Sitting with desire II
27 January 2008
It is very difficult to write about loving each person in each moment without sounding like I am advocating hedonism and promiscuity. I am not. I am advocating responsibility, the responsibility that comes from the acknowledgement of one’s own desire. Acting on desire is a different thing, and requires different consideration.
The acknowledgement of desire is by no means easy. So often desire comes from a part of our selves that we would rather keep hidden from the world, the world whose social niceties we are unwilling to offend with revelations from the dark side. This is not to say that all desire comes from the dark sides of our souls — just that it often feels like it does. This is because desire is after all an intensification of feeling and sensation that sometimes feels completely unconnected to the rational mind. As Blaise Pascal put it way back in the 1660s, in Les Pensées:
Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.
The Heart has its reasons that Reason cannot know.
The act of sitting with desire is an attempt to introduce the two once again — to re-connect the heart and the mind, which in Eastern philosophical conceptions (心) never experienced the post-Enlightenment-split. To sit with desire is like to sit with the pain in my knee — there is no suffering if I acknowledge and accept the pain.
Someone recently recounted to me the story of his efforts to quit smoking. Once the decision was made to put away the fags, instead of avoiding smokers (as is the common advice in quitting programmes), he went out of his way to join smokers on their smoke breaks, as he used to, only without himself lighting up. The more his friends tempted, cajoled and goaded him into having a cigarette, the more resolute his decision became. That seems to me to be an attempt to ‘sit’ with the craving, to accept that it is there, rather than deny it, and perhaps to know one can choose to act otherwise.