If you want to work on desire, you have to fundamentally understand yourself. And to do that you have to understand the way your Creator fashioned you and formed you.
The Chovos Halevavos in Sha’ar Avodas Elokim explains that when Hashem made the human He took two diverse parts and put them together. There is a half of me that is a cheilek Elokah mi’ma’al (directly from Hashem), a pure neshamah (soul) that came from under the kisei hakavod (Hashem’s throne). And that part of me only wants to do what’s good, what’s right, what’s noble and proper. That’s my pure, holy neshamah.
And then Hashem took another part, a nefesh habahami (animal soul). Look at any animal in the wild kingdom, you’ll see they have all of the desires, all of the instincts pre-programmed to keep themselves alive as well as the species. The dog hungers, the lion roars. They have an innate desire to do what they need to do. And the human being was made of two diverse parts. There’s a part of me that’s good, noble, and proper, and there’s a part of me that’s base desires.
You have to understand that these two parts are constantly fighting for primacy. They’re constantly fighting for control of I. Did you ever notice one minute I could be davening (praying), speaking to Hashem right there, and the next minute I’m gone, I don’t even know where I am. I wake up and I take three steps back and I say where am I. You see, I have two diverse elements, two voices within me — a pure neshamah and a nefesh habahami.
Not only are each of these vying for primacy and fighting for control, one or the other is constantly becoming stronger. Much like a muscle that you use and it becomes stronger and with disuse it atrophies, the more you give in to either one, the stronger it becomes. And the more a person allows his desires to rule him, the stronger and stronger they become, the more dominant, the more prominent, the more they take control of him. And the opposite — the more a person learns to control those desires, the more a person learns to use them when appropriate, but only when appropriate, and control them, the weaker they become, the less sway they have over him, the less dominance.
The battle isn’t won in a day, but that’s the fight. It’s a slow battle, won day after day, week after week, until the nefesh habahami becomes weaker and weaker. This is one of the great concepts that need to be understood. What you’re asking to do for yourself is to change the very essence of you. Your Creator gave you the capacity. Learning Torah is the ultimate spiritual nourishment and it will give you the strength. Certainly understanding the techniques and focusing on it will help you, but at the end of the day you’re changing the very essence of you.
The nefesh habahami that wants to come to the fore, that wants the control — you have to make it weaker and weaker. You have to know that every time that you give in to it it becomes stronger; every time you control it it becomes weaker. And that’s ultimately the fight, this balance between one part and the other, and that’s constantly what you’re engaged in, constantly what you’re involved in. The way to win it is to win battle after battle, slowly, slowly the nefesh habahami becomes weaker, has less sway, until many years later it no longer controls you; you control it. You’re a different type of a human being.