“Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.” -Napoleon Hill
“Do you know what you want?” The waitress is looking at me. I think the pensive look on my face tells her she should come back in a minute even before I have to say it. I’ve been staring at the menu for ten minutes. I have no idea what I want. I don’t want any of it. It all looks great. I don’t know. I want to ask her to surprise me but that seems moronic. A few minutes later I’m eating a sandwich that I half-heartedly ordered and hardly registering the underwhelming bites. My mind has already managed to zoom way out past the food menu into the stratosphere of my mind (I’m kind of a daydreamer). “What do I want on the menu of life?” I’m asking myself in jest. “I suppose I want my life to be a delicious and satisfying meal that someone would crave” I quip wryly to nobody. Not like the dry bland sandwich I’m eating that I’ll lie to the waitress about in a minute when I say “it’s great”.
The truth is that when I actually sit down and consider this question of what I want for my life, I struggle to discover sufficient answers. There are some things I know I want, or can at least point toward in myself. Like being matched to meaningful work and living close to the land. Hearth and home and hospitality with my neighbors. I know I want a strong bond of friendships and community that feels like a tribe...I want true love in all it’s emotional, spiritual, and physical forms...I want to become a person of wisdom and virtue who cares about what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful. And of course I want sex, money, and power. I’m both ugly and beautiful after all. The specific elements of these things or how to get them often eludes me. Like you, I am an intricately woven garment of many threads and layers.
I am a complex struggle of truths and contradictions.
My hopes and fears masquerade as each other. My strengths turn into my liabilities. My wounds become a storehouse of my unique offerings for the world. And all sorts of other soulish anomalies.
At my core I am a True Self. An authentic Me. But I have difficulty knowing myself and my deepest desires for many reasons. Often the issue isn’t so much that I don’t know, but more precisely that I am detached from my truest self. This is because on top of my true self, the original me, I have built a personality comprised of many elements of my true self, but also layers of personality that are false. My False Self is the image I project to the world that protects me from my internal, usually unconscious, anxieties and vulnerabilities. It has grown up to protect me from wounds I’ve sustained. What can I say? I have been affected and changed by my world. I have sustained damage. And that means I get myself pointed in false directions all the time.
I strain to hear through the distorted layers of my own heart. I know too easily that there are corrupted parts of myself, with twisted motives and desires. I get confused about where these corruptions have interbred with the parts of me which ring with truth and authenticity. So I strain to hear the right harmonic chords within. But the music is there. In the moments when I am slow and still enough, I can feel it. A deep down aching, a longing. Desire. I sense many desires within. But this desire, this particular one is not like the others. It might still be nameless, but
“It is not an emptiness longing to be filled; it is a fullness longing to be in relationship.”
-Dom Sebastian Moore
It’s me. The ME me. This one is the answer seeking the question: “What do you want?” And that is precisely what makes the question so worthy. I am haunted by this question and it’s elusive answer. What do I want? What question could be more essential, more imperative? What comes to heart when I contemplate the best vision of myself? Underneath all of the layers that make up my way of being in the world, what is most true and authentic and what are these elements desiring to become in me?
It is easy to be scared of what I most want because underneath my own best vision of myself lies the true possibility that I might actually get it. The mere idea of me is full of potentiality. And that potentiality is at least as scary as it is delightful. Often it strikes me in this manner: Something happens when I’m unexpecting. A comment from a friend, the sunlight on a tree at the perfect moment in our conversation. A certain smell that brings back a memory from childhood. Somehow or other I get connected for an instant with a deep urge inside and I feel something come to life. It might be something vague or known immediately to me. It might fade in a moment or it might stick with me for days or weeks while I muse on it. Maybe it was the simple impulse to practice writing more. Or the risky thought that maybe now is the time to say “yes” to a friend about a business venture we dreamed about together. Whatever it is, it’s at least a tiny glimpse at the big picture of the true me. But here’s the catch.
That tiny thing ignites and fires out of my heart with holy fury on its way out into the world. It wants to become real. But hot on its heels is a heat seeking missile of doubt that’s closing in fast. Sadly a lot of my fury for life bursts apart in the atmosphere of my heart before it ever reaches the world...or you. I wonder about that doubt missile. Where is it’s base? You see whenever I acknowledge that I have connected with my true inner voice, however small, I feel an existential pulse to explore and pursue it, and this overwhelms my emotional resources. Whatever it is, the vision becomes too great. I ultimately have to face the truth: I’m not that person. I’m not an author. I’m not an entrepreneur. But you see, fear cuts off understanding. For me it often cuts off the final and most important word of my inner response: Maybe I’m not that person...yet. “Yet” is a word that can be so full of desire or dread, or both in the same moment. There is a lot of courage to muster and a lot of ground to cover between now and Yet. “Yet” hides in the bushes of my heart and fires missiles at my dreams. But the question is still worthy. My true voice is still there.
