Desires — the Engine of Change
Desires don’t just pop out of the blue. They form unconsciously within us and surface only when they become something definable, such as, “I want a pizza.” Before that, desires are either not felt, or at most, felt as general restlessness. We’ve all experienced that sense of wanting something but not quite knowing what it is. Well, it is a desire that has not yet ripened.
Plato once said, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and he was right. Similarly, Kabbalah teaches us that the only way we can learn anything is by first wanting to learn it. It’s a very simple formula: when we want something, we do what it takes to get it. We make the time, muster the energy, and develop the necessary skills. It turns out that the engine of change is desire.
The way our desires evolve both defines and designs the entire history of humanity. As humankind’s desires developed, they urged people to study their environment so they could fulfill their wishes. Unlike minerals, plants, and animals, people constantly evolve. For every generation, and for each person, desires grow stronger and stronger.
Taking the Driver’s Seat
This engine of change—desire—is made of five levels, zero through four. Kabbalists refer to this engine as “a will to receive pleasure,” or simply, “the will to receive.” When Kabbalah first appeared, some 5,000 years ago, the will to receive was at level zero. Today, as you might have guessed, we are at level four—the most intense level.
But in the early days when the will to receive was at level zero, desires were not strong enough to separate us from nature and from each other. In those days, this oneness with nature, which today many of us pay good money to re-learn in meditation classes (and let’s face it, not always successfully) was the natural way of life. People didn’t know any other way. They didn’t even know that they could be separated from nature, nor did they want to be.
In fact, in those days, humanity’s communication with nature and with each other flowed so seamlessly, words were not even necessary; instead, people communicated by thought, much like telepathy. It was a time of unity, and the whole of humanity was like a single nation.
But then the change occurred: people’s desires started to grow and they became more egoistic. People began to want to change nature and use it for themselves. Instead of wanting to adapt themselves to nature, they began wanting to change nature to fit their needs. They grew detached from nature, separated and alienated from it and from each other. Today, many, many centuries later, we are discovering that this was not a good idea. It simply doesn’t work.
Ever since that split, we have been confronting nature. Instead of correcting the ever-growing egoism to remain as one with nature, we have built a mechanical, technological shield to protect us from it. The initial reason we developed science and technology was to secure our shielded existence away from nature’s elements. It turns out, however, that whether we are aware of it or not, we are actually trying to control nature and take over the driver’s seat.
Today, many people are already growing tired of technology’s broken promises of wealth, health, and most important, safe tomorrows. Too few people have attained all these today, and even they cannot be certain they will still have them tomorrow. But the benefit of this state is that it forces us to reexamine our direction and ask, “Is it possible we’ve been treading the wrong path all along?”
Particularly today, as we acknowledge the crisis and the impasse we are facing, we can openly admit that the path we’ve chosen is a dead-end street. Instead of compensating for our self-centered oppositeness from nature by choosing technology, we should have changed our egoism to altruism, and consequently to unity with nature.
In Kabbalah, the term used for this change is Tikkun (correction). To realize our oppositeness from nature means that we must acknowledge the split that occurred among us (human beings) five thousand years ago. This is called “the recognition of evil.” It is not easy, but it is certainly adventurous; and most important, it is the first step to true health and happiness.