Saturday, February 15, 2014

Reclaiming Desire as Your Holy Compass

Consider this: that your brightest moments of living, the sharpest memories old and new, the days where you felt aligned with your purpose and meaning, are probably those in which you have truly felt the depths of your Desire.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day: a day of construction paper pink and white doilies and perfectly long-stemmed pesticide-ridden red roses aplenty.  Around the world, people celebrated love in both beautiful and tasteless ways, and for a lot of us (maybe, you.  maybe, me.) there was a longing for something beyond our fingertips and our ability to name names.  Even in some of the happy V-Day moments, the well-adjusted relationships, there was a whiff of that feeling that something deeper is being missed.  
I noticed that many of my friends were quick to ridicule Valentine's Day – and not only my single friends.  A hallmark card holiday, they say.  A day of consumerism, inferior chocolate consumption, and over-idealized notions of heterosexual love.  
But Valentine's Day isn’t simply Black Friday for florists -- its fiery origins are kindled in the courage of those who were willing to risk their lives to declare and honor Love.  
St. Valentine was Christian priest who was said to have been beheaded for marrying young couples against the command of Claudius the 2nd.  The Emperor believed that unmarried men made better soldiers for his war games, but Valentine believed that marriage was God's sacrament, and should available to anyone who wished it.  He was a man of courage, dedication, and passion.  He had found his life work, in service to Love and his god.

Consider this: that Valentine's Day is a day devoted to Desire, in its whole, majestic, dangerous glory.  Desire that dares us to break laws -- the laws that tell us who can and can't marry, perhaps, or confining social norms, or even laws of nature as they are espoused by hardened "red in tooth and claw" scientists that claim our instinctual ways are competitive and selfish.  Desire that is a yearning for meaning, for contribution, for wealth in its most expansive sense, for beauty and connection and white-hot, sweaty sex.
This kind of Desire won’t easily nestle into the inside of a card with a cute picture of a kitten and pithy phrase about being together.   But it just might change your life.

From my friend T. Thorn Coyle, who is such an inspiration to me:

Desire harnesses life energy so that we can move forward into what my core tradition calls The Work of This God, which can be interpreted as our purpose or destiny.  This is the idea that there is some work -- some practice, joy, or way of being -- that only we can manifest in this world.  This may sound like a platitude, but it is a statement that I find to be deeply true.  Without desire, we can languish in our lives, never dedicating ourselves to the practices that will point us toward our Divine Work... In seeking our soul's desire, we have the opportunity to see our deepest selves.  In manifesting our will into the world, we take our places as cocreators of the cosmos, as true denizens and full participants of this gorgeous earth.                                                                                                --Make Magic of Your Life

Your authentic desire, which since you were a child has led you to what feels good, and right, and sustains your life and your will to live, is yearning for you to open wide to it.  To notice it's voice, it's wisdom, and to unbridle your willingness to follow it through whatever scavenger hunt it will lead you through until you find yourself -- all of your parts, the bright and the shadow, the parts that your nurture and love and those that you leave outside in the alley, hoping they'll go away or at least that no one will notice them.  Your Desire wants you to remember that it is your holy compass.

Our Desire challenges us to see who we are in this moment, and who we want to become.  It may sometimes like a quiet murmuring beneath minutes passing and items checked off of our bucket lists and to-do lists; other times, it rips apart our lives like a bolt of lightening striking the carefully built towers of our schedules, goals, fitness regimens and morality systems.  

Whatever form Desire takes, it sets before you a choice, and reveals whole caverns of your own dark mystery: do you go for it, in the face of how hard it might be, and what people will say, and what you thought you wanted before?   Do you hide away?  Do you medicate yourself with sugar, cannabis, Mad Men, work?  Does your desire ring clear and strong and true inside of you, you who have made yourself a worthy vessel for it, and does it carry you through to the finish line?  Or does it get stymied and cloudy within you, puttering out into the grey dregs of longing?

Many spiritual paths tend wane bipolar on the matter of Desire.

Buddhism tends to teach that desire is the root of human suffering, unless you happen to like spending time with Tantric Buddhists, who believe that Desire is the foundation of compassion.  "When our habitual self-centered desire turns toward care for others, a kind of spiritual transformation is possible...Accompanied by strong commitment and clarity of mind, transformed desire is a kind of contagious fever of compassion," says Judith Simmer Brown in her piece, “Pure Passion.”

Christians are notorious for their condemnation of passion and desire, and yet, with the tidal reclamation of Mary Magdalene within the church and outside of it, we see a faith radically reorienting itself towards reclaiming Desire as a holy compass for finding our way in dark times.  "The divine energetic flow is more like eros (passionate love) than agape (selfless, spiritual love), as mystics of all spiritual traditions have intuitively known," writes Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault in “Cosmic Intimacy.”  "It's yearning is palpably felt in our own hearts, with an intensity almost more than we can bear."

The witches, though, can be counted on to advocate for Desire's worthiness.  Desire is the heart's wish for deep fulfillment, “ Thorn says.  “To be complete is not to become static.  To be complete is to have realized that our deeper purpose is to live in harmony with the field of life that is God Hirself.  We are enacting our destiny as surely as the stars enact their own.”

