"What do you want a meaning for? Life is a desire, not a meaning."
~ Charlie Chaplin
Interestingly, the word was not used to describe sexual lust until the 14th century, around the same time that bands of “flagellants” commonly roamed the countryside whipping themselves as penance for their sins. Any personal wish or wanting that a person might have was increasingly seen as sinful, selfish, willful, and against God.
Before such puritanical suppression sullied the whole concept of desire, the ancients saw these experiences as coming from heaven. Originally, the word desire had a different meaning. It derives from the Latin de sidere, “from the stars.” It is a mystery where these desires come from, is it not? Why does one person adore classical music, while another finds it boring and greatly prefers something with a beat that’s easy to dance to? No one knows. It just simply is. “From the stars” is as good an explanation as we are likely to get.
What we do know is that our preferences in large measure make us who we are as human beings. Our passions and interests provide the variety and range of possible experiences that makes life so interesting. There is so much to choose from! Why then, do I love this particular thing?
"Love and desire are the spirit's wings to great deeds."
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
After some inquiry and inner work, as burdens are slowly resolved, there often is a moment of panic that goes something like: “Well, if I’m not my burdens, then who am I?” The burden, the struggle for survival, is all they have known. When you leave the zone of survival and gain the luxury of inquiring within how you might like things to be - your “zone of creativity” - you usually draw a blank, at least at first.
So, how do we answer this question “Who am I?” The ultimate response, agreed upon by every true wisdom tradition in the world, is: “I am God.” This ultimate truth of our identity, our true essence, is the key to everything. I am God, unity, and I am also a seemingly separate person. I have my own body, my own perceptions, my own experiences; my own reality that is unique to me. We are hybrids - spiritual beings (God) having a physical experience (human).
This brings us back to our desires. Our desires are a bridge between God and human. It is one way Spirit speaks to us, lives through us, has an experience of itself.
“Desire in the heart is where you will discover the phone line that links you
to the will of God that would be expressed through you.”
~ The Way of Mastery
The ancient Greeks called these desires your daimon, or guiding spirit. Later, it was variously known as genius, spirit, angel, destiny, calling. The ancients believed your daimon was assigned to you before birth. It carries the image of your destiny and calling in this life, including your passions and preferences and talents. If ignored too long, your daimon will nag you, pester you, remind you. It might send you a depression or a deep ache of dissatisfaction or some other symptom if you stray too far from your gifts. I often imagine a young Michelangelo working in an accounting firm. Do you imagine he might suffer from a few unpleasant symptoms, straying so far from his calling?
"Everyone has been made for some particular work,
and the desire for that work has been put in every heart."
Desires could be seen as our marching orders from God, our mission in life. This idea might conjure up images of sacrifice and obligation and duty in you. That is our religious conditioning in action, I believe. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Our desires, ordained by God, feel good! It’s what we truly want. It’s what we would do if no limitations existed. Our desires guide us toward our purpose, and that is what makes life worth living, and what gives it depth and meaning. When we are living in accordance with our desires, we call it happiness. When we live by what someone else tells us, it can feel bad, heavy, like a burden. So we can trust our feelings here. “How does it feel?” is a good question to ask. If what you are doing is truly in accordance with your genius, it will feel good. Always.
Now, I would like to make a distinction here between desires of the soul (large Self), and desires of the ego (small self). When the ego wants, it is always for the purpose of making itself bigger, more important, more desirable, more powerful, more impressive. These desires can never be satisfied. There is never enough. The small self knows nothing of Spirit, and is oblivious to any connection to Spirit. It believes the night is dark and full of terrors, it is on its own, and must therefore depend only on itself, and live by its wits. For the ego, everything is about survival, impressing others, and rising in the pecking order where life is easier. These small-self desires are what most of us think of when we hear the word desire, but they are superficial and not true and soulful desires.
"Boredom: the desire for desires."
~ Leo Tolstoy
It has been said that whatever we think is going on, we really only need three things: 1) Listen to and connect with the longings of our own heart; 2) Find the courage to act on behalf of those longings; and 3) A community of people that supports us in doing that. Amen.
"A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire."
~ Thomas Merton