I've been reading a lot about desire lately. At first glance, it threw me. I wondered if we'd become so self-absorbed that we actually believe desire is the high road. Not that I'm a prude. But to blatantly claim that my desire is what I "should have" sounded so self-centered.
I had to think again.
Is desire a bad thing? Or a road to achieving your highest goals? As I thought about what desire is and what it actually manifests, my picture began to morph some. I began to see desire as a deeper longing than I'd originally thought. It can manifest as what our soul longs for, not necessarily the latest shoes Oprah is pushing.
But how do we separate our longing for those things that don't necessarily carry weight in our lives, that don't give us the best return on our investment from those that run deeper and longer in paying back meaningful dividends that improve our experience and quality of life?
This is not a task that always feels naturally, but it is a natural one. The problem is our ego doesn't want to let go of the stuff that makes us feel guilty, ashamed, or self centered because the ego likes being in low places. The real trick is to learn what the soul really wants in order to have the most meaningful life possible.
This requires giving up. Yep. Give up the ideas you carry around in your head about what you want. This may be the most difficult part of the whole process. Might not be what you expected to hear me say.
In my mid-twenties, I was sure I knew what I wanted. I knew the career I wanted (sort of), I knew the car I wanted to drive, where I should live, and what the guy I married should look and be like. I knew what my family would turn out like. I'd venture to guess you have that list too.
This is a short version of my list:
Video producer - Career
Saab - car (even though I was a native New Yorker and clueless about how to drive)
Manhattan - where to live. (and obviously wasn't going to be driving much)
Scandinavian looking, successful, smart, and funny. And somewhat progressive.
Loving, doting father to the best children ever. They might not all get along but we'd work it out to because that's the process of growth and family. That'd be my family.
I accomplished the video production thing. And loved it. Still do. I lived in Manhattan, and swore I'd never live in the suburbs because I'd rot and die. That's when I met the guy. We both wanted a Saab. I was on track and ready to hit the life of my dreams. And I was pregnant after dating for a year.
So, guess what I ended up with for most of my adulthood?
Community Consultant - working with rural communities in the American West, and a photographer.
Old Chevy Pick Up Truck. Yep. Car.
Mackay, Idaho - a town of 500 people in the rocky mountains.
Red faced, scottish cowboy with a body like stone and a heart to match when the whiskey bottle was open. Later, it was a rancher husband who also had a rock hard body and the biggest hands you ever did see. Unfortunately, his heart did not match the size of his hands.
A beautiful baby boy who is now 28, whose father denied him when he was still in the womb. He was raised by a couple of cowboys who taught him the ropes. How to rope anything on four legs, to be more accurate.
Life does not happen like we think it will. We're creatures of more complex decision making than our handy visualization exercises let on. And our desires are deeper than the pictures in our head.
Did I fail at creating the life of my dreams?
I ended up living a life beyond my wildest imagination.
In most ways.
In other ways, I failed. Not because I wasn't good at getting what I want, but rather, because I was. My soul knew the lessons I needed to learn to truly end up in the life of my dreams - and I wasn't getting there on the road I started out on. There was no GPS in those days either. Sometimes you have to take the back roads around.
Some lessons I needed to learn were wrapped in pain, but included in that wrapping were the most challenging of life's experiences. What I didn't take into account when I wrote the lists in my twenties was what my heart had already told me - but I didn't file it somewhere it could be easily accessed.
My heart's desires ran deeper.
When I was young, I wanted to be in the Peace Corp. I wanted to help villages and people in developing countries, at that time, achieve their goals. I wanted to live in different cultures. I wanted to be real, authentic, and gritty. I wanted to be a trail blazer. I wanted real love, not a marriage that made an impression to others and was based on meeting social standards to tell me I'd arrived. I wanted to be uniquely me...and creative...and of service to others. I wanted my life to be meaningful. Don't we all want that when it's all said and done?
But I didn't remember that when I began visualizing. I didn't remember what shaped me at a young age. I didn't even remember I don't like dating good looking guys. I can't stand the competition or the jealousy.
What happened is something for a TV movie actually, but it was my life. And this life of mine turned into the words on my lists, and a whole lot more. Even if it doesn't sound like it on paper.
Today, the cowboy life is behind me, but the richness of summer mornings at daybreak, sitting on the back of a horse on an Idaho mountain summit is not something everyone can say they lived. Helping communities fighting for their livelihood and cultural traditions have a chance at making it through to the other side of the environmental war was a challenge not for the faint hearted. Raising a son alone, with the help of a couple of cowboys, was sometimes akin to having him raised by wolves. But it was my life and I chose it. I don't know if I'd do it again, but I just might if given the chance.
There are a few things I'd leave out on the side of the road, however.
The alcohol could be thrown in the ditch. I'd been sober for years when I met Okie, and he didn't have to wonder if he'd need to put those 12+ beers he drank daily on the shelf to date me. He did. Just like that. For five + years. The next five were hell, but they taught me a lot about boundaries and love and letting go. Making choices toward loving yourself and truly loving others, when it's met with this type of pain is not an easy path. Okie died a few years ago from cirrhossis. A good man with a bad habit lost to the prison of his addiction. We all lost the gentlest, toughest man we knew - who didn't always listen to the desires of his soul.
