I’m thinking today about what desire has to teach us. I believe that the body and the spirit always desire the right, the healthy, the true and bettering. But how can that be accurate when sometimes we desire things that restrict our growth, that we know are “bad for us” or at least offer no clear path to betterment of ourselves or the world? The answer to this, I think, is that beneath every unhealthy desire is a healthy one which has been mistranslated or distorted in some way.
What happens when we desire something and can’t have it, whether because we will not allow ourselves to or because the world prevents it in some way? Often, we shut down. Some poisonous, familiar voice inside us says that we don’t deserve it, that we are wrong or flawed for having this desire. And sometimes that voice keeps us from acting on the desire, temporarily or permanently, which may keep us safe from unhealthy behaviors for a time but also stops our growth at the moment of desiring, prevents us from learning anything from the desire.
But what happens if we are gentle with that desire?
When we’re very young, we don’t know that the feeling of being tired means that we need to sleep. We only know that we feel uncomfortable and upset. So the attuned parent finds a way to introduce us to a situation where we can figure out that the tired feeling is the body’s way of telling us that it desires sleep.
Can we be gentle but firm with our desires, like small children we love? Can we put ourselves in situations that enable us to learn what’s underneath the surface desires? And how might it change that interior voice and our external actions if we were to know what it is that we truly desire? How much deeper a satisfaction might we be able to permit ourselves?
In the Charge of the Goddess (by Doreen Valiente, in her Book of Shadows,) we read “I am that which is attained at the end of desire.” Many times, I have heard this as the divine being found when desire is extinguished, when it is over, transcended. But today it reads to me as the endpoint of desire, its ROOT – that the divine is found when we go deep within, dig down, and get to the most authentic core of our desire.
Here's a thought exercise: Think of a something you desire but know or believe to be an unproductive or unhealthy or surface desire. Imagine that desire as the topmost leaves on a tree. Visualize it in your mind or draw it on paper. Trace that desire down to the branch from which it stems. What is that branch? And to what is that branch attached? Is that branch attached to another branch, or to the tree trunk?
Trace the desire step by step, with each lower part of the tree offering you the opportunity to name a deeper desire. Maybe you stop at the base of the trunk, knowing that is the core of the desire. Maybe you go to the roots, or maybe it goes further into the soil and the nutrients that enter those roots.
When you find yourself at what feels to be the centermost desire, sit with it awhile. Honor the will it took to find it and to recognize it. Place it at the center of your decisions, actions, and thoughts around the initial desire you named for the next week. Write, draw, or construct yourself something to carry around that will remind you of this centermost, foundational desire.
Be gentle with your good self.