The Nature of Desire

The following talk by Jeru Kabbal was recorded live and is part of a Clarity Process training offered by the APT Institute.

Toward pleasure, away from pain

We probably feel like we have many, many different motivations. But the reality is that we are either moving toward pleasure, or away from pain. Those two motivations are a continuum, they are not separate. If you look at your behavior, it’s either one or the other, either an attempt to move toward pleasure, or an attempt to move away from pain. That which we call moving toward pleasure, we would call desire. For example, you promise yourself that if your desire is fulfilled, you are going to have more pleasure, be more safe, be more secure, or whatever it brings. So let’s take a look at desires, since a good part of our energy goes into them.

If you don’t get it – you die

The other night you wrote out some desires. You were asked what you need in order to be happy. That would be a desire. If you ask yourself a question, “What do I want,” then the answer to that is a desire. First let’s just differentiate between desires and needs.

A need, by definition, is something which if you don’t get it, you die. It doesn’t mean you have to die right away, but sooner or later, if you don’t get it, you will die, because you need it.

What are some examples of things that we need? Oxygen, water, food, sleep – these are examples of things we need. So when we want those things, those are not desires. Those are needs. If we don’t get them, we die. We want to make this distinction in the beginning, even though we will probably go into this more deeply later on.

We are not talking about needs. We are not talking about what you need in order to sustain the body. We are talking about desires, which is more or less a mental trip, actually rising out of the fact that we were once helpless. Because we couldn’t fulfill our needs when we were children, when we were infants, we had thoughts about those needs – for example, “I want mommy to do this.” The need to have our needs fulfilled led very quickly to desires, which are head trips about our needs.

Desires cannot be fulfilled

One thing that we want to notice about desires is that they can’t be fulfilled. Once you get that, then obviously you are going to stop wasting a lot of your time. Desires cannot be fulfilled.

Let me explain that. You may have the desire for a new winter coat. And you can buy the winter coat. So you could say your desire has been fulfilled. But the desire as such, the abstract thing called desire, is still there. Then you get used to your winter coat, it takes about a week, and then that energy is focused on something else: “Maybe I need a new hat. I need some new boots to go with my new coat.” You can get the coat, but desire will still be there. And, if you notice, you have done that all your life. You have fulfilled desires – it looks like it, at least – only to still have desires. You are still not complete, you are still not satisfied. It’s not that when you get the coat, you think, “Ah, now I’m satisfied,” and you wait until it wears out and then you get another one… No. It’s a week later, or maybe three days later, and you still have desires. You are still frustrated.

One of the reasons you can’t fulfill the desire is because the desire is on a different plane than reality. It’s coming from a fantasy world. And it’s coming from the child that you used to be – even if you don’t see that clearly now.

Let’s say you want to buy a new coat. There’s always a desire previous to that. What might be the desire that fits into this desire for a winter coat? To be warm is one thing, but suppose you already have three coats in your closet. You want one that’s in fashion. What’s the desire behind that one? You want to be presentable, you want to be attractive, you want to be acceptable. And why would you want to be acceptable? So that people will like you. And why do you want them to like you? So that there will be someone there to take care of you. You think you want a coat, but what you really want is for someone to be there to take care of you. You feel first that you have to impress them with the fact that you are fashionable, and beautiful, and so forth. This goes on and on, and everything you do basically has the same motivation.

You are doing it because you feel like your survival depends on other people. That might surprise you, but take any desire, trace it back, and you will find that this is at the heart of it.

Of course, the person who has this thought, this desire, is the child that you used to be. And how can you satisfy the child that you used to be? That child isn’t there, in reality. Do you get that dilemma? It’s just an endless tape of desire. It has nothing to do with reality at all.

The dial says empty

Suppose you have this big kettle that you can put water in, and it has a gauge on the side that says full, medium, empty, etc. The gauge is broken. It says empty. So you put water in the kettle and the water level goes up and up, but all you can judge the water level by is the gauge. So the kettle can be full of water and running over, and the gauge still says ‘empty’. That’s the way it is with desires.. The tape still says I need, I must have. A desire cannot be fulfilled. You can buy the coat, but that doesn’t mean you are taken care of.

A desire of today is preceded by an older, unfulfilled desire. For example, “I want this new coat because it’s fashionable and I’ll look good in it.” The desire that precedes that might be, “I want to be attractive.” And the desire that precedes that is, “I want to be noticed.” Before that, it could be, “I want someone there to take care of me.” You can trace any desire like this, all the way back to a concern you had as an infant about survival.

Desire is fear

Another thing about desires is that a desire is actually the same thing as a fear. It sounds pretty cool to talk about desires, but it is less cool to talk about fears. Yet you will find that behind every desire, or part of every desire, is fear.

Let’s say you want to be attractive. What’s the fear? Fear of not being attractive, fear of not being accepted – whatever it might be. But there’s a fear there. It’s just that, “I want to be attractive” sounds somehow more positive.

