Wisdom to Walk Away From Painful Desires
by Guy Finley
would like to shed some light on a subtle but significant idea concerning
what I call the “circle of self.” We will examine the secret mechanism
in us that drives us through certain unconscious life cycles where, in
moments of crisis, we think we are making wise choices, only to realize we
have chosen against ourselves once again.
To begin, we must examine two important ideas. First, the most vital
moments in our lives occur when we are most conscious of ourselves, when
we are fully present to all of the lessons this same moment brings into
our awareness. It is in these moments that transformation of self and
awareness of self are as one movement.
The second idea is equally important. As a rule these moments in question,
where we are enabled to transcend ourselves, occur during those times in
our lives when something “unwanted” happens to us. It is for this
conflict we feel with life that we are more or less made to become
conscious of both the disturbance and ourselves at once.
This discovery holds many implications. If it’s true that
self-transformation is facilitated by moments of heightened self-awareness
-- and that this higher consciousness stands in sharp contrast to what
must be our “usual” state of being -- then we should inquire into the
nature of this lower level of consciousness whose presence seems to
preclude the possibility of real self-change.
Let’s put two and two together. A disturbance comes along in our lives
and leads us to see ourselves in a new light. So what is it that has been
disturbed in us by the frontrunner of this necessary life lesson? The
answer is surprising: We are momentarily pulled away from and out of the
habitual flow of our own mechanical thoughts and feelings. Let’s look at
this idea more closely.
Moments before that unwanted shock of reality whereby we see life anew,
our thoughts and feelings seemed to be the light; after all, we followed
their course; their guidance we accepted blindly. It’s only in those
vital moments in the midst of the disturbance, as the lesson in it is
received, that we see we had been living in the darkness of ourselves. We
had been deceived.
Can we take the “leap” here? Can we see from these first few lessons
the startling truth about what is required if we want to help make truly
positive changes in our lives? Let me spell it out: If higher awareness is
our partner in realizing our True Self, and life’s disturbances serve to
bring us into its company, then we should learn to welcome these
disturbances in our lives!
I brought this idea up at a recent meeting with several students they
responded to it much as I imagine you are right about now: “Hold on a
second. I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid disturbances. Now
you’re saying to invite them in! What in the world are you talking
Instead of instantly closing our mind to this new idea, let’s explore it
together. Let’s see why common disturbances in our lives can help us
unlock the higher consciousness we all long to know. With willingness to
learn the truth about ourselves as our guide, we ask the following
question: What’s the first thing that happens in the moment in which we
we can all agree that our first response to any moment of feeling
disturbed is an involuntary surge of thoughts and feelings whose basic cry
is “Don’t disturb me!” After all, it seems “only human” to
resist those moments where something disturbs us. Which brings us to this
next logical question in our exploration: “Who” or what is it within
us that does not want to be disturbed?
This question may sound silly at first; but let’s not judge too quickly.
For while it seems more than obvious that it is “I” who doesn’t want
to be disturbed, this isn’t the whole story. If we will dare to look
more closely this is what we see: This sense of “I” in us that resists
the disturbance is born out of being identified with the “status quo”
of our own habitual thoughts and feelings. It is this sense of self
that’s woven from the fiber of repeated thoughts and feelings that does
not want to be disturbed. And when life naturally moves left or right --
falling out of step with whatever dream parade we may be marching in at
that time -- this self gets “tripped up” and we fall down. Clearly we
have mistaken our thoughts and feelings for being the same as our True
Yes, it goes without saying that we spend more time with these thoughts
and feelings than with anyone or anything else. In one sense they are our
closest “friends.” They not only tell us what we should do and how we
should feel, but they define and direct our lives as a result of this
assumed identity. But let’s be clear: We are not them. We are individual
beings with multiple features; so that even though one’s True Self
includes the world of his or her thoughts and feelings, our True Self
dwells effortlessly “above” them.
The resistance we feel to life’s disturbing moments comes when reality
contradicts what our thoughts and feelings tell us we need to be whole and
happy. In other words, we resist whatever we do because our thoughts and
feelings “tell” us that things should not be as they are. Upon hearing
these laments within us -- that our mind justifies with its backlog of
reasons -- what choice have we but to start feeling angry or sorry for
ourselves? Now we feel bad for what an uncaring world has done to us; and
this is where things get really interesting.
Whom do we turn to for answers on how to get rid of this unwanted feeling?
