Desire and Authentic Self Expression

Man Napping on Chairs at a Teaching
June 1, 2022

Taking ownership of our desire supports us to express ourselves honestly and live an authentic life. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I thought I'd just relay a little story of something that happened this week and talk a little bit about it by way of reminding people what is at the essence for Jaya Kula and letting newer people know that also.

So Jaya Kula is open to anybody who wants to join us in any way. It doesn't matter whether anyone is practicing a certain amount, how they're participating, or whether they have allegiances to other spiritual traditions or not.

That is a really open door policy. But at the heart of Jaya Kula is that we are a practice community.

I heard something once a long time ago about teaching from another teacher who said, teachers teach what worked for them. And what worked for me was doing a lot of sadhana.

Jaya Kula has always been focused on being a place where if you want to, you can really do a lot of practice and be supported to do that.

You're not required to do that. But we try to create a place where people aren't disturbed unduly if they want to do that, and where they're encouraged to do that, and where they are supported to do that.

And of course, in terms of how I work with people, the traditions that I teach in were householder traditions, are householder traditions.

Typically there would be kind of a similar situation to what we have now, where there would be a lot of people wanting some teachings in some way or another, whether they had a relationship with the teacher in person or not.

And then there would only be a very few people actually doing it more full on. And that's just natural. That's how things happen.

So if people want a certain kind of commitment from me to guide their sadhana in a more intense way, my requirement is that you commit to doing an hour of sadhana every day. And that's without fail. That's the minimum for me to say, okay, I'm going to put some special energy into helping guide you and support you.

And of course, if someone's really, in a more magical kind of way, aligned with the traditions that I practice in, then there's no limit to what they can receive from me and from other beings who want to help them.

So somebody had an office hour appointment this week and said they were having challenges in their sadhana and they wanted help from me.

But it turns out they're only practicing 15 minutes most days, not every day. And I said, well, you don't really need close guidance from a teacher to practice for 15 minutes most days. It's just not required. Doing that is good and Anandamayi Ma was very generous in that regard.

She met tens of thousands of people during her lifetime. She traveled all over India. She traveled for 50 years. And sometimes her disciples would say, Ma, why do you bother traveling to see all those people who aren't doing any sadhana?

And she said something that really impressed me and has guided me. She said, well, if even they can spend a few minutes in my presence, that's beneficial for them.

I don't feel that people are going to benefit by spending a few minutes in my presence. But the next thing she always said to people was just do ten minutes of sadhana a day, even if you can't manage anything else. Or just think of me every day or something like that. Do a little bit of guru yoga every day.

So she was extremely generous in who she supported and the range of people that she would offer spiritual advice to.

But there's nothing to say other than practice something for ten minutes a day. If someone's only practicing for ten minutes a day, there's no advice that anyone needs other than to do that.

You have to think about what is it that you want from your practice. If you're only practicing 15 minutes a day, then you're just basically in your ordinary condition and some days you feel good and some days you don't. We have to think about what we want.

That's really the main question for us. What do we want? Can we make contact with our real desire?

We come to a setting like this, and we hear teachings, and we hang out with a teacher like myself and with the community, and we hear all kinds of things about spiritual practice.

And you have contact with me, you see some of the results of it, in any case. And you have to ask yourself, what do you want? Maybe you just want to date. Maybe you just want to relax a little bit. Maybe you just like hanging out and singing kirtan.

Whatever it is that you want, you should try to recognize that and own that and have clarity about what you're doing.

So some people really want the fruits of the practice. And then if you can own that, then that can be a great motivator in helping you to do more practice.

Because the only way in general, in most cases that you're going to have significant fruits in one lifetime is if you do a lot of practice.

Of course there's occasionally someone who doesn't need to do that, but I wasn't one of those people. If you're one of those people, more power to you.

Everyone is in a different condition. There's not any paradigm that fits all people. People come in with vast lifetimes of experience, and whether that helps them in their spiritual practice or hinders them or a mixture is always a question.

However, as with all aspects of our lives—our work lives, our relationship lives, our career path, our spiritual path—if we can identify what it is we really want, what is our heart's desire? And we can just kind of own that.

Or even if it's not, like, our heart's desire, even if it's just, like, our gut's desire or our groin's desire, whatever desire it is if we can identify it. Well, I really, really want a Tesla.

And whatever it is, even that clarity can organize things in a better direction than if you're kind of in a situation like this where you notice that some people are really into it, and you think it's, like, better for you if you're admired and looked upon as one who's really into it, even when you're not actually really into it. That just wastes an awful lot of energy.

It's best to clarify what it is you really want. And that can change, of course.

And then some people really have a very deep feeling for something we could call finding out what's going on here or awakening or for teachers and for particular traditions. And that can be kind of overwhelming and scary.

So that's something that has to be recognized and owned also, so that you're able to yield to the incredible force of that desire, that desire to wake up.

We're living in a very secular society. Christianized, but secular. And it can be weird to want to really be on a spiritual path. If we want that deeper relaxation of body, energy, and mind, relaxation of our self concept, relaxation of our concept of everybody else.

It takes years to relax that deeply. And I'm not proselytizing for anybody to do this. But if that's what you want, you have to put the time in. And you're only going to do that if you recognize your desire and own your desire to do that.

So it's good to have clarity about what you want in all areas of your life and to really listen to that voice of desire within you and follow it. Like, why not follow it? It's what you've got. It's the best thing about you.

