Completing Your Side Quests
There’s an idea (from Hinduism, I believe) that if you want to dedicate yourself to a path of spiritual awakening, yet some seemingly lower desire keeps nagging at you, then you should go pursue that desire first and get it out of your system. If it takes years to do this, that’s okay. You’ll be better off in the long run if you let that desire run its course, so you won’t be distracted by it later.
Maybe you’d love to center your life around spiritual pursuits and bypass the activities that other people find interesting. But if you were to pursue that path right away, would you have any regrets about what you didn’t explore? Would you feel you missed out on something?
Are you tempted to achieve some success in the world, such as building a successful career or business?
Are you tempted to experience wealth or to own some luxurious possessions?
Are you tempted to travel more and go-see-do?
Are you tempted to have more sexual experiences?
Are you tempted to live in a beautiful home with a loving and supportive family?
Are you tempted to enjoy delicious food and drinks?
Are you tempted to see more movies or play more games?
Are you tempted to experience life with different friends or a new social circle?
Are you tempted to master new skills such as music, art, programming, etc?
What in the world still tempts you? What do you still want to explore and experience?
Let Your Temptations Be Your Explorations
When you resist a recurring temptation, it tends to remain a temptation. You’re stuck with a feeling of incompleteness. You may wrestle with yourself internally as to whether or not you should explore it.
Sometimes you can resist a temptation, and the temptation will fade. You’re able to let it go. The temptation is just a thought ripple in your mind. You don’t have to explore it.
But if the temptation keeps coming back to haunt you, even after you tried to let it go, maybe it would be wiser to stop resisting it. What if you were to consciously dive in and explore it? If you fully immerse yourself in it, the temptation will be able to run its course. It may take years, but eventually you’ll grow bored with it, and you’ll finally be able to let it go. Then you can progress to other explorations.
It’s also possible that after you explore the temptation thoroughly, it will resurface in a different form. Once again, you can choose to resist it or to to continue exploring it.
Initially you may have some beliefs blocking you from consciously exploring a temptation. You may feel that the exploration is somehow bad or wrong. But can you imagine a light at the end of this tunnel? Do you think you’d learn something valuable by consciously exploring it? Is there a chance you’ll grow from the experience? Could the exploration transform you for the better?
I’m often faced with potential explorations that give me pause at first, but I rarely regret consciously exploring them in the long run. One reason is that even if an exploration doesn’t go well, I can still share what I learn with other people, such as by writing about the experience. Initially that was a helpful justification to encourage me to say yes to more explorations than I otherwise would have, but I don’t need to lean on this perspective so much anymore. I find it easier to trust this process because I’ve seen it work out well again and again.
You may have grown up with a rigid sense of morality like I did, which can make it difficult to say yes to some types of explorations. If you’re taught that a temptation is sinful, then even thinking about it too much can send your self-esteem spiraling downward as you conclude that you must be bad or wrong for having such thoughts. I urge you to consider how senseless (and unconscious) it would be to do that for the rest of your life.
Consciously exploring a temptation seems more sensible than pretending that it’s beneath you while being repeatedly distracted by it. Sometimes that’s the only way you’ll be able to progress.
Some desires take years to explore. Others quickly morph into new desires as you begin to explore. All desires eventually expire. Anything you want now will someday seem boring to you.
One desire that many people have is to achieve some measure of success in the world. Sometimes money and fame are wrapped into this as well. You have to prove yourself. Make your mark on the world. Put a dent in the universe.
I had this desire in my 20s. I wanted to create and run my own business. I wanted to create positive ripples in the world. After 20+ years on this path, I feel that this desire has run its course. Thinking about success and achievement doesn’t give me any significant motivation these days. I can’t seem to care about what success I might achieve in the world. If I were to try to make this the focus of my life now, I’d feel empty and hollow inside — and very bored.
As I grew bored with this waning desire, I uncopyrighted most of my work in 2010 and donated all of my articles, podcasts, and videos to the public domain. In the past five years, other people have created and published many books, products, websites, apps, etc. based on my content. I’m now credited as the author or co-author of more than 100 books (which you can verify by searching on my name on Amazon.com). And this volume of products and content will probably keep increasing over time. Maybe it will eventually hit 500 or 1000 books during my lifetime. To me this makes the idea of trying to achieve success as an author seem ridiculous now.
