. Or it could be spending time working in the garden. It could be reading a book. It could be watching the birds in a park or watching the sunset over the mountains. Anything that does not stoke excitement (craving) or fester a crushing sensation (aversion) will work. A large part of finding our “passion” lies in identifying that activity where we feel neither craving or aversion but feel a sense of deep peace, joy and connection to what we do. This is the deepest part of what moves our soul. And this is something we all have and all must work diligently to identify
Step 3: Practice the opposite. That is, let us say you feel an intense craving to eat a chocolate cake. Then, observe and intentionally tell yourself, “No. Not this time. I want to go beyond craving and I will let it go this time”. This practice of self-control is difficult at first. We may cave in to our cravings. Doesn’t matter. Just keep bringing in the awareness. Getting into exercise, sport, pranayama and meditation all help deal with cravings. In case of aversion – let us say you hate to go to crowded markets – expose yourself consciously. Tell yourself that this is a test that you are putting yourself through to grow. And with this preamble in the mind, go to the crowded shopping centre. This intentional exposure helps you realize that you are beyond these aversions. Slow exposure to your fears is the way you can overcome them.
These three steps are good starting points to go beyond cravings and aversions. A life led on the basis of cravings and aversions is a poor life. A life where we are buffeted by the vagaries of life. We need to attend to that part in us which is beyond these twins. And there we find joy, contentment and peace. This is something worth discovering. Know?