Craving and Fulfillment: Unmasking Expectations and Discovering True Happiness

Simon d'Orlaq
8 min readAug 20, 2023

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Various terms may be used to describe the concept, such as peace, awakening, enlightenment, or even love. Nevertheless, the majority of us are in search of happiness — profound, enduring contentment and wholeness. The challenge lies in the fact that we’re seeking it in the wrong places. Our search takes us to the areas where societal influences or our conditioning suggest we look — within the fulfillment of our desires. Yet, genuine happiness does not reside there.

Let’s be precise about the mental state that keeps us entrapped in our ceaseless quest for happiness. We can’t envision a single other shackle — those bindings that cause beings to wander and chase endlessly for an extensive duration — quite like the shackle of craving. So, what is this craving and how does it manifest in our lives?

At times, “craving” is expressed as “the fever of insatiable longing.” When we contemplate thirst or the fever of insatiable longing, it provides a deeply felt understanding of what craving entails. Frequently, “craving” and “desire” are employed interchangeably, as I’ll do here. However, “desire” carries multiple meanings: it can signify the drive to do something, to achieve a goal — a desire for enlightenment, perhaps, or for greater compassion, or to offer service.

This mindset differs significantly from the mindset of craving. The desire associated with craving — the thirst, the fever of insatiable longing — is rooted in greed and attachment. If we wish to liberate ourselves from the grasp of this fever, we must comprehend where to direct our attention and where to scrutinize. In this context, we identify specific forms of craving that divert us in our pursuit of authentic happiness, including the longing for sensory pleasures and the yearning for attainment.

The yearning for sensory pleasures represents the most overt form of craving and one we’re quite familiar with. It encompasses the yearning to experience pleasurable sights, sounds, aromas, tastes, bodily sensations, and pleasant mental states. (Commonly, the mind is considered the sixth sense.) Our involvement with the yearning for sensory pleasures mirrors our customary involvement with life and the world — desiring and relishing what’s delightful while trying to evade what’s unpleasant or displeasing.

This seems to us utterly natural and typical. However, this is where we scrutinize our entanglement with the realm of sensory pleasures. We don’t denounce sensory pleasures as sinful; instead, we methodically pose fundamental questions about the sorts of experiences we find gratifying.

Our initial inquiry was: What brings satisfaction in the world? At some juncture, the notion occurred to us that all the pleasure and joy found in the world is indeed the source of satisfaction within it. Were pleasure and joy absent from the world, humans wouldn’t become infatuated with it. It’s precisely due to the presence of joy and pleasure in this realm that we yearn for and covet sensory pleasures. If they lacked appeal, our cravings for them wouldn’t exist.

Reflect on your own life — what constitutes gratification for you? Which bodily and mental experiences captivate your interest? What do you long for? Observing ourselves and the surrounding world, it’s evident that desires and satisfactions vary widely in intensity and frequency.

On one end of the spectrum, there are consuming obsessions: addiction to food, sex, alcohol, drugs, success, power, fame, wealth, possessions, comfort — perhaps even love. These forces exert a strong, pervasive influence in our lives, often nourished by our culture. While many of our desires might not be all-consuming, they still motivate numerous actions.

The target of desire can be minuscule or seemingly inconsequential, yet the potency of desire is deeply embedded in our minds, akin to a primal energy. Fleeting or seemingly minor desires can, through repetition, solidify into habits. Our progression is from “I desire this” to “I require this” to “I must possess this.”

Anticipating my morning coffee eagerly sets the tone for the day. During a self-retreat at home, I consistently relished the pleasure of a quality cup of coffee each morning. Then, one morning, the coffee container stood empty. What word leaped to mind? Catastrophe! And I genuinely felt it. In the realm of human experience, that hardly qualified as a catastrophe, yet to my craving mind, it felt like one.

Instances of craving and desire such as this are so ingrained in our existence that they often remain unnoticed. They’ve blended into our self-concept so seamlessly that we barely recognize these deeply entrenched patterns until we subject them to the piercing light of awareness. The potency of mindfulness lies in its ability to unveil the origins of craving in everyday life.

We commence by keenly observing the satisfaction we derive from various sensory experiences. What instances bring you fleeting joy? What captures your fascination? For me, it was that early morning coffee. For you, it might be lunch, a cup of tea, or a refreshing shower. That sensation of “Ahhhh” as you finally sink into bed at night — it signifies contentment, a sense of pleasure.

Whenever you discern the delight linked to these encounters, delve deeper to ascertain if a subtle undercurrent of craving accompanies them in your mind. We can apply the same scrutiny to our appreciation of pleasant daydreams.

It’s remarkably effortless to become entangled in agreeable musings, swept away by alluring sexual fantasies, culinary yearnings, or relational daydreams. However, at a certain juncture within our exploration of this domain of craving and desire, we might resonate with the following notion: “Whatever satisfaction exists in the world, that I have encountered.”

An abundance of pleasurable experiences have graced both our bodies and minds. Perhaps you’re still in pursuit of novel tastes, novel sensations, novel thoughts. The yearning for sensory pleasures and the contentment derived from them represent only the initial stride toward becoming conscious of our motivating forces.

