This month I got to speak to Melanie St. Ours about the topic of desire. In this interview we talk about the brain chemistry of desire, how to recognize destructive desires, and how taboo and community censorship of desire can affect our health.
As I write this we are poised roughly halfway between the gates of Beltane and Litha on the ancient wheel of the year. When I mapped out the curriculum for my Sacred Wheel Immersion last winter, my spirit guides showed me a clear picture of this being a time of great expansion. I saw the women in my immersion circle with their arms outstretched, as they victoriously realized their true hearts desire and had the courage to step into the sun. I saw this part of the path as being a continuum from the bliss and fertility of May Day to the expansion and power of the Summer Solstice. Ecstatic, victorious, glorious, luscious and blissful were the words that came to mind when I looked at this part of the circle from the safety of Midwinter.
Now that we are here, a very different picture is beginning to emerge, both for me personally and for the women in my group. Instead of ecstasy and bliss, there is old grief being uncovered, never ending health crises and for some: the lowest of the lows. If I weren’t so certain in the magical container we built together, and in the truth that everything happens for a reason, I might begin to wonder where I went so wrong. Our homework for this time period was to fearlessly investigate our own bliss and desire. Much of the work we did on Beltane was around releasing our own blocks to true desire.
When I think of how this is playing out, I am reminded of something a teacher of mine once said. You cannot experience any of your feelings to their fullest extent unless you are willing to experience ALL of your feelings to their fullest extend. The good and the bad, the highs and the lows.
My two year old son is proving to be the greatest example of this right now. As his awareness of the world around him expands he is faced with so much desire:
Blueberries, holding the car keys, getting to go swimming, opening and closing any sort of gate or door ad nauseum…….
The level at which he experiences the desire for these things is about on par for how I might imagine feeling about getting a publishing deal, or how I felt about getting pregnant the first time. These are no small desires to a toddler, and consequently he experiences no small grief when denied the object of his desire. We are talking meltdowns of epic proportion, tears, wailing, inconsolable grief. Inevitably he will learn to regulate these feelings, learn patience and his desires will grow smaller in number, but more grave in their importance. While I’m not advocating that we all throw tantrums like a 2 year old, I do marvel at the unfiltered purity with which he is able to express his grief, and then how he is able to shift back into joy and desire almost instantly.
Our culture puts a lot of limits on grief, we have lost many of the rituals associated with the grieving process (sack cloth and ashes anyone?), and we are expected to get on with it and get back to normal after a relatively short amount of time. We certainly don’t condone sitting on the floor and wailing like a two year old. So it doesn’t surprise me that we have such a collective problem with desire in our culture. We deny our grief and in the end, deny our truest desires.
Don’t get me wrong, we WANT a lot. We want new houses, shiny electronics, the latest the greatest, the biggest and the most expensive. But how much of that stuff truly satisfies? And how much of it do we want because we think it will make us happy?
I don’t know about you, but many many times I have experienced getting exactly what I thought I wanted only to have it feel empty and unsatisfying. I also have been lucky enough, and I hope you have too, to experience those rare moments of having a desire truly and fully satisfied. To me it feels like “this is what I was born to do” it happened the first time I looked into my son’s eyes and it often happens when I am in the zone with my work.
Many spiritual practices espouse transcending desire, moving past the endless cycle of wanting, but I don’t believe that is the answer. As humans we were made to want. My son proves that to me every day. But in a world where we are so in denial about our grieving, letting ourselves want, truly and deeply want, is frightening.
So instead we create a labyrinth of small desires, each one hiding and obscuring the truth that lies underneath it. The truth which is our purest, rawest desire.
To look this desire in the face we have to claim it. In claiming it, we make it real, and we also make real the possibility that we may not get it.
Or worse: get it only to lose it.
This is frightening.
Why would any one ever try? Desire is messy. There is no way around that. But here is the thing. Doing things any other way isn’t working.
Desire doesn’t go away if you ignore it. It just twists itself into another form, usually a less satisfying, and ultimately more destructive form. The countless people who have taken their own lives because they believed their desire and sexual orientation were wrong, is proof enough of that.
