I used to think that desire was binary—that you either have it or you don’t.
You either want to write a book or you don’t.
You either want to be fit and healthy or you don’t.
You either want to be a good parent or manager or you don’t.
You either want to have a deeply nourishing spiritual life or you don’t.
Then my thinking changed.
I came to believe that perhaps desire wasn’t so much binary as it was occurring along a spectrum of intensity—from “non-existent” to “intense.”
I also came to believe that desire comes and goes—that sometimes we have desire and sometimes we don’t. That our desire is like the phases of the moon or the seasons—it waxes and wanes and it comes and it goes.
For the purposes of this discussion—and understanding yourself more fully—it might be helpful to substitute “desire” for “motivation.”
My thinking continued to evolve…
I came to realize that we can desire something and have a conflicting desire AT THE SAME TIME.
Additionally, we can desire something and have fears related to the object of our desire simultaneously.
I can want to write a book, but I can fear (or resist) the sacrifice and obligation that writing it would entail. And I might want to write a book, but I can fear what might happen (judgment, criticism!) once I actually do so and I put it out into the world.
I can want to be fit and healthy but I can (and do!) love carbs and cheese and pastries and ice cream.
I can want to be a good parent but hate disciplining children and I can want to be a good manager but also want to avoid conflict with those I manage.
You get the idea.
For a while now I’ve been intrigued by the idea that what we have is what we want.
That if we really wanted something—if we really wanted our lives to be different from how they are, we would already have that.
That we are masters of self-deception, telling ourselves we want something but continuing to live in ways that are not congruent with that stated desire, because it’s not really what we want!
Whether or not that’s the case, I think it’s useful to be aware of what we say we want—and to be clear about our commitments, to ourselves and others—but to look honestly at what we have, what we do and how we’re living, as best we can, without judgment.
As I see it, central to this inquiry is knowing when your work is to accept yourself, other people and circumstances—including deep and complicated issues like systemic injustice and ecological destruction—exactly as they are and when your work is not to accept but to ACT to shape life to be as you want it to be (or think it should be).
All of which brings me back to what I believe is life’s operative question—the question that sets everything in motion: “What do you want?”
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