I've spent my whole life since I became sentient with a sense of authenticity that felt embattled. I felt like I was put in a circumstance of being aggressed on by others simply by being myself.

And some of that just has to do with being a girl. I think all little girls experience that to some small or great degree. But it also just had to do with my, I think more deeply, with my sense that there was something here other than what met the eye that I wanted to discover.

And I wasn't willing to compromise on that. It seemed like the most important thing to me. I couldn't articulate what it was, but it seemed like the most important thing, and I wasn't willing to compromise.

So I've spent my whole life trying to find the space to be authentic and to not get into battles with people over that. To just be kind of left to do my thing and to find a place and people that want what I have to give. So I don't want anything less for you.

I don't want you to live an inauthentic life when I just spent 65 years working to live a more authentic life. I want exactly the same thing for you.

So whatever it is that you desire, I want to know about it. Even if it's not to do an hour of practice a day or even 15 minutes of practice a day.

But it's scary to own our desire because then we are letting go of all the things we're performing to receive admiration and approval from others.

For instance, if what you really want is a Tesla, I'm just using this example because it was a student who really wanted a Tesla. If you're in this context and what you really want is a Tesla, then you're afraid to tell me about it because you're projecting your concepts.

You think I want you to be something other than what you are. And if you really, really want to do four hours of spiritual practice a day, there's a whole bunch of people you're afraid to tell that because it really doesn't fit in with the plan.

So the best thing is to identify your desire and stick to it. Stick to it like white on rice, my favorite idiom. Don't let anyone take that away from you. No matter what it is, no matter how highfalutin or how materialistic or anything in between, it doesn't matter.

So you should identify what that is and just be that. And it'll eventually develop. It'll eventually develop into something if you do that.

It's very clarifying to live from what you actually want and not what other people are telling you or what you project and think other people are telling you.

I've always discovered, as someone who's just kind of gone my own way since I was a very little girl, that we have way more freedom than we're told we have.

There's a lot more room to move than the naysayers will tell us there is. So we internalize and embody, a lot of us, these false restrictions and false limitations. Fears about things that are never going to happen if we express ourselves more freely.

I've always found there was way more room for self expression than I was told there was. It's really worth experimenting with that also, if you find that your desires are at odds with whoever you're in context with in your life right now.

I learned this big time in academia, and many of you have heard me talk about this before. I was given scads of advice in academia about being more conservative in my scholarship and self presentation, and it just all sounded so boring and not anything I wanted to devote my life to.

That I just decided to go in exactly the opposite direction. I just decided I'm going to write whatever I want. I'm going to present myself however I want to present myself. And you know what? It was completely fine.

I got push back sometimes, but it was completely fine. I was successful doing that in academia and happier.

So this is a place where you can do a lot of sadhana if you want to, and you'll be very supported in that. But it's also—more importantly—a place where you can be yourself and where that's really all I want from you.

People often perform in front of teachers, not just in front of me, because I've had teachers and I've seen lots of students perform in front of my teachers. And I've also performed in front of my teachers out of sheer terror.

So I know that this is in some sense endemic and unavoidable in this situation when you feel so seen and you're desperate to massage how you're being seen. But if you have any awareness, you know it's hopeless.

Unless your teacher wants to be fooled, unless your teacher doesn't have enough clarity to notice what you're doing. I've had plenty of teachers like that. But in any case, that is not what I want.

It is not what I want. I want there to be as much spontaneity and lack of performance other than for fun as possible.

And no matter what you are, no matter what you want, no matter how you're showing up, if you're being real, that's what I want.

Anything else is actually just boring for me because people have the same schticks. Your way of performing to get admiration or approval, or to avoid being seen, or to sound like you're more spiritual than you are, whatever it is, your way of doing that is not original.

And I've been teaching since 2007 on my own and for a few years before that, underneath my teacher. So I've seen it all.

It's not entertaining. It kind of was entertaining in the beginning when it was new, but no, not anymore.

I was talking last week about my Dzogchen teacher, Namkhai Norbu, and he just had the most massive, impassive inner eye roll you could possibly encounter. He didn't literally roll his eyes at you, but he would just stare at you. And inside his head he was rolling his eyes massively.

And I used to think that was kind of uncalled for, but now I kind of understand. He was much older than I am and had been teaching for many more years and seeing all those schticks many, many more times. And he had many hundreds and hundreds of more students than I have too. So I just can't even imagine what that was like.

One of the skills that I learned anyway, getting older, is taking responsibility for how I actually want to be and who I am and what I want, and just getting out of situations where the pushback is so intense that there's no value to it at all.

The thing is, no matter what is happening, it is always worth protecting your ability to express yourself authentically, no matter what that means you have to do, who you have to leave, how you have to live.

Because this entire reality is the self expression of God. And expressing ourselves freely is the definition of self realization on some level. But we have to start with ordinary life and finding ways and context in which we can express ourselves.

And it's just worth any sacrifice, I think. Because otherwise we just live somebody else's life, in the sense of, like, stricture and constraint and poverty.

And our desires still get out there, but it's like squeezing the toothpaste to the wrong end. It just comes out all tweaked and weird and not joyous or not creative.

So no matter what, those things come out but they come out in really terrible ways sometimes. But people are very afraid to do the things they have to do to protect their own integrity. Even really, really minor things sometimes.

I feel like my whole life has pretty much been about trying to get people permission to be themselves. It works now and then.

Anyway, this is satsang and you can ask anything or say anything or be anything.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.