Questioning desire

I’ve talked about the virtues of habit, the ways that we can use habit and routine to continually recreate the kind of life we want to have. In the same way, though, habits can consistently drag us back into thoughts, stories, and patterns that don’t serve us or support our desires. When we set up our habits consciously, we know where they are leading us, but the habits we create unconsciously, reactively, can bring us in directions we don’t even notice, simply because they are so familiar.

I’ve been noticing this a great deal recently in connection with desire. How many of my desires are the things I truly want, and how many are things I assume I want, for one reason or another? Maybe that reason is layered in my history: I assume that the things I wanted as a young child, or that the needs I felt so violently in my teenage years are still the things I crave most deeply. At times, this is true: I may still want approval or freedom. But other times, I have invested myself in the idea that I don’t have enough of these things without taking a good look at my present life to see whether it is still true.

I also make these assumptions at deeper levels: do I believe that I want things that my parents wanted for me, or even for themselves? We all invest in desiring things that our broader society – whether that is what we consider mainstream or not – tells us we want, and also in the things that our culture says everyone wants.

There has been a lot of intelligent writing in the last few years about the downsides, financial and otherwise, of home ownership. Reading this, I have thought but of course I want to own a home! Everybodywants to own a home! Eventually, I also got to thinking really? Do I really want that? It turns out that I do, not for the middle-class status symbol or because I’m dying to take on the financial responsibility, but because it represents a kind of stability that I deeply desire. This is both an honest and valid desire and one worth questioning further: what is it about that stability that I think I need? Is it about fearing change or not trusting my own strength, and can I think differently about those things?

This is not to say that we don’t have real desires, or that we shouldn’t want anything: we do and we should. But when we work to seek out the truth of our desires, the part that comes from a deeply felt and positive want, we create a powerful opportunity: one where our desires are not hampered by our fears and are fueled instead by our clarity.

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