Opening to Desire: An Excerpt from The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year by Jennifer Louden
On most of the Life Organizer pages, you’ll encounter questions like “What do I desire this week?” “What calls to me, even if it doesn’t make logical sense or I’m certain I don’t have the time or energy for it?” “If I were suddenly infused with twenty times more courage, what would I want this week? What depth of desire might reveal itself to me?”
Almost every “week” a question or two asks you to consider what you desire, how you want to explore and shape the life force coursing through you. Why such a focus on desire? Because it’s pure life force speaking to you, and we have neglected and misunderstood it for far too long.
The Indo-European root of the word cherish is ka. According to Joseph Shipley, in The Origins of English Words, ka meant “desire.” In Latin, ka morphed into caritas, or love. Shipley suggests that in the First Epistle of Paul, caritas, was transliterated instead of translated, so the passage should read: “And now abideth faith, hope, desire, these three; but the greatest of these is desire” (instead of “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity”). (See Fruits of the Heart, p. 232, for more.) St. Augustine said, “Thy desire is thy prayer and if thy desire is without ceasing, thy prayer will be without ceasing….The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer,” and the contemporary Indian teacher Sri Nisargadatta said, “The problem is not desire. It’s that your desires are too small.”
Desire is the flow of life we yearn to swim in, the urge to be one with Spirit, and the way to stay in touch with this flow is through knowing what we want without insisting that we get it. It is staying with the feeling of desire, following it with curiosity, that leads us ever closer to what we most want. All desire, at its heart, is about a longing to be loved and to be one with All That Is. Even the most mundane desires or, worse, ones that have calcified into unhealthy obsessions have at their root this desire to be known and loved.
Yet desire is often misunderstood — confused with greed, lust, narcissism — and especially pertinent to our discussion, with an attachment to a particular outcome. In Open to Desire, Mark Epstein advises us to think of desire as “teacher.” When we confuse desiring with having or attaining something, we move away from ourselves, away from listening-flowing-feeling-creating and into the pushing, striving, teeth-gritting, forcing way of being. Most of us are fabulous at making things happen, but when we disconnect from the energy of desire, the sensuous ever-changing rumba of life can become a syncopated rigid march that we have to perform — and, often, perfectly. Desire becomes a place to get to rather than a vital energy to feel, experience, and ride.
Psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips notes in Darwin’s Worms that there seem to be two kinds of people in the world, “those that can enjoy desiring and those who need satisfaction.” When we insist that we will feel desire only if that desire can be satisfied exactly as we wish it to be, we grow smaller. “It is possible to be in a state in which desire is valued, not as a prelude to possession, control, or merger but as a mode to appreciation itself,” states Epstein. To desire a gorgeous garden, a soul mate, deep inner peace, the ability to play Chopin, that your loved ones live a long, happy life is to feel life rising in you like sap, exhilarating, rushing, impossibly sweet, and unstoppable. The calcifying of the desire into a must-have, an accomplishment — whether it be a custom-built house or a safari or a sculpture you made that brings others to tears — is very different and is the reason desire has gotten a bad rap. That kind of desire becomes fuel for greed and grasping. But when desire and the light of awareness meet, we can experience desire as energy, fuel, and Spirit speaking to us, and then it can play a very different role.
I must digress to add that as women, many of us carry an extra layer of fear in regard to desire — brought on by the cultural edict that good women don’t want. When I lead retreats and work with the subject of desire, I am constantly amazed by the stories of women who have been forced, usually when they were children, to cut themselves off from desire, to regard it as too dangerous, as something that only brings trouble and suffering. To want means to be disappointed or, even worse, to be hurt, shamed, degraded. History is replete with women who were forced to downplay or forgo their desires — many of us have seen our mothers, aunts, or grandmothers live this way — and there are far too many heartbreaking stories of women being punished for wanting. Our world seems to hold out choice with one hand and rescind it with the other, so we may decide it is safer to channel our energy into what we think we should do (make money, raise super-achieving kids, work out and starve ourselves till we’re a size 0). I tell you this to invite you to be aware of any conflicting feelings you may have about desire. It is imperative that you become aware of any little voices whispering in your ear that you can’t trust desire, that it’s better to play it safe, that it’s best not to want, not to take a risk and be disappointed.
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Jennifer Louden helped start the self-care movement with her first best-selling book The Woman’s Comfort Book. She’s written 5 more books including The Life Organizer, just out in paperback. Visit JenniferLouden.com/lifeorganizer to get your free app.
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Excerpted from the new paperback edition of The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year © 2013 by Jennifer Louden. Printed with permission of New World Library.