Desire and aversion

In conversation with a friend, and fellow yoga teacher, the other day and she was saying that she noticed how one of her aversions was actually the same as desire- that they are the same thing. Yes, yes, and a bit more yes!

Desire and aversion are a central teaching in most spiritual philosophies. Chapter 7 of the Bhagavad Gītā details 'jñāna vijñāna yog' which can be translated as 'the yoga of knowledge and realisation/mind'. Included in this chapter is the teaching about desire and aversion.

Bhagavad Gītā Chapter 7, Verse 27

इच्छाद्वेषसमुत्थेन द्वन्द्वमोहेन भारत | सर्वभूतानि सम्मोहं सर्गे यान्ति परन्तप || 27||

ichchhā-dveṣha-samutthena dvandva-mohena bhārata sarva-bhūtāni sammohaṁ sarge yānti parantapa

'Oh descendent of Bharat, the dualities of desire and aversion arise from illusion. O conquerer of enemies, all living beings in the material realm are from birth deluded by these.'

(Translation by Swami Mukundananda)

Let us think of aversion. What actually is aversion? 'Disliking something' is possibly an answer that springs to mind. 'I don't want this to happen' for example. Is it actually aversion or is it really desire? 'I wish this was different' in other words.

What about desire? 'I want this/that' is the obvious statement when talking about desire. In other words, what I have right now isn't enough and more or something different is required. It's an 'aversion of the present' is it not?

They really are exactly the same thing; A desire for the present moment to be different or an aversion to the present moment are the same thing, yes? As suggested in the Gītā, the duality is an illusion, which we've logically broken down right there. But how do we conquer this 'enemy'- illusion?

What options do you have with enemies? You could run away. What about fighting the enemy? Or maybe you could befriend the enemy? Perhaps all three is what actually occurs in our lives. We might spend most of our lives running, eventually realising we have to 'confront' the enemy as it doesn't go away. We may spend the rest of our lives then fighting against the enemy. Some might be successful in this battle, whereas others may not. What might be first perceived as a successful 'battle' could also result in some point returning to us stronger, with its calvary to overcome us, maybe resulting in running again. Basically, at some point it is likely we are going to need to befriend the enemy- duality. Often this involves coming to a mutual understanding, trying to know them as well as we can. You might be able to think about people in your life whom you've disliked and the more you got to know them, the more the dislike faded away. So let's take a closer look at the three options.

[As a side note, could it be seen that so much of conflict is simply not trying to understand the 'other'? Are we now too busy to take the time to do this?]

Run away from the enemy

As suggested earlier this option is the one we can spend a large chunk of our lives doing. It may seem the opposite of running away as what we're actually doing is following the 'desires' and 'aversions' that arise in the mind. Yet as alluded to earlier, we are running, running away from our experience of the present moment in some way- and it just fitted in with the analogy somewhat so I'm running with it (pun intended).

We may run, thinking we are running from the enemy, but the big reason this doesn't work, is that we are actually running with the enemy- illusion- and away from a 'friend'- present moment. We may also be completely ignorant to the fact we are doing this. It is so normal in society that to do, that anything other can seem completely bizarre. We are overtly and covertly taught that the present moment is not enough, and is in a way the enemy. This is the drive of capitalism. Even without capitalism drumming it home, it is the human condition- hence capitalism arising. Katherine May Banham- a developmental psychologist- noted that in early infancy, two emotions are displayed; distress and delight. All other emotions arise over time as differing levels of these two. These can be seen as desire and aversion in action from the get go. In other words, it is a survival mechanism which served great purpose.

Yet it is also a root of our 'suffering'. This constant running is tiring is it not? Each desire, once fulfilled, leads to another. It really is constant. If you've not noticed it already, maybe spend some time seeing if you can notice the drive of your actions. I'm going to suggest that nearly every single one stems from desire for/to change something.

I pull out my phone to check the news- desire for mental stimulation, desire for possible dopamine hit of discovering a notification, desire for a little shot of adrenaline as the news may push me into fight/flight- all a desire to avoid the full present experience and create a different one.

Battle with the enemy

One method used in spirituality and yoga was/is to battle against desire/aversion (can I just write desire now? We've seen they're the same thing, yeah?). One such way was to renounce from society. It's like, I desire cake, so never walk past a cake shop, but on a mass scale. Of course, there are wider reaching reasons for renunciation, but it is essentially the 'battle' method. In other words, hard bloody work, and takes great will power. You could remain in society and try to use will power.

Maybe try it. Some may have tried it with smoking, discovering that the desire for nicotine becomes a desire for something else instead. Every single desire really stems from the same 'problem'- desire for the present experience to be different in some way. This means the will needed is huge. The will needed is also bigger than ever as it is the opposite of the capitalist message. This is not a dig at capitalism, but a statement of fact of the society we live in. So yes, some may be able to use will to battle against this, but this lifetime is short. I don't know about you, but I personally can't be arsed with that.

