When the aspirant abstains from sensory pleasures, usually the longing for them lingers. But when the aspirant experiences union with God, even the longings cease (2.59 Bhagavad Gita)
The outer war represented in the Bhagavad Gita is an allegory for the inner battle we each must wage on a daily basis against the lower parts of our own nature.
Our lower self or ego (ahamkara in Sanskrit) has the propensity to seek pleasure, immediate gratification, comfort, and ease. It likes the easy road, which is what Jesus called the wide gate that most go by that leads to suffering.
This is the part of us that says things such as, “Take the rest of the day off, relax”, “Let’s have a few drinks and switch off”, “Don’t worry about doing that today, start tomorrow”, or “What’s the big deal if I sleep in this morning instead of getting up to do my practice or exercise?” These are but a few of the myriad rationalisations the lower self comes up with to get its way.
Each day we are faced with a choice. We can give in to our lower nature, take it easy, indulge our appetites, and ignore the vision and ideal we have for our life.
Or we can take the road less travelled, the narrow gate that Jesus said leads to life whereby we develop temperance, restraint, and self-control, pursuing our vision and ideal single-heartedly.
The Gita does not teach that enjoying life and all its sensory pleasures is bad. We should enjoy our beautiful world and all its amazing experiences, but we should do so while ensuring we maintain our inner freedom.
If we repeat something often enough, we are likely to become attached to or addicted to it.
These repetitive actions create strong habits that bind our future selves. When this happens, we are no longer free, and we can no longer enjoy our life.
The first step in transcending our destructive habits is to reduce and cut back the quantity of whatever it is that we are doing that we want to stop. This step is not essential, you could just skip it and go cold turkey, but know that makes it a lot harder and creates more suffering in the initial days. By weening yourself down over a number of weeks you will not only make it more likely that you will succeed but will make it easier and less painful too.
Step 2 is to abstain. We need to stop doing whatever it is that we are doing that is holding us back. We need to interrupt the pattern. Fast, if you will. The first day is by far the hardest as we are habituated to doing the thing. But day two will be a little better and each day after that, the pull will weaken, and the clouds will begin to lift. Stick with it. Be strong. Get help from those around you. You will start feeling better and freer within days.
Abstaining from sensory activities while your mind is still consumed by them will not free you. But by restraining sense activity and performing God-uniting actions, you will succeed. (3.6-7 Bhagavad Gita)
Stopping is not enough, however. For whatever we are doing is attempting (though in vain) to serve a purpose. It is trying to fill a void within.
So many of us in the modern world feel that there is something missing in our lives, and most of us try to resolve this feeling by pursuing external things.
The problem is that nothing of the senses will ever satisfy the Soul, for what we are really yearning for—whether we realise it or not—is the meaning and purpose that comes from communion with the One, the Self, God and from living according to our highest ideal for yourself.
So step 3 is to connect with a higher power and start living according to your highest vision.
The importance of connecting to a higher power to free ourselves from addictions is the central principle of AA and other related twelve-step recovery programs and The Gita agrees.
In order to be truly fulfilled and free, we must establish a relationship with our true Self, the Divine. Nothing else will do. Nothing else will end our yearning, our thirst, and our search.
These verses from the Gita also highlight the fact that our desires for the things that hold us back also need to be transformed.
While we rely on willpower to keep us on track and resist our desires, we are not truly free and will remain ever susceptible to straying from the path when our will is weak.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad said:
You are what your deep, driving Desire is.
As your Desire is, so is your Will.
As your Will is, so is your Deed.
As your Deed is, so is your Destiny.
So the fourth and final step is to focus on reducing our desire for all that harms us and holds us back and increasing our desire for all that heals us and propels us forwards.
Our task is to continually redirect our straying desires for pleasure, immediate gratification, comfort, and material objects to desire the ultimate experience, the ultimate high that comes from living according to your highest values and through communion with a higher power.
At first, this process is difficult, as we have conditioned ourselves to want things that are not good for us. When we begin spiritual practices such as meditation, they can be challenging and frustrating.
But as we continue to practise, we begin to get glimpses of peace, love, and joy piercing our consciousness. We begin to feel some of the benefits of our new habits, and with this, the desire to do those things begins to grow.
In the beginning, spiritual practice seems like poison, but in the end, tastes like nectar. (18.37 Bhagavad Gita)
Pleasure derived from the senses seems like nectar at first, but in the end, is poison. (18.38 Bhagavad Gita)
Bit by bit, by abstaining from the old habits on the one hand and embedding new, more empowering ones on the other, we begin to rewire our brains and our desires.
With practice and dedication, finally the day arrives when our desires align with our vision and ideal.
We stop sabotaging ourselves, taking one step forwards and two steps back, and begin to make true progress towards who we would like to be.
At this stage, we are finally free.
Start redirecting your straying desires and rewiring the habits that hold you back today.
Reduce. Cut back.
Abstain. Interrupt the pattern. Stop.
Substitute something fulfilling and connect to a higher power.
Re-wire your desires.