We turn to our own thoughts and feelings, to the same self whose dream has
been disturbed, to tell us what to do to escape the pain come over us. And
please keep in mind that this present pain wouldn’t even exist for us
were it not for having listened to this same self tell us last time how we
could live disturbance free!
And what do these thoughts tell us to do to get rid of the ache we are in?
They tell us to go get something, go fix someone, get rid of something. In
short, we are suddenly sure of what we either need to go do or become in
order to free ourselves of this suffering. In other words, in all such
moments as these we are given something new to desire.
In case it isn’t already clear, what disturbed us the first time, and
gave rise to our “new” desire, is that life itself came along and
shook up our established sense of self that had been identified with
former desires. So that when reality shifted, we shook. What we need to
see is that this self that shakes is not real. When we do, instead of
seeing the cycle start all over again, we can escape the circle of self
and walk away from the unconscious desires that drive it along.
An important first step is realizing that nothing our present self can
desire can ever be new! All such longings are created from the
reconfigured content of its own thought nature, and even one’s most
clever thoughts are still the stuff of the past. This discovery in itself
should be enough to snap us out of running in these circles, but we have
one more thing that needs to be seen: Hidden in all of this mental running
around is an unquestioned assumption that because something in us resists
life it knows better than life what should be happening. Parts of us
believe they know the best path to contented living even though, for all
of their certainty, our conflict with life is unabated. Let’s see
what’s “behind” this undetected deception.
In order to continue its pseudo-existence, the thought-self continually
considers life around it using the content of its past experiences to
gauge whether things have gone well or badly. And so it tells us how we
should feel depending on its assessment of the moment, a conclusion based
on a false assumption that it understands the true meaning of the moment
Unfortunately for this often-shocked sense of self, it doesn’t know that
the true nature of reality is nothing like it dreams it is; for as we now
know it to be true, every moment of reality is new. This means that the
essence of Now, the truly present moment, is unknown. This discovery sets
the stage for recovering our True Self and its native freedom from painful
It is our willingness to take part -- to be a part -- of this unknown
moment that gradually awakens us to our own higher consciousness. It is
our full awareness of the present moment that frees us from the fear of
being disturbed by it, because in this higher self-awareness there exists
no essential difference between ourselves and all that unfolds in the
Again, this pure present moment, the new “now,” is absolutely unknown.
Its secret nature is endless space, pure silence. It has no
“individual” qualities because nothing exists outside of it to lend it
any subjective attributes. And I stress these ideas here because of what
it means to our study as follows: The only so-called observable qualities
any given moment may have are those given to it by a thought self that
“names” that event according to its own conditioned nature. And it is
from these self-assigned qualities that we then think (further) about what
the moment means; so we find either satisfaction or disappointment in it,
never knowing that we read our own labels.
We also don’t see that the nature in us that labels any moment in our
life as being a “disturbance” is the same nature that created the
conditions that caused this! Our inner task is to be aware of this truth,
which empowers us to act consciously in any moment of disturbance brought
about when our false self goes into conflict with life.
It is seeing our present nature in its action of avoiding some aching,
continually creating the circle of self as it creates one new desire after
another, that enables us to break its hold upon our lives. And as we
awaken to this higher reality through awareness of ourselves, we also
become aware of a new consciousness that can be described as this: We
realize that our True Self is the same as the present moment. And in the
true present, in the Now, there can be no disappointment because of this
great and wondrous spiritual fact: Life desires and fulfills Itself.
Let’s summarize: We must see that desire is always an inadequate
response to any moment wherein we find ourselves feeling disturbed by some
action of life. When that disturbance comes (someone bothers you, a piece
of bad news lands in your mailbox, etc.), realize that life is not asking
you to fix it so that you can remain without having to change. Instead see
this truth: Life is asking you -- inviting you -- to take part in a whole
new moment of relationship with it. Life is saying, “Let me show you the
New and True You that already has its home in me.”
instead of becoming lost in that instantaneous response of resistance,
repulsion, and negativity, try to watch the whole moment rather than
wanting to control it. Let go of your resistance and there goes with it
whatever desire was about to dominate you again. Drop the names of your
pains and you let go of all the reasons you have for them! Now you are
2003 Life of Learning. All Rights Reserved.
is the bestselling author of The Secret of Letting Go, The Courage to
Be Free, and 40 other works that have sold over a million copies
in 20 languages worldwide. His newest book, The
Seeker, The Search, The Sacred (2011, Weiser Books) reveals the common
thread that runs through every human heart: the wish to unite with the
Divine. The book is part of a larger project to share this healing message
with the world. Visit www.onejourney.net
to learn how you can help change the world.