concept pages: copyright Robert Ellis 2010 

Integration of desire

This article deals with the integration of desire as the most basic of the three levels of integration - of desire, of meaning, and of belief. See separate articles on integration in general, integration of meaning, and integration of belief.

'Integration of desire' refers to the bringing together of desires within the psyche, that were previously in conflict, so as to work together. Whether these desires are conscious or unconscious does not matter. Desires are divided from each other most clearly when we are trying to resolve conflicting motives to make a decision, but also when we become conscious of differing desires at different times, and the pattern of these desires gives us grounds to believe that they continue in some sense during the time that we cease to be conscious of them.

An obvious example of both of these types is that of a smoker wanting to give up, who may at times be aware of a desire to give up, at other times of a desire to smoke, and at still other times of both of these desires existing side by side but in conflict with each other. The ego moves around between identification with these different desires, but this does not preclude desires from continuing to exist outside those accepted by the ego - repressed sexual feelings are an obvious example.

Desires become relatively more integrated when these conflicts occur less frequently, and our motives become relatively more consistent. Such integration may happen only on a temporary basis (as in a concentrated, relaxed state of meditation), dependent on certain temporary conditions, or may become a stable part of our psychic state. We have all experienced temporary degrees of integration through relaxation or concentration (or preferably both together), and nearly everyone has also experienced a stably increased level of integration with maturity. It is a very unusual person who does not have more integrated desires to some degree in adulthood than they had at the age of three - however great their other problems might be in adulthood. So it should hardly be a point in question that integration is possible. A perfect model of completely fulfilled integration is not necessary to show that integration is possible: only common human experience is needed.

Integration of desires can be promoted through education and worked on through (what I would call) spiritual practice. Spiritual practice might mean, for example, meditation practice, mental and physical exercises of various kinds - from Tai Chi to golf to evening classes - and the conscious improvement of our routine and our social relationships so as to reinforce integration. Such approaches will all work with varying degrees of directness, and their degree of success is highly dependent on the complex surrounding conditions that affect our degree of integration at a given time. However, we all start with a degree of integration, however poor, and can usually improve it from where we start given effort.

Integration of desires promotes objectivity, including moral objectivity, because it enables us to address conditions more effectively. However, in doing this it interacts in complex ways with the other two levels of objectivity, which also need to be cultivated to support objectivity. In order to address conditions effectively, we not only need to be integrated in our affective responses, but also to understand the symbols by which others communicate with me as broadly as possible (integration of meaning - see article on this for more details) and have beliefs as unimpeded by delusion as possible (integration of belief - see article on this for more details). Our integration can be asymetrical and thus address some types of condition more effectively than others, if all three levels of integration are not addressed together. For example, I could have a highly developed integration of desires by spending a lot of my time in meditative bliss, and yet be an ignorant or prejudiced person who dogmatically defends the unquestioned slavery of people of a different race. I could even fail to find criticisms of slavery meaningful, because I have closed my otherwise integrated mind to them.

In practice the different kinds of integration do often support each other, particularly by the integration of desires providing a condition for integration at the other two levels. I am most likely to open my mind to new meanings or beliefs because I am no longer so caught up in conflict about what I want in relation to them. I can listen to my enemy only when I am less afraid of what he represents for me internally, because my fear is no longer in conflict with my rational response. Being in harmony with my own feelings may be (but is not necessarily) a prelude to greater sympathy with others and closer examination of the unpalatable things they may be saying.


Further discussion

The psychological basis of belief (including desire) from thesis

Integration and desire (scroll down to section b)


Discuss integration of desires on the 'Psychology and Middle Way' forum on the phpbb discussion board.

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