As a young boy, I spent over a year in the city of Ludhiana, Punjab.
After India won it’s freedom, the enterprising spirit of the Punjabi’s found fertile ground for flourishing. Ludhiana became an industrial hub and a lot of people in the city became wealthy. A side effect of this change was that these people, who are fond of eating, developed unhealthy eating habits. They had the money, they had the freedom, and there was no stopping their love for food. This led to an alarming increase in obesity and eating-related disorders in the city.
Now, so many of them have all the freedom but can’t enjoy it because of their health. They have the money but it goes into paying their medical bills.
While their problem is food, the rest of us may have some others. Even after getting all the freedom and opportunities, we don’t get things right… What goes missing?
I think this happens because our freedom is not complete. While getting rid of our external aggressors was a big milestone, there is a larger battle for freedom that each one of us has to fight within. There is another aggressor inside. This is a sly one, it poses as our own voice. If left unchecked, it grows upon us and takes control. This aggressor is the collective of our desires.
If a diabetic likes sweets and follows the command of his desire, he will eat sweets in plenty and pay for it later. Our desires, unless controlled by our intellect, can lead us to our doom.
Life story of desire.
Desires feed and grow stronger on our attention. When the diabetic first gets the thought of a sweet or sees a sweet, the desire is born. If the diabetic continues to think about it or keeps looking at it, in short, gives it attention, the desire grows stronger. Over time, it becomes a strong force that he cannot fight anymore.
That is how advertisements work. You see something that is shown with desirable traits. You think it maybe good but don’t bother too much. You don’t have a strong urge and you feel that this ad(and others) don’t affect you. But when you keep seeing it repeatedly, the liking, the desire for the product grows, until one day, you cannot resist having it.
If we are to keep desire under control, we have a small window of opportunity to act, from the first time desire is born, to the time when it becomes a strong force. It is in this window that we can, through the use of our good intellect, contain desire.
What can we do in this window?
In fact, to be able to work well in this window, we have to prepare ourselves beforehand. Acting only when the problem starts is not as effective as acting before it can take root.
Use dos and donts to decide rather than likes and dislikes. Build a code, a set of rules to follow.
During times when you are not under the strong pull created by seeing the object of your desire, when your mind is clear and unperturbed, you have to think about what is good for you and what is not. You decide where to allow your attention to rest.
These are the rules, coming out of your own inquiry and intellect(and not those written in some book that have to blindly follow) that you have to unwaveringly practice. These rules are like alarm bells. Whenever a desire tries to take control of you, they start blaring and make you aware of the pitfall.
To keep your intellect sound, and to keep your desires in check, repeat the above exercise frequently.
Reading good literature also helps in building intellect.
But what about following our Inner Guide, our Intuition?
I have written earlier about listening to our Inner Guide. So am I suggesting against it now? No…
There is a difference here. The Inner Guide, or the Inner Voice, is not the only voice in our heads, there is also the noise created by our ego and our desires. For most of us, the Inner Voice is clouded by the other noises. So we have to start with following the rules we create with our own intellect.
During this period, practice mindfulness(trying to be aware of your thoughts, desires and emotions as they arise). It helps to make the Inner Voice gain strength.
Slowly, when you thus follow the path advised by your good intellect, your Inner Voice starts becoming more audible.
The day when your intellect and the voice in your head are singing the same tune, you would have discovered the voice of your Intuition. That day, your freedom would be complete!
We have no free will until we are slaves to our desires. Control them to experience true freedom.