I wouldn’t say there’s been any measurable financial benefit from uncopyrighting my work and giving it away. But this decision has helped me let go of any further need for achievement in the world, and it’s helped me care less about my reputation. What more do I need to do after having 100+ books published under my name, in a variety of languages, with more works being published each year?
That doesn’t mean I’m done working. It just means I no longer feel that I have anything to prove. I feel liberated. I feel free to work and live without being distracted by the score.
When a desire like this runs its course, there can be a sense of sadness or loss on the other side too. As a desire loses its motivational power, you may be tempted to keep squeezing it, but you get less juice each time. You have to find your juice elsewhere.
When you explore your temptations thoroughly, you may find that your desires become simpler and purer over time. It gets easier to feel happy and fulfilled. A relaxed feeling of contentment and a more peaceful way of living and working will replace the pressured sense that you have to prove yourself.
Morphing Your Explorations
Sometimes your explorations will morph into new ones as you explore them.
I saw this happen in my social explorations. Several years ago, I built up an active and busy social life, both online and in person. I was active in Toastmasters and connected with other bloggers, authors, and speakers. I had social media accounts with thousands of friends/followers. From 2006 to 2011, I was the administrator of a popular discussion forum on StevePavlina.com that eventually attracted more than a million posts. My daily communication volume was high. I had a lot of social stimulation in my life.
Over time that exploration ran its course and morphed into something else. I wanted to tone down the volume, so I could explore fewer, deeper connections with stronger compatibility. I quit Toastmasters, shut down the discussion forums, and reduced the time I spent on social media and email. I turned my attention to 4D relationships, D/s play, cuddling, affection, and other relationship explorations. I went through a separation and divorce along the way. I also did a lot of speaking about relationships and lifestyle during this time.
After several years of this type of exploration, I’m finally feeling that this aspect has probably run its course as well. I still enjoy and appreciate this part of my life, but I no longer feel inspired to explore connection and intimacy the same way I did in 2010. The old desires have been explored enough that they’re morphing into something different now.
You may notice these shifts happening in your life when desires that used to motivate you appear to have lost their juice. You think you should feel motivated, but you don’t. That’s a signal that your desire has probably run its course, and it’s time to move on to something new.
I feel that this ongoing relationship and intimacy exploration is morphing further towards the spiritual side. I’ve been spending more time meditating lately, including focusing on the spiritual connection we all share, sending out loving intentions for all, and seeking to release any negative feelings towards other people. I also want to delve further into exploring and understanding the nature of reality. I’ve encountered a lot of weirdness in the overlap between social connections and how reality simulates itself, and I’d love to explore that more deeply. This probably sounds vague and ill-defined because I don’t have any specific goals here. I just recognize that my desires are shifting, and new doors and windows are starting to appear. Where that will lead, I can’t say. Right now I feel aligned with relaxing into this and seeing what happens.
For me this last part feels like a higher/purer pursuit than some of my other explorations, but when I tried to pursue it earlier, the timing didn’t feel right. I felt distracted by other temptations. By taking some years to explore those other paths, I came to see that they were important and perhaps even necessary steps along the way. This new shift is another step as well, and there will be more steps after that too.
Completing Your Side Quests
I think that a strong, recurring temptation is an invitation to complete a side quest that will assist you on your long journey of learning and growth. You can resist these side quests by seeing them as delays or distractions, but that attitude probably won’t serve you as well as consciously completing your side quests one by one.
Even if your side quest is an invitation to explore some aspect of yourself that you consider dark, such as indulging in sensual pleasures, criminal behavior, or addiction, I wouldn’t label you as bad or wrong for deliberately exploring such a path. I can’t predict the consequences for you, nor can I tell you which way to go, but I can tell you that I haven’t regretted these explorations in my own life.
Indulging in criminal behavior in my late teens and getting arrested four times was a side quest that transformed how I view authority, crime, law, jail, and more. If I never completed that side quest, I think I’d have more fear than I do now, and I think I’d be less understanding of criminal behavior. I’d be missing some important experiential knowledge. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful connections with people as a result of that side quest, including criminals and police officers alike. In some respects it was like learning a new language. It was also a stepping stone to exploring values and character development.
If you feel repeatedly drawn to explore a side quest that scares you, maybe it’s worth dipping your toes into it. What’s the alternative? Do you want that temptation to keep nagging at you for the rest of your life? Wouldn’t it be better to consciously explore it and let it run its course, so you can get it out of your system and move on?