Making friends with the enemy

I've got to the stage in the analogy that I don't know who the enemy is any more, and that is kind of the point. The enemy is also the friend, and the one we thought was the friend was the enemy. They are the same- present moment and illusion. They simply are.

So who do we want to be friends with? Well, everyone. The present moment, the illusion and everyone/everything in between. The illusion is also our liberation. It is why it is there, or more accurately, perceived to be there. So to be friends, let's start by understanding them a little better.

Present moment

The spiritual cliché of 'all there ever is'. The avoidance of the present moment is still the present moment. You literally cannot escape it. Think about it. If you were able to time travel, and you ended up in the 'past', would it be the past? No, it would be the present still.

It is often taught to be in the present moment, in order to avoid thinking of the past and ruminating, or thinking of the future and worrying- two biggies in mental health difficulties. But this (usually) spiritual teaching (Ekhart Tolle, looking at you here) has somewhat distorted the actual truth of our reality. Your mind has the capability of projecting in time, but the mind has also created this illusion of time. Wherever your mind projects, the reality is that you are still in the present. This may take some time (hopefully the last pun) to comprehend, or it may make perfect sense.

Every. Single. Thing. Is. In. The. Present.

So in fact, we don't even need to say 'the present' as it implies time. Every single thing is. That is all. Even in our attempts to run, we are still there. Just in a different way. Doesn't it all seem a bit silly now? We are running from something that it is run from!


Yoga teaches of māyā, or illusion. Possibly more accurately it is 'ignorance of the true nature of reality'. Illusion makes it sound like it isn't real, when I'm sure all feels pretty damn real to you (actually, recent times may've shattered that and made it feel like some really weird Charlie Brooker TV show). The illusion is the dualistic perspective- good/bad, life/death, subject/object and so on. Or here desire/aversion which we can see is one same thing, mentally shattering the dualism. It's one thing to mentally comprehend, and another to embody a different understanding. Good job that time is part of that illusion hey?

Let's try and understand the illusion another way. Every desire, where does it stem from? Every notion of dualism, where does it stem from? The root of the suffering of the human condition, where does it stem from?

I have said how enemies are friends and friends are enemies, which gives a clue to this all. Our friend the brain is also the enemy in all this. It is the enemy we have been running with, when running from the enemy who's actually our friend as it's the only thing we have. Confused?

All desire stems from the thinking mind. ALL. All duality stems from the thinking mind. ALL. We have created this illusion. Interestingly we somewhat need this thinking mind to also break free from this all, so it is still our friend really. As I say, friends and enemies are the same. They simply just are.

Now that we hopefully understand a little better, how do we become friends with desire?

Firstly we have to notice it in order to befriend it. How can you make friends with someone in the room you haven't even seen exists? So this takes self-awareness, or simply awareness. As I've said, spend some time to notice the real true motivation behind actions and you will find a bucket load of desires. We've got a lot to play with here, and that is the second thing to 'do'- see it as play. This is just a game that you can't get right or wrong. Those are again tricks of the mind.

There are various approaches which can be taken. One method is the 'retreat' inwards, and investigating 'who is the who desires'? In other words, 'who am I?' This could take minutes, this could take lifetimes, or any amount of this time illusion. We've already utilised who you actually are in becoming aware of desire. You are simply that awareness. Everything that you experience appears on/in that awareness. It may take some meditations/contemplation to realise this, but it is a highly useful realisation. Removing the thinking mind and noticing experience without thought can take you there. Once you find that 'who desires', notice if there is still desire. Because what does awareness desire? Whilst this is just a paragraph, this is a 'practice' to perform over and over, until perhaps one day you are in constant awareness of being awareness and then desire has no place to appear. This doesn't have to be some seated meditation, but can be done whenever or wherever you observe desire.

The other method is to investigate the desire itself. Again, trying to do this without the thinking mind as it was that which created it in the first place. It will do its upmost to justify the desire to you, so keep a look out for that. Using awareness, just notice everything about the desire that you can. That is everything that is in the body about it. What sensations does the desire create? Observe it all and inspect closely. Are the sensations positive, negative or neutral? It is the thinking mind which will label them, so observe what the actual experience is. The likelihood is that with pure noticing it will simply be neutral. With this the desire will have most probably faded into neutrality. That neutrality may also be oddly experienced as a positive (mental label) as it is pure peace. It is pure acceptance of the present moment. In Śaivism it would be said that in this practice, we are using the 'illusion' and noticing the sensations/energy- Śakti- to take us to (being) Śiva- consciousness.

And this too is a practice to repeat over and over until all just is. Until all experience is free from the illusions created by the mind.

Just some ideas to play with :)