Editor's Note: Joe Weston also authors an advice column, "Ask Joe," where he shares his training, wisdom, and experience with RealJock readers. Got a question? Need some clarity? Ask Joe anything that's on your mind by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Your identity will be kept anonymous, but do note that questions may be edited for length and clarity. For more info on Joe's workshops, see his bio at the end of this article.
I have a desire to talk about “desire.” How about you? Do you have that desire? How would you know if you did have that desire? How would you know if you had any desires? The only way to find out is to go within and see what you are feeling. A desire is a feeling, not a thought, not a fantasy. But it is not a feeling like hunger or a headache. It is much more subtle.
What is Desire?
In my past article, The Power of Contentment: Take a Life Inventory to Find Your Wants and Needs, I talk about the differences between a want and a need. They are very different from each other, and from a desire. A want is based on fantasy and usually leads to unhappiness and frustration when trying to pursue it. A need is a basic instinctual drive. When you can get in touch with what you need as opposed to what you want, and then actually get that need met, either on your own or by reaching out to others, then you will find fulfillment and real happiness. A want is a mental construct; a need is a deep subtle feeling that resonates with all of us.
Desire comes somewhere in between. It is a mixture of needs and wishes. It starts with an internal feeling of longing that then gets focused onto a goal, dream, or intention. A healthy balance of want and need leads to growth, learning, connection and deep satisfaction. Some of us have the desire to learn, others the desire for spiritual attainment. Some desire a modest life with a family, others desire to go out into the world and engage with many, either professionally or intimately. Neither one is better than the other. The only indication of which desires are appropriate for you is if you desire it! But no matter what the desire is, it begins with a feeling. So, what happens when you go within and see what you desire? Let’s try it right now…
An Exercise in Tapping Into Your Desires
Start by sitting in a comfortable way. Close your eyes. Keep your whole body relaxed and flexible. Lengthen your spine in a soft way. Feel your head being lightly lifted towards the sky, and tuck your chin towards your chest. Your mouth and eyes are slightly open. Take a moment to focus in your center, a place about three finger-widths below your navel. Be aware of a slow and natural breath, in through your nose out through your mouth. See if you can breathe deeply into your center, into that place below your navel. Practice sitting like this for a few minutes or until you have a feeling that you are centered, in balance, grounded, more present.
Now take a moment to simply ask yourself, “What am I desiring at this moment?” Don’t go to your thoughts for the answer. Check in with your feelings. When you can get in touch with the feeling, then see what thoughts come up. For instance, you may feel empty in your stomach, then wait to see what images come up that give you an idea of what you should eat. Or you may feel a longing in your heart. When you allow yourself to feel that longing, you may get the image that you would like to give a friend a call you haven’t talked to in a long time. Or you may feel a stirring in your groin. When you allow yourself to fully feel that, a picture may pop up in your mind of wild lovemaking with your partner.
It may be a specific thing you are checking in about. If a friend asks you, “What would you like for dinner tonight?,” then go within, center yourself, and ask yourself that very question. Get in touch with your belly and see what images come up, like an egg roll or sushi. There’s your answer. Or an erotic partner might ask you “What turns you on? What are you in the mood for?” The same principle applies.
Sounds simple, right? Just go within, ask yourself what you are feeling, see what images come up, and there you have it—your desire! But let’s be real. What usually happens when we are asked to identify and express our desire? What happens when we start feeling desire? For many of us, the first thing we encounter on our path to our personal desire is shame.
Let's Talk About Shame
Now I have a desire to talk about shame. How about you? Probably not. It is so much nicer to talk about desire. But in order to get our desires out in the open, we first have to address what I believe is the number one reason why we are challenged to feel, express and pursue our desires. There may be many reasons, but shame is the one that we all seem to suffer from, regardless of culture, religion, social status, or gender.
So, what is shame? I see it as a necessary social mechanism that has the productive function of keeping us alert to our actions. If we do things that harm others or risk the security of our community, shame is a powerful way to help us see our mistakes and adjust our future behavior. However, through the ages, shame has also been used to keep people from expressing their uniqueness and individuality. This is not necessarily a conscious thing. Shame has been passed on from one generation to the next. As children, our parents reminded us time and again that we couldn’t be too loud, for instance, or different. “What would the neighbors think?!” This resulted in many of us shutting down our wild creativity and our unlimited imagination. This unconscious habit of shaming caused many of us to give up our personal, unique desires and settle for a more conventional life, choosing to fit in and conform.
