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In this lesson, we talk about how we get attached to desires and fixed beliefs, and what kinds of consequences that can have. And then we look at how to work with those attachments.

Desires are things we really want. We think they will give us pleasure — a donut or chocolate, for example — we don’t want those things because of what they are, but because of the pleasure we think they’ll give us. We want that experience of momentary pleasure, a high, a fix.

But this is only momentary, and in truth, we don’t usually even enjoy it that much — we’re not really fully experiencing the donut or chocolate, we’re thinking about getting more. The problem isn’t the desire itself, or the chocolate, but the problems arise from becoming attached to the desires.

It’s like a debt that can never be repaid — you can pay your home loan until it’s paid off, then the house is yours … but you can never pay off the debt of desire. you have to keep making new payments, forever. It doesn’t lead to happiness, it’s just a temporary fix.

Why do we need it so much? Because we’re deathly afraid of what happens if we don’t get that pleasure — we have to face something scary, like loneliness or unhappiness with ourselves or doubt or the difficulty of life changes or pain. We turn to the desires and the pleasures they produce when we have even the hint of having to deal with something scarier.

In this way, it’s our way of controlling our lives. We know that we’ll get a pleasure rush from achieving this desire, rather than having to face the scary and unknown and uncomfortable … we really want that feeling of control, even though in truth, we’re just avoiding things.

After awhile, it just becomes a habit, so we don’t even realize we’re avoiding or wanting to control things, we just feel the desire and go after it.

Fixed beliefs

Fixed beliefs are another way of controlling things. It’s basically thinking you know something, but when you “know,” you shut yourself off from learning, you shut the real world out because you think you already know it.

We have lots of fixed beliefs — about how other people should behave, about how our country should be run, about fairness and equality, about right and wrong, about who we are, about what the world is and what other people are like.

We have these all the time, and we don’t realize that we’re attached to them. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the beliefs, but being attached to them gives us inflexibility and shuts us off from really experiencing the world in front of us.

Instead, we can open ourselves up to experience and not know. We can be curious about what’s actually in front of us, rather than thinking we already know what it is. We can see everything afresh, and really try to experience it with beginner’s eyes.

So we have desires and fixed beliefs that we’re attaching to … what can we do instead? Face the scary, uncontrollable chaos â€”that’s what our lives are, and it scares the shit out of us. But we can face it.

And after we’ve faced it, we can realize we’re really a part of the chaos — we’re not separate from it; we’re a part of the ever-changing flow of energy and life that’s unpredictable and unknowable. We’ve arisen out of this chaos, and we are immersed in it; we are not separate from it.

Once we learn to see ourselves as a part of the chaos, it’s not something we have to run from. It’s nothing to be afraid of â€”it’s actually just fine, and in fact we can grow to be perfectly happy in this mud.

We can practice seeing our attachments, and seeing what we’re avoiding; practice facing what we’re avoiding even if it’s scary; practice getting to know this scary groundlessness, this chaos; practice seeing that we’re a part of it; practice not shutting it out or thinking we know it, but staying with it and getting to know it with curiosity, and ultimately finding peace with it.


Please complete one of these exercises:

  1. Beginner: As you meditate, and throughout your day, see if you can notice when you’re attached to a desire or fixed belief. What are you attached to? What does this attachment give you? Write about it in your mindfulness journal.
  2. Advanced: As you do the above exercise, try to play with the idea of seeing yourself as a part of the chaos around you, as described in the lesson above. What is it like to become a part of everything else, not separate? Does this loosen up an attachment?