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Why we Should Embrace Desire even when it Causes Pain


“Craving and desire are the cause of all unhappiness.”
– Gautama Buddha

The Buddha taught us that desire is one of the root causes of suffering.

Yet the universe seems to have designed us for exactly that purpose with the intention of forcing us to alleviate or even eliminate the suffering only through connections to, and service of, others.

I understand the concept of desire being the root of suffering, but I am not convinced that the suffering caused by desire—at least when it comes to love—is always an unwanted thing.

Here’s why.

Some time ago, I fell in love with someone I had known as a friend for five years prior. One day, after several weeks of very intense and intimate conversations, our relationship changed, those magic words were spoken, and I once again found myself in that unhappy state of desire.

It came with all the trimming; self-doubt, self-pity, fear, you name it. A suffering so pure that the Buddha himself might have pointed at me and said, “There, you see? That is what desire will get you.” As he shrugged his shoulders and strolled off to meditate under his bodhi tree.

The woman who professed her love to me, and captured a permanent place in my heart and soul, is the epitome of everything that I find most attractive in a woman—physically, intellectually, and spiritually. This is not an opinion based on that rosy view of fresh love which blinds, distorts, and softens, I have always felt this way about her.

I desired this woman in ways I am unable to describe; I still do, but we can not be together. Not now. Maybe not ever. This does not mean I love her any less.

There are many good reasons why we cannot be together, and maybe I will talk about them sometime, but for now, I just want to share that my desire caused considerable pain and suffering.

Yet, I chose to embrace that desire, not of her, or that which cannot be, but my desire to be loved by her, which I have not felt in many years, because something else came along with it that made me question everything I had learned not only about desire but about love as well.

I was loving deeper, truer, and more fully than I had ever loved before. Words that I had used with what I thought was full understanding, words like “unconditional” and “non-attachment,” took on new meaning. Meaning so clear and expansive that it made my prior understanding—an understanding gained through years of study and introspection and experience—like that of an infant.

I needed to know why, so I began the process of understanding with this one simple question: Is the desire to be loved a bad thing?

According to Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee of The Golden Sufi Center, the answer to that question is no. The Sufi mystic says that the feminine quality of desire, a part of Self that is largely ignored in our society, creates an imbalance both in Self and in society.

  • Like everything that is created, love has a dual nature, positive and negative, masculine and feminine. The masculine side of love is “I love you.” Love’s feminine quality is, “I am waiting for you; I am longing for you.” For the mystic it is the feminine side of love, the longing, the cup waiting to be filled, that takes us back to God. Longing is a highly dynamic state and yet at the same time, it is a state of receptivity. Because our culture has for so long rejected the feminine we have lost touch with the potency of longing. Many people feel this pain of the heart and do not know its value; they do not know that it is their innermost connection to love.” ~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

We are all familiar with the concept of yin and yang, those opposing parts of Self, masculine and feminine, that make us whole. When viewed in this way, yin represents the desire to be loved, while yang represents the action to love. Two halves of a whole. One cannot exist without the other—not fully.

To love I must also desire to be loved because desire is the driving force behind loving, and to be loved I must also know how to love.

It can be summed up in the words of Ibn ‘Arabi, who said, “Oh Lord, nourish me not with love but with the desire for love.”

To which I might add: Sustain me with love but nourish me with desire.

The Buddha is right, desire is causing me suffering, but it has also opened my heart, my mind, and my eyes to the fact that desire can be a path to a higher love.

Does this knowledge somehow diminish suffering? No. In fact, the pain is made all the more severe by my understanding—but is worth every iota because of what it teaches me, and the depth of love which it has amplified and released.

So I surrender to love and to the universe who designed us this way and I accept the pain of desire because through that desire I have learned to love more fully.

It does raise another question, however: What happens if that desire is fulfilled?

Perhaps Rumi already knew the answer to this question when he said,

Do not seek for water, remain thirsty.”

