An astrologer once told me to be careful what I ask for, because I will likely get it.
This was in reference to a sweep of stars and planets in my birth chart, a pattern that showed him my power to bring into fruition my desires. It’s a big responsibility to work with, one whose pitfalls and victories I have seen many times over.
But in the years since that warning – which is how it was intended to land – I have learned a bit about the nature of desire. As is true for all the murky parts of us that seem like they should be shunned, there’s a wisdom to our wanting.
When I was a much older version of myself, I committed to study the deeper teachings of yoga. It was a lifelong dream of mine to drop into a course of spiritual study, and, as that astrologer noted, I tend to get what I want, for better or worse.
As I followed this path, I was rewarded with greater flexibility in my body and mind, along with access to an inner guidance unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
It was the latter that led me to quite an unexpected direction for my spiritual awakening.
One of the central teachings I received from yoga teachers and texts was that I should not want what I want. I was taught that my desires are traps of the mind, called raga (attachment) and dvesha (aversion). Wise ones, I was told, actively turn away from wants and accept instead whatever the divine wants for them.
But, the desirous one in me asked, if the divine is indeed the source of all things as I have also been taught, why is it absent in my desires?
Quick answer: it’s not.
It’s true that unchecked desire is a savage beast. It leads us to throw our life savings into wishing wells, waste precious hours watching YouTube videos about “manifestation,” and open our gates for people we know will trample our roses. But this is unconscious submission, the kind that can send us chasing satisfaction from the outside where it’s impossible to find. This is why the belief in desire as a cruel temptress persists, and the reason raga and dvesha are timeless teachings.
But by applying this wisdom by asking us to ignore desires – or fear getting what we want – we deny ourselves the hunger that is at the root of our aliveness.
If we were not hungry for food, we would not survive as individuals or as a species. If we were not hungry for experiences that speak to us or relationships that offer our hearts a reason to pump, our survival would be one-dimensional and monochrome.
What if the answer is not to ignore our desires, but instead to become conscious consumers of them? What if we’re meant to be hungry, to allow that hunger to speak to us, telling us who we are and what we’re meant to do?
That path of desire work might show us – to pepper in some words from my yoga days – our karma and our dharma.
There’s a fallacy hidden in the warning, “be careful what you wish for.” It’s the notion that we are helpless beings at the whim of our wants. In this mindset, we cannot handle the consequences of our actions. We cannot be trusted to go forth into a terrible decision and harvest from it the heaping piles of self-awareness that are waiting on the other side of the repair that will come.
But those of us who are brave enough to risk dancing with desire know, we are certainly capable of cleaning up a mess from time to time.
As I like to tell my Inner Narrative Alchemy clients, beneath every tale of destruction is a story of redemption waiting to spread its wings.
What Do You Want?
Don’t read me wrong – this is not to say that we should dive into any desire that comes up, make a terrible mess, and then spend all sorts of effort repairing what happened.
What I am saying is that there are two vital parts of desire work to understand if one wishes to be free of the burden of wanting by coming alive through it.
First, we have no choice in what we want. We don’t get to pick what lights our hearts on fire, but we do get to pick what we do with that flame. We are forever presented with choiceless choices, and embracing that powerlessness is the only way we can exercise our agency.
For instance, you might be consistently attracted to the “wrong” person. Someone you know is going to leave your heart in pieces. You have no choice in who catches your eye, and at times you may willingly choose to follow the beat of your thumping heart. Even if you see yourself in a pattern like this, the answer is not to beat back the desire, but to acknowledge that you have never once chosen to want what you want. Instead, each of your desires has been given to you by some unknown hand for some unclear purpose.
Which leads to our second part of desire work.
We are not meant to do or have all the things we want to do or have. Some of what you want will come true, but the work of celebrating our desires is not about making a to-do list. Instead, we are making lists of our beingness, of our unique hunger. We are mapping the terrain of our inner selves and learning what drives us – whether or not it is realistic, ethical, or possible – and using it to trace a path of healing. (If you want to see for yourself how this works, check out my Erotic Alchemy offering.)
We find ourselves in that map – our unmet needs, our points of value, our outrageous fantasies. In that searching lies the reward of self-knowledge. That alone is worth the work of keeping a desire journal.
When we allow our desires to work through us, pointing out the deep pits and leading us to the stuff that can actually fill them, it makes wanting holy work.
As you meander down this path of choiceless choices, some of what you want will become manifest reality, while other wishes might be seeds for a future generation. Either way, treat your desires as scripture. Make lists of what you want or simply note them whenever a little snap of “I want that” arises in your day. Don’t deny any of your desires – even those fueled in jealousy, anger, grief, or unrealistic expectations – because they are always guiding you to understand yourself more.
Your desires speak truth, and by listening, you’ll learn from them. How to want as if you have never been denied. How to fight to live the way you want to live. How to fiercely guard against being swallowed whole by your cravings while allowing them to walk alongside you.
Rather than shun the aching yearnings in you or try to convince yourself that you don’t want what you actually want, make room for them to dance through you, to fuel you, to draw their name on your skin in permanent ink.
Because no matter how much meditation you do, you’ll never be able to stop what you want from wanting you. So the only wise thing to do is to let your desires lead you home.
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