So this is my love letter to you, if you are sitting in the depths of grief, and facing old demons. Don’t give up. Feeling the bad stuff only increases your capacity for feeling the good stuff. Stay with it, be present. Let the screaming two-year-old that is your heart have it’s time on the floor. And notice if you have a moment, that in the middle of the pain and grief is a nugget of desire, shining like gold amongst all the messiness.
That, my darling, is your truth. Don’t give up on it.
We all want to make a difference, feel like we are here on earth for a reason. Truth is most of us feel totally unimportant when it comes to actually changing the world. We often think of grand external gestures that make the most difference to the world, but there are three simple things we can all start doing right now, that would radically change the world as we know it. Now before you read them and get all indignant at me, let me clarify, I said they are simple, I didn’t say they were easy. In fact, you could easily spend your whole life trying to master just one of these things. But I do believe they are all connected to each other, and as you read them, I want you to imagine how different the world would be if we all did these things regularly.
Let yourself be vulnerable.
Author, researcher and speaker Brene Brown has written a lot about vulnerability. She has identified shame as being the primary emotion that drives us to do bad things. What she has found is that in letting ourselves be vulnerable, we find the courage to quit all the behaviors that we use to numb ourselves to pain. We also separate from the shame cycle that keeps so many of us locked in misery. In her book Daring Greatly she writes:
We all have shame. We all have good and bad, dark and light, inside of us. But if we don’t come to terms with our shame, our struggles, we start believing that there’s something wrong with us — that we’re bad, flawed, not good enough — and even worse, we start acting on those beliefs. If we want to be fully engaged, to be connected, we have to be vulnerable. In order to be vulnerable, we need to develop resilience to shame.
She goes on to illustrate how shame correlates highly to violent crime, bullying, addiction and aggression, but that over-coming shame leads to innovation and daring: that in order to take risks we need to feel worthy and resilient to shame. Notice how I said resilient, not immune. In what ways does shame come up for you? How has shame made you do things that hurt others? Shame is a necessary part of humanity, but it shouldn’t be what shapes our every move. For more great stuff by Brene Brown check out her TED talk.
Follow your heart’s desire.
In a previous article I discussed how our heart is the part of us that is most connected to our highest calling. If each one of us had the courage to fully embrace what our highest calling was, we would live in a world where each person inherently knew, and felt, their own value. When we aren’t in touch with our heart’s desire, in its truest form, we also find that we are drawn to material things, as a means to satisfy ourselves. But we all know that money alone can’t buy you love, or fulfillment, or even happiness. By truly tapping into what really fulfills us, what really inspires us, we find that we don’t need to consume as much, we don’t need to spend as much, and that alone would make a huge difference in the world. Have you thought you really wanted something only to get it, and realize it isn’t enough? Do you harbor desires that you don’t talk about because you are afraid they are selfish or trivial? For more on this, check out a talk I did this past May.
Realize your connection to everything.
It’s a myth and a falsehood that we are separate individuals with out connection to everything around us. When we come from a place of feeling like we a separated from everything, we don’t consider how our choices affect our family, our friends, and our environment. We also feel isolated, alone and cut off from that which truly feeds us. One of the greatest lies of this era is that the earth is merely a collection of resources to be exploited by man, rather than a living breathing entity with a life all of its own. Read more about the Big Lie and how it affects us. The world around us is rich with things we cannot see or name, we are all connected to each other in ways we could never imagine. Did you know that your heart has a magnetic field that affects people you come into close proximity with? Or that most of us can sense what others are feeling even when they never say anything about it? What if you lived your life knowing that you were part of an immense web of interconnectedness instead of feeling like an isolated being?
How do you incorporate or struggle with these three concepts? Leave a comment below, and be sure to share this article if you find it useful.
I used to play this game with things that I wanted, and maybe you can relate to this. When I wanted something, I would pretend like crazy that I didn’t want it. I’d create a whole list in my head about why it wasn’t that great, or how I’d be better off with something else. I would even go as far as denying it to other people, even when they offered it, or asked directly. Why did I do this? Because somewhere deep down, I believed that if you admitted you wanted something, you would never get it. That to desire something was wrong, so the best way to get it was to pretend you didn’t, and then wait until it was close enough to grab, and snatch it up. Sounds crazy when I write it down, but I know I’m not alone.
When I played this game I often missed out on getting what I wanted, and when I did get it, I felt kinda guilty. Talk about a recipe for misery. I’m going to share with you today the one thing that helped me unlearn this pattern of guilt and denial, and what I discovered was the best tool I had for creating magic in my life.