“I want to be wealthy.” Where is the fear in that? It could be lots of things – fear of being poor, fear of not having any influence, fear of being pushed around, or whatever. When you have a desire, you will find that there is always a fear that is a part of that. If you can start to see that, you can conserve a lot of energy, because you are going to stop doing useless things, things that don’t particularly serve you. That doesn’t mean that you don’t buy a new winter coat every winter, but you don’t make it so important.

I’m sure you have all experienced something similar, where you are invited to a party, or you are going to a business interview, or something like that. You have already decided what you are going to wear, and you have that all figured out. Finally you need to go to the cleaners to pick up whatever it is you are going to wear. You get to the cleaners, and you find that they made a big black ink spot right in the middle of your shirt that you were going to wear. And you freak out. It’s as if the world is about to collapse. Because in your subconscious mind, you have equated looking good with survival. If this spot on your shirt keeps you from looking good, then it keeps you from making the right impression on this person, and keeps them from liking you, or whatever.

We can make a crisis out of something like that. Of course it’s not really a crisis. If we were in the now, it would just mean that there’s a spot on the shirt, that’s all. But because all of our desires are ultimately tied up with our concern about survival, then anything that goes wrong causes us to panic.

Take a desire and trace it back

Therefore I would like for us to trace some desires back in time. It is important that you can start getting a feeling for what I’ve just said. You need to be open to doing this mentally. Whenever you want something, ask yourself, “What was that based on?” What previous desire is that based on, that hasn’t been fulfilled? You can fill up your entire life with just a few desires.

For example, suppose that when you were twelve you decided, “I want to be a doctor, because I think my mother would be proud of me.” Because of this, at the age of twelve you start thinking about being a doctor, and when you get to the right age for that, your life is totally consumed with this one desire – the books that you buy, the pencils that you sharpen, the homework that you do – it’s all part of this push to be a doctor.

Sometimes we do have just a few desires that are completely dominating our whole life. For example the desire to please your father, or your mother. And it can branch out into hundreds or thousands of other desires.

The trap door game

Step 1

Now I would like for you to take a desire and trace it back. The first step in what we call the trap door game is to specify your desire. You want to be clear about the desire. Very often, what we do when we talk about desires, is that we are too abstract, and it doesn’t help us very much. So we want to pin it down. For example, if you were to say, “I want to be wealthy,” what does that mean? That’s totally abstract. It doesn’t say anything, really. If you are an Indian beggar, being wealthy is having five dollars in your pocket. If you already have five million and you say that you want to be wealthy, then obviously you want more than five million. You’re headed for fifty million. So be clear about what your desire is. If you say I want love, what does that mean to you? If you want security, what does that mean? These are all abstractions. Let them be as specific as you can.

What we are suggesting is that you take the attitude that you are ordering this desire from a mail order catalogue. And you are going to get what you order. So if you only say winter clothing, chances are they will send your money back. Because they don’t know what you want. They need to know which piece of clothing, and what size, what color, etc. So you want to be as clear and specific as you can, and very often, this is the hardest part of the whole thing, the very first step.

Step 2

The second step is to remember. Remember when you had this desire, or a similar desire. If you want to buy this new coat, remember the first time that you had a desire for a piece of clothing that you thought would make you look nice. Maybe you jump back to the year you graduated from junior high school, or maybe you will go all the way back to your first day of school, but you go back in time, to a time when you had this desire or a similar desire. Then you notice and share with your partner how old you are, and what’s happening in this memory that you are having. How do you feel in the memory? Be open to the first time that you can remember having this desire.

First you want to define it. For example, when was the first time you can remember having the desire for perfect health? It doesn’t mean this was in your childhood, maybe it was just two weeks ago. But when was the first time that you can remember? Then what you do is you go back. How old were you? You go back to being thirty four, in graduate school, in a hospital, and you are wishing for perfect health.

Step 3

Then step three comes along, creating the fantasy movie. Magically there appears to you in the hospital room a fairy godmother. And she says, “I’ve heard your desire for perfect health, and I’m granting you not only perfect health, but super-perfect health. Then you get out of bed, and you watch to see what you do, now that you have perfect health. You have it immediately. Then – in other words – you wanted perfect health so that you could walk, and play, and be with people, or whatever. So you do that in your phantasy. Then you use this perfect health in your phantasy.

Step 4

Then comes the fourth step. Your partner will ask you, what is the payoff, now that you have perfect health? What do you have now that you didn’t have before?

Example: Now you are able to take your thoughts and change them into reality, in exactly the way you want to. We are going to call this the hidden desire. What you really want is to be able to be productive. But you can’t be productive if you have poor health. So what you really want is to be productive.


And then we start over. Example: You are now thirty three, and your partner is talking to you and asking, when was the first time that you had this desire to be productive? How old were you? You were sixteen, in junior high school. Now describe in just a couple of sentences what was happening. You want to be productive so that you can be successful, and in addition to that, you have these other things that you want to do. So now we do the same thing: You are a junior in high school, and you want to be productive. Are you in any particular place in high school? Were you at home, or are you at school? You were at home. And now the fairy godmother comes again and says, “Richard, I hear what you want. You want to be productive. I’m going to tap you on the head, and that wish will be fulfilled.” Now you live that fantasy of being productive.


