The concept of ‘desire’ often has negative connotations. You desire a person, but how often is that image connected to one of unfaithfulness or selfishness? You desire a new car or a TV. You desire chocolate. Desire has overtones of acquisitiveness. Desire has overtones of sin.
Here is a great quote summing up what I am trying to say:
“As a culture, we’ve had ambivalent feelings about feelings of desire from the very beginning. The Christian tradition generally takes a dim view of desire, mainly because it tends to focus on the ephemeral satisfactions of this world—variously termed the lust of the flesh or the pride of the eye—rather than the eternal rewards of the next world.” *
In the above-quoted article, the author explores the work of 15thcentury Indian mystic, Kabir, who believed that there are 4 stages of desire. To sum it up, people with a lot of desires are a mess, people with some desires do ok, and people with one desire are the rock stars of life, the geniuses, the political leaders and heroes, the spiritual champions.
Okay. I think Kabir has a point. When you want a lot of things that are all opposed to one another, your energy can get scattered trying to meet each one. Some desires are acquisitive for the sake of it. Some are coming from a need for power over others. Some are self-soothing mechanisms that can get out of control or lead to addictive behavior.
I think what is missing is a real examination of the FEELING of desire, where in your body it is coming from and what it wants you to do. Over time I have come to recognize a certain resonance that comes up around some desires, and I believe that this is the universe, god, my higher self, the ancestors, whatever you want to call it, tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Hey. That thing you feel called to do? Do it. This is the direction. Follow that spark.”
This feeling comes up in my torso, somewhere between my heart and my belly, around my third chakra. There is a feeling of connectedness like this desire is at the end of a thread that is connected to a much bigger thread. The desire is almost always for something that feels forbidden or scary. It can be confusing when the desire is for something that I have learned, been told or told myself is ‘wrong.’ I’ve fought against these desires for a long time. They are for things like being self-employed, writing, being vocal and visible as an anti-racist white person, being a practicing astrologer, having open relationships, spending money or time on ‘impractical’ education or spiritual work, etc.
Questioning those god-desires is a kind of mistrust in the divine truth that lives in each of us and I’m trying to stop doing it.
One of the ways I have suppressed acting on these desires is telling myself it’s privileged, it’s not something everyone is able to do and so I shouldn’t do it either. But is that really true? The commodification of ‘spiritual work’ has made the messaging of ‘do what you love’ fraught with unexamined white supremacy, white privilege, class privilege, and all the rest. Spiritual work is not an excuse to do what you want at the expense of another, or at the expense of your own safety and survival.
My god-desire has never asked me to do anything that I do not have the ability and means to do, although some of the god-desires have forced me to stretch my belief in my own ability and means. It has never asked me to do something using power-over another.
While following these desires is still scary, what I understand now is that these desires are, in a very real way, my destiny. They are my duty. The universe, of which we are each an integral part, needs us to do our work, our deep true work, that thing which we all know about ourselves but maybe don’t want to acknowledge. So many of us spend so much of our lives looking for our true direction and I think we have it right inside of us all along.
I had a deeply impactful tarot reading a few years ago with a reader in New Orleans (where I was born). He said to me (paraphrasing), ‘the universe rewards you when you do your work not because it is proud of you but because it needs you, it needs you to do that work because you are its hands.’
These days, I listen for the resonance of god-desire in my body and when I hear it, I try to remember that I am the hands of the universe, just as you are, and to deny the work I am asked to do is to deny my destiny, my duty and my place as a member of the community of life.
This Week in Books
I’m going to experiment with sharing a bit about the books I’m reading each week because I read a lot.
I have been working slowly through the Me and White Supremacy workbook, by Layla Saad. This work, and the work of other BIPOC, has helped me to understand that white supremacy is something that is wired into all of us, and as a white person it is on me to root out and transform any white supremacist programming, thoughts and behavior of my own. Rather than spending a lot of energy vehemently proclaiming that I am ‘not a racist’, it has been a relief to just accept that because I am white, I harbor racism within me. Period. Layla’s book takes you through 28 different ways that we each uphold white supremacy, with journaling and reflection prompts for each one. It is an amazing resource and tool that is almost required work for any white person that wants to participate in dismantling white supremacy (along with capitalism, patriarchy, queer/transphobia and all the other systems that work together).
Layla offers the book for free, but if you are able do pay her for her work, or at least amplify the message by sharing amongst your networks.
One of the first prompts in the book covers ‘white superiority’, with a reflection question asking if you primarily read books, learn from and support white authors and leaders. I felt extremely busted when I read this because I do largely read and support only white authors and leaders. I tell myself this is because they are ‘familiar’, and I can ‘relate to them’. That’s cool, but there are other reasons to read, listen to and support people. If I am only learning from people like me, I never see from a new perspective.
With that in mind, I have been consciously seeking out reading and learning materials from folks outside my realm of ‘familiar’. This week I reread Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler. I actually have read this book before and loved it. Butler wrote books that might fall under the umbrella of ‘speculative fiction’ or ‘science fiction’. She explored different ways that people can relate to each other and the world, different ways people can act, different ways people can BE. Fiction like this is so important as a way of imagining alternate futures to the one we seem to be headed for.
I’ve also been working slowly through Emergent Strategy, by adrienne marie brown. This beautiful and important book is similar to Parable of the Sower in that brown is also imagining alternate ways of relating, acting and being in the world but she does it through her own lived experiences as an activist, teacher, and community member. I was especially impacted by the idea of working as a flock of birds moves, each responding to the birds nearby, with all community members taking turns leading and following, moving forward and resting.
I think this book will take more than one reading to really take in, and I feel as if I am not doing it justice here. You will probably hear more about it from me in the future.
And finally, RIP to the beautiful mystic and poet Mary Oliver, who died this morning. What is remembered, lives!
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
– Mary Oliver