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What I Desire

[This is Edward James Olmos, not Alan Watts. If you’ve seen this movie, then you probably already know why I posted this picture]

Last week I posted a voice-over of Alan Watts thinking out loud about what it might look like for someone to do what they desire. He says thinks like: What do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like? 

Shortly I after I posted this a friend called me out. He said, “so, let’s have it, Aaron. What do you desire? What makes you itch?”

I should have known. 

First of all, learning to answer that question has never been easy. I used to say I desired things like a community house like The Simply Way, or that I desired to live incarnationaly toward those I lived amongst. But what I was really saying was that I wanted to live as such. My desires were instead for community, acceptance, and justification for a faith I wanted to believe so ardently in. 

I’m not a philosopher, but here’s what I think about desire.

Desires evolve. They change, but they are also interconnected. They are all in some way loosely attached to something deep inside of us, like telephone poles that string our minds, hearts, and souls together, like connecting small towns with one another.

Desires are not wants, however. They are related, but not the same.

They start small, as most desires do. As babies, for the vast majority of us, all we desire is comfort (though we don’t know we do). It is innate, and natural. Life is bright, cold, wet, and our stomachs hurt. We don’t know that we want to satisfy our hunger, or that we want a blanket to make us warm. We just know that presently things suck. We desire for life not to be so uncomfortable.

As toddlers and as small children some of our greatest desires might be for the affection and attention of our caretakers. We aren’t aware that we want our dad’s to nod, smile, and respond with something positive, or that we want our mother’s to hug, kiss, and feed us. All we know is that when we speak we like it when our parent’s respond.

For me, when I got into elementary school and in to junior high, I desired acceptance. I wanted girls to whisper about me, I wanted for the kids I played ball with to think I was the next Michael Jordan, and I wanted my skateboarding friends to think I was something unprecedented. More than anything though, I wanted to be someone that made other people say, “wow, that guy does it different, and he does it really, really well.”

In high school I desired at least two things. First, I still desired acceptance. I still wanted my friends to think I was funny, and my teachers to think I was genuinely trying. Second, I desired respect. I wanted, for the first time in my life, for people to listen to what I had to say, and I when I became a captain of my cross country team, I wanted younger runners to want to follow me.

In college it was the desire to be loved and then the desire to find ways to give my love away. This meant, if I could manage to get my friends, my college pastor, and my girlfriend to love me by wanting for myself the things they thought were worthwhile dreams, then I would do them. So I wanted to learn to teach high school English, I wanted to become a pastor, and I wanted to get a working-stiff job doing whatever so that I could begin to provide for the girl I intended to make my wife. But giving my love away felt right too, so at the same time, I found ways to get involved with feeding homeless people. I learned how to fix tattered homes for folks with no money. I leant a thousand ears and hearts to people who needed someone to listen. I always wanted to be the guy who people knew would listen.

Desires evolve because they are all in some way loosely attached to something deep inside of us. 

Since college my desires have continued to shift. But in doing so, I am starting to see them converge with each other more and more.  For example, my desire for a healthy and creative form of expression is manifest in my want to be a writer. At the same time, my college-borne desire to give love away, met with wanting to be a writer, causes me to want to ask serious questions about how I might write in a way that gives love away.

So, if it all came down to answering the question, perhaps my response will leave you underwhelmed. My desires over the years always seem to come back to people. People have always been within my desires, whether the want has been to be loved by, to create community with, to host for, to receive from, or like today, to tell stories of.

I would love to hear your thoughts. What do you desire, and even, what do you want? Feel free to respond here, on your blog, on Facebook, and be sure to tag me!

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