After this, we would look for the payoff and ask, “how would your life change now that you are productive?”. And you will say, “Well, now I’m Vice President of the student council.” Maybe you are more popular, and you are recognized. We would then choose one of those statements that seems to be the strongest. Maybe it’s recognition. Then we would say that being recognized is the hidden desire in this step. What you really wanted was to be recognized, but you figured out that you have to be productive in order to be recognized. Can you remember the first time you had the desire to be recognized? This one may go way back, maybe to first grade.

Desires are a concern about survival

But can you see where we are headed? You are going to keep going until you get to your worry about survival. You will find that behind your desire is a worry about survival. I don’t want to tell you where you will end up, but if you keep going back, that’s where you will end up.

Everybody is going to end up in the same place. It doesn’t matter if you do five hundred desires. You are going to end up in the same place each time. If we were to diagram this, here’s the original concern about not surviving. Then you start with your strategies out here, way out here, and you say, “I want to have perfect health.” Then you trace it back and you come to this point. If you have another one, for example, “I want my bookkeeping to always be clean and neat, and I don’t have to worry about it.” Trace it back, and you are going to come right back to the same place.

When you see that, when you start to see that your desires are all a concern about survival, then you have to ask yourself, “Is that really relevant now? Do you think that you need to be worried about your survival?” When you get that, you begin realizing that this whole computer the size of the state of Texas, a hundred stories high, is only concerned with one single obsession, which is survival. Because at one time, when you were an infant, you were helpless. And since you are not helpless any more, all those programs in your computer are irrelevant. This doesn’t mean that you now throw them all out, but that they are irrelevant. Because they are all based on fear.

The war is over

As soon as you begin to see that every thought is a worry about survival, you also begin seeing that your thoughts are just superfluous. Thoughts are just not necessary, they are not helping you. Once you get that, it is easier to drop them, to let go of them, and to be in the now. Some people get it very quickly, and some people get it consciously but have to struggle with it for a while. Yet when you do get it, like when you are in meditation and thoughts come up – if you know that those thoughts are just worries about survival, and in reality you are just sitting here, and your survival is not in danger – you don’t have to get involved. They are just irrelevant thoughts.

It is as if you were engaged in a war, and the war ends. Somebody comes along discussing old plans, old strategies that you were going to use in the war. What is the point to discuss it? The war is over. Once you get the irrelevancy of thoughts, you can let go of them very easily.

There is only one issue

As soon as you begin seeing this, you’ll also notice that you are not working on separate issues. There is only one issue. You have simplified everything. Thoughts may appear as a worry, or a desire, or a fear, but they are all essentially a worry about survival.

Then the question must be asked: Is this worry justified in the now? Because sometimes it might be. But it seldom is, very seldom. When you understand this, you can begin passing it along to your subconscious. When your subconscious gets it, then you are really sailing home. Then all of those things take on a totally different quality. And you can begin focusing on the now.

Does anyone have any questions so far?

Question: What do we do after the fourth step of the trapdoor technique?

Jeru: You are clear that what we do is go through these four steps to the hidden desire, and then we start all over again, moving backwards in time. What is kind of tricky sometimes, is how to actually end it. You will be surprised that many people get back to birth with this technique. Once you get back to birth, it’s best to forget the technique and let the person be in that space. If it’s a positive space, then let them hang out in that. If it’s not a positive space, you can ask them – if they want to change it – to bring in the fairy godmother and change it.

Sometimes it is good for people to experience the negativity of their birth experience. I would like to leave that open. It’s one that you play by ear, but leave it mostly up to the person that is in the process. Trust their intelligence, trust that they somehow know what would be good for them.

The idea is to give people an opportunity to actually experience their memories of helplessness, and worries about survival that are the source of all their present-day desires.

Question: “What about the desire to wake up?”

Jeru: Well, that’s okay. But it would be good for you to know that your desire to wake up is also a worry about survival. If you worry too much about waking up, you are worrying about survival. All you really need to do to be awake is to just be in the moment. You see, that’s the point. You can work at it, and work at it, and not get anyplace. All you really need to do is be in the moment, and you have achieved that.

The “Now Experience”

Question: “Should you assist the regressed partner to come back to experiencing the present moment, after a while?”

Jeru: Yes, that is a very good thing to do. Every time we do a regression, we follow it up with the ‘now experience.’ Whether it’s intuitive dialogue, which is part regression and part now, or whether you just go out in nature and be in the now. It’s important that you do follow it up, otherwise you could get stuck in that space. It is very important that you balance every regression that you do, with yourself or with other people, that you balance it out with reality. Otherwise they are going to leave your session regressed. That doesn’t need to happen, and it doesn’t serve them very well. And even if it’s only a few minutes of saying, “Tell me what colors you see in the room, tell me what square things you see in the room, do you see any triangles?” Anything to get them out of the regression and into the now…

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