Why do I shoot down my own truest impulses? I wonder how much fear may be living underneath a lot of my own search for self-understanding and meaning in life. To what degree do I deconstruct my personality to confirm my doubts because I’m scared of myself and the potentialities I am carrying? The truth is, nobody is ever merely trying to know themself better. We are all trying to become ourselves. Humans are teleological beings, which is a fancy word for saying that we are always pointed toward something. Some vision of the good life as it were.
As James K.A. Smith writes in his book You Are What You Love, “To be human is to be for something, directed toward something, oriented toward something. To be human is to be on the move, pursuing something, after something. We are like existential sharks: we have to move to live. We are not just static containers for ideas; we are dynamic creatures directed toward some end.” You and I and everyone we know is aimed toward some end or telos(a “goal”). This is what drives our search for self-understanding. It’s why we might seek out trained counselors and therapists to help us sort through what is false and what is real inside us, and where we need to heal. It’s why you might even find yourself working with a life coach! Yikes!
Self-Understanding is crucial for developing a healthy way of being in the world.
But transformation from knowing into being requires another special ingredient. The catalyzing event that begins to transform me into something new happens the moment I become willing to accept the risk of becoming myself. Your life and my life will always progress on risk. It always has. Think of learning to walk as a child, and the first time you let go of the coffee table and charged into the living room without holding on to anything. I bet that felt pretty darn adventurous at the time. What about that first big promotion at work? You walked into that totally confident and self-assured, didn’t you (wink)? Or the first time you struck up the nerve to ask your girlfriend on a date. Did your heart pound with excitement, but also a little trepidation at the risk? Every time you have grown, matured, added plot line to your story, you have risked something in the process.
What does it mean to risk?
I think it means “chance taken”. The opposite of risk isn’t failure. That’s the risk perhaps. But if you don’t take the chance you don’t lose anything. The opposite is staying where you are. Chance not taken. It is difficult to embrace the necessity of risk in our lives because risking requires us to loosen our important self-protective instincts and frameworks for safety, stability, protection, certainty.... and lean into more ambiguous frameworks for potentiality, window of opportunity, danger, skin in the game. A more formal definition of risk is: a situation involving exposure to danger(possibility of losing something of value…physical or emotional well being, status…); Intentional interaction with uncertainty- a potential, unpredictable, uncontrollable outcome. So what makes us do it? What makes any of us accept the risks, especially the big ones? I think we risk when we catch some vision of the future that is clearer and more powerful than our conscious and subconscious fear. Willingness arises in us when we find something worth the risk. Something real in us connects with a potential future reality and we choose to make the reach.
For some this talk of taking risks with life may sound irresponsible. And it could be if we miss the point. I’m not saying cast of restraints and be risky with your life. Recklessness is not the goal. Ashlee shares sound wisdom in her recent blog post about showing up to your dreams: “Maybe you are reading this, and it is not what you need to hear—that’s fine. Maybe you need someone to help you take a more careful approach to life, to tell you joy comes from different and more stable places than where you’re currently seeking it. Caution isn’t bad! It protects us and can be incredibly wise. But is it protecting something that in reality needs to be opened up versus closed and put away? Do you have an idea-seed waiting to be actualized, and it just needs you to take it outside in the sunlight and give it some water? Or do you need to be saving your finances right now and vigorously paying off student loans? Neither is wrong!”
So while I’m not condoning recklessness as a cornerstone of a personality, I am saying...
Take your life seriously enough to take risks with it when appropriate.
Make directed, well discerned risks. Be responsible and wise and patient. But you will have to take risks. You won’t always have every important detail, or know the outcome from the outset. You won’t always know before you go so to speak. Besides, risking well in life does important things. It RELEASES our grasp on inner forces which are inhibiting our forward movement. It REVEALS fears, desires, truths. It REORIENTS us to the most crucial task of the moment. It RECONVEYS to us a sense of what matters. It REIGNITES and REINVESTS our energies into the forward movement of our life. If you’ll forgive me for the alliteration, I actually like all of theses “re” words for representing risk. The prefix re means: with reference to, used with the meaning “again”, or “again and again” to indicate repetition, or with the meaning “back” or “backward” to indicate withdrawal or backward motion. Re is a REgenerative prefix. It goes back to go forward. Risking does this too. It connects backward with a desire (hopefully a good and true one) and reaches forward into the future with it. Risk is the breath and blood of your telos taking shape.
So search for those things which are good and true and beautiful in you and the world. Remember that truth represents everything about you that is real...desire dares honesty in you. Goodness represents what the real in you wants to become. Find it and aim your life at it. Beauty is the thing that will captivate you enough to take the risk. Especially pay attention to beauty.
So here’s my question. The question. What do you want? Are you worth the risk? I think you are :)
I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me--
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me, and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire--
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
Peace to you,
Ross Click is a spiritual director whose passion is to help people get to the center of themselves where they can heal internal conflicts, clarify issues, values and identity, and unfold into their purpose. Ross lives in Newberg, OR with is wife and 2 daughters. He enjoys spending his free time adventuring with his family, reading and woodworking.