Weaving a web between desire, and destiny, and the stars makes perfect sense entomologically.  The word desire comes from old French (wouldn't you know it) phrase de sidere, and it literally means "of the stars," or "to await what the stars will bring."   Compare this to the word want, which comes from the Latin word which means "to lack" or "coming from lack."  This root difference is essential to understanding the true nature of Desire versus Wanting, and the schism in the ancient wisdom teachings around Desire.  
When we come from lack, we do experience our wanting as suffering, as an insatiable compulsion of the mind to acquire, control, and fixate on specific forms that we think some other person or entity should fulfill for us.  Want is a gap between what is and what we think should be, and this gap is painful.  Read: it causes suffering and disconnection, from one another, and from the divine.

But authentic desire is not born of lack, or of wanting -- it comes from our deep connection to shining mystery and to the beautiful beings who are kin, our lovers, and our confidantes.  It reveals itself when you ask yourself not what you want here and now, but what you desire to experience, and to offer, and to know.  Authentic desire reveals itself when your body, mind, heart and spirit are aligned, and you feel powerful, whole, and connected to life -- to the moon and stars above, to people, to this green earth.  It reveals itself when you can make out the most subtle, nuanced voices of your being.  It makes itself known when you have the energy, time, and space to listen to its slow enchanting melodies, and to take action on its mighty callings.

When I tell people that I am passionate about Desire these days, sometimes they inadvertently snicker.  Occasionally the more ornery ones challenge me. 
"What if my desire is to own a small fleet of gas-guzzling cars, eat nothing but chocolate, and spray Roundup all over my yard to make it perfectly green?" they say.  "Doesn't desire lead to gluttony and consumerism and the destruction of the earth?  I thought you were against that kind of thing."

Often, I'll just look these folks straight in the eye and ask, "Well, is it?  Is that your deepest desire?"  Or, if I really want to stump them, I'll ask, "Is that truly your heart's desire?"
"Well, no, not mine.  But it could be somebody's."

The thing is, it isn't.  No one's heart's desire is to make millions of dollars off of child sweatshop labor in other countries.  No one's deepest yearning is to destroy a pristine forest to build a cheep condominium complex.  In fact, these are the kinds of things that happen when we don't listen to our hearts, and our bodies, and those quiet yet confident voices within us that are trying to get our attention.  Our deepest desires tell us to write, to create music and works of art and other people, to travel the world and explore unknown terrain, to make love in every beautiful way imaginable, to rest quietly in peace and faith, to let our most vulnerable places see the light so that we can find true acceptance and self-expression.

Earlier this week, author Stephen Elliott sent out his nearly-daily “Rumpus” email, which was, as usual, rambley and raw.  The very last sentence was this: "Sometimes I fill with desires so specific they could be written on the head of a pin."

So, I dare you: no matter what your Valentine’s Day was like, feel out your deepest desires and let them burn brightly.  The ones you've known have been there forever, and those that you suspect lay beyond the door in your heart or your body that you refuse to open.  Those that involve your sweetie, and those that don't.  
Toss away the ones that seem to bubble up from the yabbering of your talking self, and listen to your body, your heart, and your spirit.  
Find a moment to do this, and you might discover those big, expansive yearnings that lead the way to the work in this world that you're uniquely meant to do.  Find an hour or two, and you might find those specific yearnings that could fit on the head of a pin.  Or it might happen the other way around – if anything, Desire is non-linear, intemporal, and predictably unpredictable.

But no matter what, know that this journey, once begun, is dangerous.

Towers may fall.

Heads may roll.

Certain plans and patterns may become uprooted, never to take hold again.

And best of all, your life might become the courageous adventure that you always knew it was supposed to be.

If desire causes suffering, it may be because we do not desire wisely, or that we are inexpert at obtaining what we desire. Instead of hiding our heads in a prayer cloth and building walls against temptation, why not get better at fulfilling desire?  Salvation is for the feeble, that's what I think.  I don't want salvation, I want life, all of life, the miserable as well as the superb. If the gods would tax ecstasy, then I shall pay; however, I shall protest their taxes at each opportunity, and if Woden or Shiva or Buddha or that Christian fellow--what's his name?--cannot respect that, then I'll accept their wrath. At least I will have tasted the banquet that they have spread before me on this rich, round planet, rather than recoiling from it like a toothless bunny. I cannot believe that the most delicious things were placed here merely to test us, to tempt us, to make it the more difficult for us to capture the grand prize: the safety of the void. To fashion of life such a petty game is unworthy of both men and gods.
Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume.


  1. Thank you so much for such an in depth exploration of desire....I love how you touched on how desire intersects with your passion for activism and pointed out how each of us following our desires will not lead to a world of gluttony and injustice as many may think. I think many of us have beliefs about the downfall our desire will lead to if we give into it and it subconsciously or consciously stops us from living our most authentic Revolutionary life. Interesting to learn more on the history and other meanings for valentines day!

  2. Life is only traveled once . Today’s moment becomes tomorrow’s memory.
    Enjoy every moment Good or bad because ,the gift of life is life itself . A friend told me about favoritewords dot com, it's different but I like it, actually, so I decided to post about it here because it's relevant to mention.

  3. love this Riyana.
    american culture is terrified of desire & sleepwalks the dis-ease of that fear in denial of selves large and small

    i pray we learn to better support each other's soul yearnings for wholeness and connection, our species survival may very well rest it

  4. This post has revitalised me with a new sense of curiosity and courageousness, your words have really inspired me, so thank you!