The most important magical tool we posses
I wasn’t even aware that I had this pattern until I learned that the most important magical tool I had was my own heart. By magic I mean the ability to create and affect change in the world around me. Why the heart? Because our heart is the one organ in our body that feels that magical thing we call desire. Desire is absolutely necessary if we are going to create happiness. Here’s the key: the first step to getting what we want, is knowing that we want it! When we get real with what it is that we truly want, we become more powerful at making that truth a reality.
It sounds so simple, and it is, but it’s not always that easy. We are shouldered with so much baggage about desire that it’s hard to see past it sometimes. It’s wrong to want things, desire paves the road to hell, if you just do what you want everything will fall apart. Sound familiar? Think about it: What unspoken beliefs do you have about desire?
Whatever they are, and where ever they came from I’m here to tell you that most of them are just plain wrong, and they are keeping you locked in misery. Here are some thoughts about Heart’s Desire to counter all that cultural baggage that we carry around with us.
Our heart connects us to the Divine.
In Chinese Medicine, which I practice, the heart is understood as the seat of consciousness. It is often referred to as the emperor of the body. I like to think of it as the queen. The implication behind this is that the heart is the part of us that is closest to the divine: The part of us that has direct access to our own higher calling. The part of us that is most capable of knowing why we are here, and what we are here to do. Why would you mistrust that part of yourself?
Our heart keeps us grounded in the present:
I like to think of the heart as being the only part of us that is truly capable of being in the present moment. Our brain likes to dwell in the past or the future. Thinking ‘if only’ or ‘what if’, but the heart knows the truth of every single present moment. Have you ever made a wrong decision and just known in your heart that it was wrong? Your brain couldn’t explain why, but your heart just knew. Why? Because your heart perceived the present moment in its full truth.
The Heart is undeniable.
I think this is why it scares people so much. We can learn to change our thoughts, we can learn to change our habits, but when we try and change our desires we make ourselves sick. The longing of the heart always finds a way.
The heart always seeks the highest good.
When I hear people argue that following desire creates pain and misery I think of this: Whenever I’ve done something directly hurtful to someone else my heart did not feel good about it. The heart does not take joy in misery. But it also doesn’t sit well when I sacrifice my own desire’s for someone else’s’. Our heart challenges us to be true to ourselves, but also to serve a greater good. Sounds a lot like a queen right?
How do you know when it’s not heart’s desire?
Heart’s desire is hardly ever a physical object, a material good, a specific person or even a particular situation. Those things can all be good indicators of what lies in our hearts, but they are rarely the thing itself. There is a certain line of spiritual thinking that states that material objects are somehow lesser than spiritual riches. I disagree, but I do think we need to recognize the limited nature of material things to really satisfy our hearts. Usually the object of our desire is just a clue, a doorway into what we really truly want. So as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else, it is never wrong to want that new piece of jewelry, that fancy computer, or that vacation to Hawaii, but we must ask ourselves what lies underneath that desire or we will be missing the point. Do we want to feel beautiful? Do we need re-charge? Do we need to feel the power of being capable and having more access to the world around us? Those qualities all strike closer to our heart’s desire than the objects themselves. And by all means, go for the jewelry, take that vacation, get the computer, but also take the time to recognize the deeper desire the fuels that want, and give it some attention too.
Here is the divine paradox of the heart:
If we cannot find that which we seek inside ourselves, we will never find it without. The path of the heart is a circular one, always leading us back to ourselves. So while we see manifestations of our heart’s desire all around us, eventually we realize that what we seek is inside us all along. The desire to feel beautiful? It is ours to give ourselves, and while jewelry, a lover, great clothes, or a new haircut can help us awaken to our own beauty, if we never realize that we are already are beautiful, those external things will never be enough. In this way, our heart leads us in a dance of divine union with ourselves.
Discovering these truths about the heart, and getting real with my own desires was the single most important step I took towards creating a fulfilling life for myself. When you open to desire, always means you open yourself to disappointment too, that’s just part of life. But getting and enjoying the things you truly want, and creating a more satisfying and fulfilling life is so worth it.
Want to get real with your own desires? Leave a comment below about how cultural baggage has affected your heart’s desire.