How to Desire

Dear Reader,

Let’s work on getting in touch with what we want. It’s our first step in the March Adventure. Write “Stuff I Really, Really Want” and list 25 items, everything from grand abstract achievements to the most paltry of household goods. Got it? Good, now if you have a mind whose automatic setting is anything like mine, you will now be thinking “I won’t do that, it’s pointless.”

The Depths of Disbelieving

My mind tells me it’s pointless to bring to the forefront of my mind all the things that I long for because, as it reports, “I won’t get them anyway.”  This automatic setting of pessimism is a strategy I learned in childhood to protect myself from the wrenching disappointment of missing out on things I really, really wanted. This was a great strategy when I was five and my acknowledgment of my impotence was actually spot on— back then I couldn’t read or write, I was 3 feet tall with limited motor skills, and I didn’t even have the right to vote! Yes, I was an illiterate, disenfranchised little person. Things were bleak back then. But look how far I’ve come!

I’m now (like you, if you’re reading this) in full possession of literacy, motor skills, and voting rights. You’re no longer limited by your parents’ arbitrary and tyrannical decisions regarding bedtime and dessert.

The Power of Innocent Longing

Frankly, you’re empowered and it’s time to start recognizing that. The “I won’t get them anyway” belief that your mind espouses is outdated. Since you’re big and literate now your odds of attaining most of your desires are pretty darn good.

Even if your life does indeed turn out to be one long dreary European film, if you go through it holding the belief all the while that you “won’t get them anyway” (your desires) your life will be a completely unwatchable long dreary European film.  Why? Because heroes and heroines desire stuff.  They go out and pursue their desires through various means. They learn stuff along the way.  Even if they completely fail to get what they set out to attain at the outset, the very act of valiantly, innocently, even somewhat stupidly, reaching to fulfill their desire puts forces in motion that show them valuable things and connect them to fascinating people.

Yes, that’s right. I’m getting all Joseph Campbell on your ass. This March Adventure is a hero / heroine’s journey.  I know, it’s terribly unoriginal of me. But that’s because it’s also just plain true.  I think Joseph Campbell may have missed some of the finer points regarding the heroine’s journey (I’ll be happy to discuss this at some point) but all in all, he was really right about the underlying mythic structures that span across time and culture, and which have things to tell us (Poetic Truths!) about the magic ways that life works.

The Call to Adventure

The first leg of the hero / heroine’s journey is the Call to Adventure.  Maybe you have not lately had a recurring prophetic dream calling you to travel to a strange land in search of hidden treasure.  That doesn’t mean you don’t have a Call to Adventure! Our longings and desires are our Call to Adventure.  They’re the stirrings that prompt us to undertake a course of action that will change us and our understanding of the world for the better. Some of them more so than others. And of course, it matters how we go about pursuing those desires. And also, there are certainly dragons to slay along the way. But we’ll worry about sorting all that out later. For now, get started with your list!

My List

To encourage you in coming up with your List of 25 Things you Desire, I figured I’d show you mine in all its random, jumbled glory:

1. A fireplace

2. A claw foot bath tub.

3. To publish an awesome self-help book.

4. To record a freak folk album.

5. To perform a stand-up act.

6. To be rich, having absolutely gazillions of gold coins to swim in.

7. To be struck enlightened like Byron KatieEckhart Tolle, and Jan Frazier.

8. To be very very glittery, like David Bowie circa the Ziggy Stardust era.

9. To finish my PhD.

10. To learn to play the guitar and write songs.

11. A super-flashy glam rock wedding.

12. New clothes for spring and summer.

13. Speaking engagements around town.

14. To make some videos for youtube, like my friend Kevin, who is super-cool.

15. The Nobel Prize in Literature

16. A lot of rainbow colored silk scarves.

17. An awesome house in the woods somewhere with giant fireplaces and clawfoot tubs.

18. A pug puppy.

19. My poetry books published.

20. A mind-blowing flower garden.

21. A gypsy caravan that is so rad I can hardly stand it.

22. To make and sell incredibly awesome tote bags.

23. To write a didactic novel like The Alchemist.

24. To make meditation cds / podcasts.

25. A house that looks like a Lisa Frank sticker sheet exploded all over it, in a really good way.

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2 Responses to How to Desire

  1. Carolyn,

    I’m very thrilled by this series of articles you are writing. It seems very useful to examine clear techniques toward self-betterment, and I look forward to see where your inquiry into this goes next.

    However this article raised one glaring question for me, which is: are desires necessarily a good thing to fulfill?

    The reason I ask this is because over the years I have been attempting to take a much for Eastern approach to desire – essentially to learn how to be happy and content with what you have and who you are without needing to acquire anything external on which that happiness depends.

    From my own experience, the challenge of desire is less any personal doubt of deserving things, but that the very act of longing itself can negatively impact the soul. On the one hand desire leads to a feeling of emptiness that has to be externally filled. On the other hand, our desires are rarely ever filled the way we most deeply want them to be filled. And between the agony of longing and the illusion generated by expectation is created a whole world of suffering and disappointment. The whole reason the hero’s journey is a journey is because the hero’s desire creates its own conflict or obstacle to that desire’s attainment. And even the most blessed people I’ve known who didn’t have to struggle to get what they wanted still were not happy with it when they got it.

    Even more concerning though is the fact that most people’s desires are directed toward external and material things. I couldn’t help but notice that the objects of all the desires you listed are either material objects or the material products of some process. Certainly the material goods can provide some external comfort, but honestly how much real, genuine happiness can material goods generate? I am frankly very skeptical that they can. The acquisition of external goods only creates more desire for external goods (and consequently a lack of spiritual contentment. History shows that there are very few truly happy millionaires).

    Personally I get next to no happiness from material objects, I have no desires for wealth or fame. Even the act of writing (or creating in general) for me has little to do with the creation of a product. Rather the joy of creating is in the process, in the resolution of internal tensions, that a-ha moment. Or consider an action like dancing (something that makes me far happier than any object). Dancing is not material, nor is it a product; the joy is in the act itself. I find the same with cooking food – there is far less joy in the eating than in the process of cooking.

    Of course though one has to do something with one’s life. And having goals to work towards (and enjoy achieving) can add structure allowing for a more effective and satisfying life. But I think there’s a big difference in the soul between having goals and wanting stuff.

    Anyway, just thought I’d bring up this side of the topic to help further your inquiry.

    (also, if you are interested in learning, I teach guitar lessons with a focus on the music theory that really helps with song writing).

  2. Pingback: .: The Absent Narrative :. › Against Desire

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