Passion Vs. Detachment

As a student of success for many years, I’ve become familiar with the idea that we need to generate a passion for our goals, a burning desire to see them brought to fruition. Yet, as a student of spirituality, I’ve spent a lot of time embracing the idea that desire is the root of all suffering. With desire, says the Buddha, comes clinging and aversion, the two seeds of discontent which imprison our souls and keep us striving for yet never achieving real happiness. Similarly, success trainers tell us we must live in the future, drawing clear and vivid pictures of the reality we want to create, while spiritual teachers tell us we must live in the present moment, for that’s all there is. How do we resolve this dilemma and find a path that leads us to happiness and contentment?

One way is to choose camps, that is to decide that you’re an advocate of one or the other philosophy and accept the inherent dictates of that view.

If you’ve chosen Buddhism as your path, you’ll guard against any flowering of desire within you, witnessing each desire with detachment, affirming its transience, and ultimately letting it go. Your desires will not cause you to react by taking action towards their attainment, since your path is one of extrication from the whims and wills of the mind, and your happiness will be derived from the conquering of desire inherent in your renunciation of the object of that desire. You’ll seek happiness in the here and now.

If you’re a student of success strategies, you’ll actively seek a clearer connection with the part of you that has desire. You’ll then draw vivid pictures of your future happiness, including the objects of your desire in the pictures. You’ll develop a passionate, almost obsessive intention to accomplish your aims, reasoning that it’s the acquisition of your goals that brings about happiness. You’ll work diligently towards the attainment of your objectives and won’t allow yourself to be content until you’ve achieved your aims.

I believe there’s a third way to proceed. It’s a synthesis of the two extremes. Let me explain. In my view, cultivating inner peace is a high priority, and experiencing happiness unconditional upon the absence or presence of a particular circumstance is essential to mental health. Therefore, I practice detachment and observe my desires without feeling that they demand attention or acquisition. I imagine myself to be a kindergarten teacher, and my desires are the desires of the little kids in the class. I watch them get excited and enjoy their passion, but I’m not caught up in it myself. Still, I want to have fun, so sometimes I’ll decide to play with the kids. I’ll get just as passionate and excited as they are, and I’ll play the game completely, hoping to win. That means that, at times, I’ll take on a goal and get passionate about its attainment. I’ll commit to its completion, work diligently, and dream of the day I’ve manifested it. I’ll become a bit obsessive and driven and look for all the ways that the universe becomes involved in helping me achieve my goal.

Since I’ve been practicing detachment and present time consciousness, however, I won’t lose sight of how I’m feeling right now. I’ll check in with myself and notice whether or not I’m getting out of balance. If I’m far out into the future and becoming intent on a particular result as a condition of happiness, I’ll pull back and stop or slow the game. If I find that I’m developing an addiction to certain conditions being met, I’ll meditate, pray, walk, or do anything but pursue the goal. I’ll remind myself that it’s just a game, and that the outcome has no more significance than that which I give it.

I practice spirituality because it reminds me that there are no conditions necessary for my happiness, and that this moment is perfect, exactly as it is. I set goals because it offers me the chance to create. Creation is part of our birthright. Plus, in setting goals, I have a structure within which I can live, love, and play. I find that very comforting.