As a fundamentalist Christian, I learned quite early to fear my desires. They most certainly would lead to activity that God did not desire for me. We tended to interpret "desire" as anything having to do with sensuality, such as sex. Rarely did desire get linked--in sermons or in conversations--to unhealthy appetites for power or control, certainly not to any forms of corporate evil or injustice. Desire was personal and perilous.
I'm about two decades out of fundamentalism, and I have enjoyed freedom of the senses, sexual or otherwise, for many years. But in truth, I still fear my desires. I fear to know what I really need out of life. I fear to acknowledge what I long for. And although you would think that as we grow older we would get better at contentment, it seems that longing deepens and that the soul's interior cries grow more insistent.
Perhaps it becomes more difficult to admit unhappiness as we grow older and become more established in some aspects. We're engaged in long-term commitments; we're partnered up, and we've given years to a career. If we are indeed unhappy, what can we un-do without destroying a life we have built? Chances are, the unhappiness does not issue from some fleeting, insubstantial thing--out of sheer practice we have learned to tolerate inconvenience, pain, and rerouted plans. We've learned not to allow shallow and short-lived circumstances to influence our happiness. The discontent we now experience comes from matters more settled and over-arching. It's easier to avoid thinking about the discontent than it is to approach the magnitude of it.
But I believe that a person's deepest desires merit attention and respect. Usually our true desires mirror Divine desire, and when we neglect them we not only prevent personal healing but also spiritual progress.
This means that 2012 may be a rocky year. I need to understand what my soul needs, what my life wants, what the most honest me dreams of. Not a safe course at all. Not easy, not without its cost.
I usually approach the New Year left-brain first. I list goals, then prioritize, then put them tentatively into a calendar. I create a daily schedule by which to do everything that seems important: exercise, meditation, prayer, writing, and so forth. I can spend hours doing this. I emerge from my cave (writing room with closed door, music, candles, and teapot) with my life sketched out in detail, at least for the month of January.
Wait for it . . . failure in the first or second week. This happens year after year. I do the exercise of organizing life mainly because it feels so satisfying, and we should pay attention to what elicits that feeling. I think it helps me think about my year, my life, my priorities and values. Time spent meditating on those things is not wasted, even if the plan crashes within days of its inception.
This year I did the prioritizing and some scheduling. But I resisted the neurotic urge to create a daily schedule. Time for a kinder, gentler me. Time to say yes to the exercise but no to the plan itself. I have decided to walk softly into the New Year.
Also, time for more gentleness with Vinita. It makes me wince to actually write that, but after so many friends, spiritual directors, and supervisors say the same thing, it seems wise that I listen and do as they ask.
I've been married twenty years. I've been me for almost fifty-four years. I've been an editor and writer for two decades. There's wear and tear involved in simply existing on this planet, even more if you dare to love people and the rest of creation, even more if you work hard and nurture creativity. All of that work and love and creativity walk around in one body, a body that never rests. It keeps breathing and circulating blood. It keeps healing itself. It keeps performing the same motions and functions, thousands of hours on end, with no break, ever.
So it's appropriate, don't you think, to treat the body more kindly and more intentionally? What about a massage once a month? What about lotion on dry skin? What about brisk walks and the liquid movements of Tai Chi, the therapeutic stretches of yoga? What about better food? What about laughing more and sleeping better? What about wearing clothes that feel right and look good?
If not now, when? Here's to 2012, the year of living gently.
LOYOLA PRESS A Jesuit Ministry : Home This is where I work--we're all about helping people's souls, as the Jesuits put it. Books to buy, articles to read, a great 3-minute retreat and other short meditations.
Lively dust This blog is created by LaVonne Neff, a good friend as well as writer/reader/editor/cook/mother/grandmother and who has a lovely way of seeing how life is sensual and divine all at once.
PBS Masterpiece series Cranford This is my new (well, new to me) favorite miniseries. Lovely, funny, heartbreaking. Made to go with a pot of strong tea and hankies with lace.
Rambling Rose I don't think there was much buzz about this 1991 movie, but I like it so much I own a copy. There's so much grace in this story, and Diane Ladd delivers one of my favorite movie speeches of all time, toward the end of the film (she and Robert Duvall, her husband, are in the doctor's office).
Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God This is a short, readable, and powerful book. I'm on my way to read Bourgeault's other works. This one encouraged me and gave me a boost of desire for that quiet place with God.