Author: J.M. Greff
Editor: Taia Butler
Supervising Editor 1: Travis May
Supervising Editor 2: Emily Bartran

As published in Elephant Journal (except for the shitty “Friends” pic they used which I replaced with this excellent image by Jeny Gevorgyan “The Desire of the Soul”)


  1. You have beautifully described the exquisitely complicated story of love in our lives. There is something hauntingly beautiful about longing for love. The fulfillment of love desired carries the radiance of the sun. I am not sure about remaining thirsty… we always need water. Maybe not this moment, but we will again in an hour or so. Love is like that. It isn’t healthy to remain thirsty. Too many toxins build up and start to deconstruct what has been constructed. Maybe I have lived in my own world too long, but I think it is worth it to be open to what Love holds in store for us.

    • I just wonder, and worry, that since it is Desire that has taught me to live deeper that if that desire is fulfilled I may love less and at the same time, as you said, even love can become toxic if it can never be shared and fully expressed

      I suppose theres really only one way to know for sure and if the opportunity ever comes along I will certainly pursue it because being thirsty all the time has not been pleasant

      • Parched sucks. Well, no it doesn’t suck, there isn’t enough moisture, but it hurts to the core. I am well acquainted with it. On the other hand, it is the hope of finding fresh cool water that gets me up each day. I want to believe that there is someone out there for everyone that feels this thirst.

        Will Desire dull the sense of love? My thought is yes and no. I don’t think anyone truly stays in the honeymoon stage of love. I think, at some point love becomes a decision. The intensity goes up and down, but if it’s really a person you enjoy being with and want to have in your life forever, wouldn’t you be willing to accept some things that aren’t perfect? ( not talking abusive situations) Yet, a friend of mine says “all relationships have an expiration date.”

        What I do know is, I want to experience as much love in this life as I can. Right now, mother love is the most intense love I’ve experienced, but children grow to be independent of their mothers. I want to experience… I suppose the kind of love you described having lost. And if I lost that, I would possibly dive in again to see how much more there would be to experience. The field would be smaller though. I would be more discerning of the kind of relationship I am willing to experience, but that could be a limiting thought! It’s life at its best, spiraling ever upward.

        I would imagine if the thirst is still there you have something yet to learn.

    • Thank you for your excellent insights and observations, Marjorie.

      First, I guess I should clarify my use of the word Desire. In this case what began as that well known physical desire OF another, which is nothing more that a chemical reaction in order to bring people together for the sake of propagation of the species, can, and often does, lead those star struck lovers into a more real sense of love. The sort of love the M. Scott Peck defines as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”, a definition I wholeheartedly agree with. When this happens the nature of desire changes (though not necessarily the expressions). Instead of desiring someone like I might desire a slice of cheese and a baguette I desire to be loved by them.

      Desire, in this case, while encompassing both of those types (“to have” and “to be loved by”) it is the desire to be loved that drives the ability to love which drives the desire which drives the love etc,et al, et infinitum

      The pain, the suffering, here is caused by that first definition of desire, to have, which is all but impossible to separate from the truer meaning, to be loved.

      This is where gratitude comes in.

      I have but two intentions (though they come with an infinite abundance of expression and satisfaction) Love and Gratitude.

      I learned long ago that emotional pain is a message from my inner self, my soul. A message of love and caring. If I put my hand in a fire my body reacts, my nerves erupt, my brain says “get your hand out of the fire, fool” and I do. My hand may hurt for some time after but I know it will pass and I know why its there and how to avoid it again.

      When I put my heart in a fire my soul cries out to me “get your heart out of the fire, fool” yet our tendency, as the faulted humans we are, when putting our heart in a fire, is to leave it there, burning, while we writhe in agony trying to figure out why it hurts so damned much.

      I listen to my soul. I understand the message is one of love and caring. And I am grateful for that expression of compassion.

      I’m not saying I enjoy the pain, only that I am grateful for what I learn from it.

      Does that make sense?

      I plan to follow up on this article with others that both support and put to test what I offer through my experiences. Soon, I hope, though summer work often tends to eat up more hours than are available.

Let me know what you think

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