How does this actually work? I’d like to share two similar stories with you. Both took place in a public place here where I live. First, I was in a sandwich shop waiting to order. A women and her son were ordering. He was about 10 years old. The man behind the counter kept asking what kind of meat the boy wanted on his sandwich, even though the boy only wanted a cheese sandwich. Finally the mother said, with shame in her eyes and in her voice, “Sorry, my son is a vegetarian.”
The second one is similar. This one took place in an arts and crafts store. Again, I was waiting while a woman and her two sons—maybe seven and nine years old—were checking out. They had yarn. The boys were pushing their mother to ask a question about the yarn. When she finally asked the question, she said in an apologetic tone “I’m sorry, my boys just like to knit.”
Both moments brought me to tears. Even though the boys were getting what they wanted, they were still having to deal with the shame of their mother. (And this is in Northern California, near Berkeley! You can’t get any more open and accepting!) I was touched because I remembered all the times my parents felt shame when I did something that didn’t fit into their image of how a young boy from NYC should act. They didn’t do it on purpose, but as I got older I found myself moving further and further away from my desires, my unique talents, the things that truly brought me joy.
Our desires bring us back to who we truly are. When we feel our desires, we are open to inspiration, imagination and creativity. When we express our desires, we tap into our unique gifts and talents and discover what our life purpose is. When we pursue our desires in a way that is balanced and responsible, we find the fulfillment and satisfaction we are looking for.
Five Ways to Open Up to Desire
Do you recognize this? Do you have memories of being laughed at or shamed for being ‘different’ or for enjoying doing ‘uncharacteristic’ things? Are you presently making choices based on your concern of what others might think? Do you find that shame is an obstacle to feeling, expressing and pursuing your desires? If the answer is yes, here are some simple things you can do to get back to live the life you desire:
- Regularly practice the exercise described at the beginning of this article. Try doing it every day for five to 15 minutes.
- Be mindful of how shame plays a role in your life. The more you can trace shame back to your childhood, finding out what your triggers look like, and staying alert to when shame pops up, the less power it will have over you.
- Make a list of your secret passions. No one needs to see this list. What have you always wanted to do or be? By doing this you will get back to an open place of imagination, free of judgment, where you will get to know your unique self again and you will find that your creative juices will start flowing. Here’s an example: I am not sure why this is, but many of my clients put ‘I want to be a rock star’ on their list. I think it’s great.
- Speak your desires to lovers and friends. This can be very empowering and will deepen your relationships. To speak your desires to people you know requires courage and vulnerability. This is where you can really overcome your shame. The main reason we avoid speaking our desires is because of our fear of what others might think. It is easy for us to share with others what we think or believe, but to express what we feel or need or even desire is a big risk. I believe that it is only in your vulnerability that your true power is revealed!
- Find ways to make these passions a reality. You don’t have to be literal. For instance, a 60 year-old client of mine who had the secret passion of being a rock star started taking guitar lessons for the fist time in 50 years! He doesn’t plan on becoming a performer, but he has found a way to overcome his shame and is doing something that truly satisfies a deep desire. If, for instance you always wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, take some swim lessons or just put your feet in a pond from time to time. You’ll see where you go from there.
Some of you may have been expecting that I would have talked about sexual desire in this article. Sorry if I have disappointed you. I could talk about sexual desire in my next article. I would have to check in with myself first and see if I actually desire that….
About Joe Weston: Joe Weston is an international workshop facilitator and personal life coach. Born and educated in New York, Joe lived in Amsterdam for 17 years and now lives in California. He is committed to helping others embody spirituality and supporting them on their journey towards personal fulfillment and empowerment. Joe brings a wealth of insight to his work based on many teachings, including Tai Chi Chuan and a variety of spiritual traditions—plus his experience in theater and various organizational trainings. He is currently writing a book entitled “Respectful Confrontation: the Path to Compassionate Engagement, True Power and Personal Freedom.” He also volunteers for the Liberation Prison Project, teaching Buddhism to inmates. To find out more about his workshops and his personal coaching, visit www.joeweston.com. Joe leads lectures and workshops in Respectful Confrontation around the world. He currently has spaces open for new coaching and bodywork/erotic healing clients. For more info, click here