He raised my son,Kyle, and although Kyle didn't have what some would deem the best educational environment ever, he learned things no man I was knew could do or be. He could survive in the wilderness. He even hiked up a mountain with a bow and arrow when he was 12, and slept against a tree to hunt dinner for the winter. Not every kid could do that and make it through the night, especially knowing a mountain lion paroles there nightly. He didn't get the elk, but he did live to tell about it.
Kyle learned what it was to know nature by living with it, not looking at it. Growing up in the streets of Brooklyn didn't give me that kind of education. Not even the most devoted environmentalists understand the intricacies and intimacy that comes with living interdependently with nature in today's society. Nature has become so revered, it is more often observed like a museum's finest piece of art, instead of knowing the sweat and toil of labor and paying attention to what it needs from us in return for the life it provides us.
My son also learned stamina. And courage. He lived where the wild things are - I'm sure that book had been etched in his memory right next to Goodnight Moon and The Big Orange Splot. (The big orange splot is my favorite children's book, not necessarily his. I wanted to read it all the time, and Kyle humored me. It's tale is taking the road less traveled and following dreams. Thinking back on it, its much how I lived my life.)
I am now sitting in the backyard of a house in Northern New Jersey and my husband is working inside. His sandy colored hair is peeking out from the window where he is reorganizing our office area so we have more space to work in. He's a northern European type, as close to Scandinavian in these parts as I could find, and we live in a town called Stockholm. We don't drive a Saab, but we do drive the American version, a Chevy.
Life is not linear. When I thought I wanted one thing, the truth is something else lived right below the surface screaming to satisfy the real desires of my heart. When I thought I wanted family, I really wanted to be deeply loved and to belong to someone. I wanted it authentically, fully, devotedly. When I wanted a career, I really wanted to serve others in community. When I thought I wanted a Scandinavian man, what I really wanted was a good one, like the men I knew in my native country of Norway - because I wanted a partner that shared my values, who could laugh and sing with me, who loved me enough to pull my hair back when I threw up from the stomach flu. As dumb as it sounds. I wanted a kind man with a spiritual side, and to have a shared purpose in life with him. That was the true desire of my heart.
And I tried like hell to create that in every relationship from the start. Let's just say it took some time to find it.
"I do not want to be folded
for where I am folded,
there I am a lie."
Ah, Rilke. He knew how to say it, didn't he?
In the end, or the beginning, depending on which end you're looking in on, I realized I needed - and had always needed - to be in sync with my soul. Not the vague, ill defined idea of soul, like having rhythm; but the soul that is the undeniable, passionate, connected essence of who I was. This is the part of me that was of God, and of everything that is. It's what carried my heart on each new adventure because I couldn't not venture out to the places I was called to. This aspect of us is at the core of who we are, and when we deny its yearnings, we shrink. We settle. We live the life we're supposed to live, not the life we're destined for.
To be honest, I still don't think I've fully what I may have been destined for because I let myself shrink at times. When the fear of appearing grandiose or having dreams too big got in the way of others comfort levels, I sometimes back peddaled. When people in small towns couldn't wrap their heads around something so obvious to me, I'd fold in the name of patience and letting them get there in their own time. In doing so, I sometimes gave away my own dream too. But not always.
When you're ready for the adventure and your soul is crying out to go, fill your backpack with less than you think you need, live beneath your means, and take one step after another. You will arrive, even if not in the time you've designated. But don't forget to take the steps...remembering you have what you need...and your soul is leading, not your head. Your heart is not in charge either, although it is an important cheerleader and companion for the journey. Keep it open, untethered, and protected along the way so you develop the discernment necessary to know what's meant for you and what isn't. This will teach you to be a catalyst for real love in your life and for those you meet along the way.
How do we know the difference between desire that erupts from the soul and the selfish desire of simple wanting? You will know.
It won't be the knowing or even the passion that explodes out of you with obsession. This is the flash in the pan passion that false starts are sometimes made of. It will look more like something that grounds you and impassions you, and even if it makes no sense at all, it will feel like a purring motor that drives you from within and will not allow you stop moving forward - whether in your imagination or in your steps. You can't not think about it, do it, or abandon it. It is part of your deepest longing and you know it.
Sometimes the only way to test this is to let it go. Such a wise old quote we've all heard...if you love something, let it go, it it's meant to be it will come back to you forever...or something like that anyway.
I'm not suggesting you give it away, but do test it long enough to ensure it's your soul, not your ego. Or the legend in your own mind syndrome. And if doors start opening one after another, you might decide to take a risk to find out. Heck, who cares if the water's cold? At least it will wake you up.
Sometimes what you're best at hasn't been discovered too. How do you know?
I never thought of myself as the creative type. I more closely resembled someone with a good sense of what worked, what looked right, what was necessary to get somewhere. I knew the road ahead almost as if there was an instant roadmap in my head. Brain GPS. Over the years, it became clear to me that not everyone has this ability - but I didn't get the memo.
I couldn't draw, dance, sing, or play an instrument so I was certain I wasn't the creative type. Irony is I always looked like the creative type with an entrepreneurial sense about me. This was a balance not always present in others, and I thought it was just my wishful thinking. At 50, I finally got a good camera. A semi-pro camera that forced me to take it seriously since I'd spent every last dime on it...or at least every last ounce of credit.
I could shoot. I had an eye. I had a natural instinct for capturing or creating visuals that pleased others. This stunned me beyond words and led me into the next chapter of letting the dreams unfold.