So, what are the drawbacks inherent in the world’s gratification? What shortcomings exist? All the perils or shortcomings in the world that you have also discerned center around its impermanence, and due to this, its ultimate unreliability, susceptible to alteration.

This understanding resides within us conceptually. Yet, we don’t habitually embody this awareness. Had we done so, our attachment to things would diminish, as we’d recognize that whatever we crave, desire, and cling to is ephemeral and subject to transformation.

But how many of us, while savoring sensory delights, muster the curiosity to ponder: What are the repercussions of this indulgence? What are its drawbacks? Contemplating the pitfalls of sensory pleasures is beneficial, as it permits us to internalize this comprehension into our decisions. But what are these drawbacks?

For one, sensory pleasures don’t fulfill their pledged rewards. We’re captivated by them because we anticipate they’ll yield happiness. Indeed, they provide transient happiness, but this elation is transient and arises not due to any inherent quality in the sensory objects, but rather due to the agreeable sensations linked with them.

The cycle of sensory pleasures is one of constant change and evanescence. We pursue one, then another, and yet another, always anticipating the next in line, until our lives, all too swiftly, draw to a close.

We relentlessly chase the illusory happiness that sensory pleasures promise, but unless we begin to acknowledge their downsides, we remain trapped in the forward surge of craving, never reaching a point of fulfillment, contentment, or true tranquility. How much of your life and vitality do you wish to expend in this endless pursuit?

The initial drawback of anchoring our happiness in the gratification of sensory desires is its inherent ineffectiveness. The second peril or pitfall is that when craving gains excessive strength, it frequently propels us toward unwholesome actions that yield unfavorable consequences, engendering suffering for both ourselves and others.

Whether it’s the pull of sexual desire or any other form of lust, it exerts a potent grip on the mind, impacting our lives profoundly. Peering deeply into your heart and mind to apprehend these patterns requires considerable attentiveness and even courage.

Such introspection liberates you from the compulsion to navigate life purely through the momentum of conditioned habits — habits that have been instilled in us, some beneficial and some not. The sole route to liberation is through awareness, by truly discerning whether a course of action leads to favorable outcomes or if it lacks skillfulness and wholesomeness.

The subtler form of craving, often overlooked, is the craving for becoming — the primal urge to transform into this or that. One recognizable manifestation of this yearning for becoming manifests as the mind obsessively planning ahead. We become entangled in ceaseless planning, visualizing ourselves in future scenarios and engrossing ourselves in the thoughts and actions that would lead us there.

While not all planning is unskillful, losing oneself in fantasies about the future starkly differs from mindfully organizing tasks that need to be accomplished. Another indicator of the craving for becoming is the frequent emergence of expectations in the mind.

A significant obstacle in both meditation practice and daily life is our entrapment in expectations. In meditation, when you’re immersing yourself in the present experience, observe those instances when you’re energetically projecting into the next moment.

You’re with the current breath in order to transition to the subsequent breath, or with the present sensation in anticipation of its alteration. This pattern is quite common — a belief that the next moment holds the resolution to everything. We tend to forget that the next moment, much like the present, is transient, incapable of providing a definitive resolution.

A significant issue associated with expectations is their inevitable contribution of restlessness to the mind. Specific types of expectations can be alluring, wearing the guise of genuine aspirations within the domain of mindfulness.

However, a crucial distinction lies between aspiration and expectation. Aspirations possess the power to uplift us; for instance, aspiring toward awakening or cultivating greater compassion. Such aspirations set our course and can be profoundly inspirational and noble.

On the other hand, expectation ushers us into the turmoil of hope and fear. When expectations are present, we hope for the realization of our desires while simultaneously fearing their non-fulfillment. This experience greatly differs from that of aspiration. Expectations also fuel the comparative mind, drawing a distinct line between drawing inspiration from someone’s life or practice and getting ensnared in the quagmire of comparison and self-critique.

One of the most evident ways to detect the craving for becoming and the inclination to rush into the next moment is by recognizing the common sensation of haste. In moments of haste, our mind outpaces our body, propelling us energetically into whatever we believe we ought to be engaged in.

The phenomenon of hastiness isn’t tethered to velocity; it can manifest while moving slowly or even while seated. Rushing signifies a disregard for the core understanding of practice: that liberation isn’t about reaching a specific destination, nor is it about craving, clinging, or attachment.

Rather, it’s entirely about letting go, a capacity we can exercise at any given instant: abstaining from dwelling in the past, relinquishing anticipation of the future, and instead, perceiving each arising state with insight. This entails not yearning for past experiences, not fixating on future occurrences, and breaking free from the shackles of desire and craving.

Observe your mind when it revisits the past or yearns for future scenarios; then, with each emerging state, return to the present, even if just momentarily.

It is professed that the unconditioned state is realized; the cessation of craving is attained. The liberated mind’s essence is a liberation from craving — be it the desire for sensory pleasures or the craving for becoming. We can engage in this practice at any given instant, aspiring toward its complete realization.

This signifies authentic happiness, an attainable state not beyond our grasp.

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