Give In, Say Yes, Feed Your Desires

What’s the hole in your heart? How can you go about finding it and filling it?

Writers hunger desire creativity productivity
Photo by danna § curious tangles via Flickr

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”
Anaïs Nin

What are you denying yourself? Is it one of the glazed donuts in the breakroom? Is it napping on your lunch hour instead of hitting the gym? That extra glass of wine at dinner? Are you trying so very, very hard to reign in your imagination, lest it run wild with visions of fantastical adventures and heady interludes?

Exercise and healthy eating are always good choices, but it’s easy to drain all the pleasure out of life by religiously following a strict regime of juice cleanses and CrossFit sessions. I suspect, though, that most of us are not so pious. We cheat on our diet, we skip the workout; it’s never the end of the world.

To be honest, what scares me more is the abandonment of daydreams. It’s a nasty habit we pick up sometime around middle school and eventually, it morphs into something insidious. As we race through the gauntlet of high school on our way into that rat race of adult responsibilities, we’re all waylaid by those kind, considerate souls ever-ready to let us know it’s time we put away our “childish things” and focus on succeeding in the real world. Some of us fight the good fight, but I think in the end it’s the rare individual that makes it past 30 with the ability to entertain whimsical goals and unchecked imaginings.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.
Carl Sagan

Writers, artists, creatives…we all fight to keep our imagination accessible, malleable and alive. Society allows the creative individual a bit of leeway when it comes to fantasy…as long as we marry it with practicality. We’re okay, as long as we can assure the world we won’t demand too much. We’ll keep our writing a hobby. We’ll only paint on the weekends. We sublimate our energy into crafty, kitschy gifts and bi-annual visits to wine-and-painting classes.

Of course, if we can attach a monetary reward to our efforts, so much the better. But we must still keep those energies in check. Go too far afield, and retribution can be brutal. Filmmakers fall into obscure and unapproachable Cinéma vérité. Writers ignore their editors and churn out thousand word tomes. Artists eschew canvases in favor of performance. The critics yowl and the fans complain, and soon the money and fame and fortune disappear.

“Go ahead and try,” the Universe seems to say, “But don’t try too hard.”

Logic will get you from A to B.
Imagination will take you everywhere.

Albert Einstein

Listen. Most of us don’t need to worry about pissed off fans and harsh critics. We write, paint, create and send it out into the world when we can. Some of us are lucky enough to pull in a paycheck based on our efforts, a vast majority keep the creative urges in corralled inside jobs, hobbies, and home offices covered in dust.

There’s nothing wrong with being responsible. It’s important to be vigilant when it comes to your survival, and in most of the world, that means finding a way to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head. We are well past the era of royal sponsorships and generous artist’s grants. Practicality rules the day, and so we push aside our creative longings, roll up our sleeves, and set out living in “the real world.”

But is there another way?

In the East, the guru never calls himself a guru.
Marianne Williamson

Every day that question gets asked, and there’s always someone willing to find an answer. We’ve got more lifestyle gurus than we know what to do with these days. There’s always someone preaching about a solution they’ve discovered – an antidote to the daily grind their willing to share for the low, low price of a self-help book, blog subscription or DVD lecture series.

Most of the time, these evangelists have simply stumbled upon the age-old racket of selling dreams for a dime. As David Hannan said about P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and from apothecaries to snake oil salesman to manifestation gurus, it’s a well-worn scheme to sell the ticket to paradise and freedom from the time clock.

I’m not trying to be cynical. Despite the intent – and some of these folks are certainly sincere – and sometimes even in spite of the goofy suggestions and whacked out advice, sometimes these sorcerers of self-help do happen upon a successful strategy. It won’t work for everyone, but as long as you’re not being encouraged shave your head, to ditch all your earthly belongings, and join a cult, it doesn’t hurt to try.

Over the years, I’ve explored all manner of actualization and dreamcasting strategies. I’ve read the Artist’s Way more than once, I still read Simple Abundance every couple of years, and some of the lessons of the Celestine Prophecy still inform my worldview. In opinion, none of these books falls into the snake oil category. Instead, they present strategies and suggestions I’ve found genuinely helpful as I try to balance practicality with whimsy.

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.
Jim Rohn

Recently, I wrote about how daily trips to the pool transformed my writing and my waistline. I’ve always been pretty adept self-discipline if it makes sense to my overall life philosophy. One day, after running about a half mile along a stretch of shoreline, knees aching and ankles on fire, I realized I needed a change. I wanted to stay in shape, but I needed to stop punishing myself with painful workouts and draconian dieting.

I also needed to make it simple. After a lot of research, I decided to focus on CICO (Calories In-Calories Out) approach to eating while also making that fateful decision to return to the pool. CICO allowed me to abandon low-carb rituals and low-fat platitudes. I let myself eat whatever I want – just less.

I swim because it makes me feel good and because those few extra calories burned mean I can grab that glazed donut if I want. By tearing down the walls and trusting myself to act in my own self-interest, I actually disabled many of the cravings and bad habits that had undermined me in the past. I used to eat chocolate every day. Correction, I used to binge on chocolate every day. Now I barely ever eat it, and when I do, I find I’m satisfied after a couple of bites. I used to nap on my lunch break, and end up tossing and turning all night and waking up exhausted and in need of another noontime nap. Now I swim at lunch, eat a salad at my desk and (mostly) blissful pass out at bedtime.

Which makes me wonder – would we be better off giving in to our hunger every now and then, especially when what we really hunger for is probably creative expression and the profound satisfaction that comes from living in the moment and immersing ourselves in this little thing called life.

“Many of us constantly hold ourselves in check – about food, relationships, careers -= stuffing our desires down deep into the self, as if sheer determination can keep the lid on longing,” writes Sarah Ban Breathnach in Simple Abundance. “But I am gradually coming to an awareness that hunger is holy. We’re meant to be hungry every day and to satisfy that hunger every day.”

Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties.
Gail Sheehy

While goalposts, guidelines, and boundaries can all help move the creative process along – and everyone is always in need of a diligent editor or conscientious taskmaster – I think many of us sabotage our creativity by trying to keep it in check instead of letting go. We say “no” to our inner child so often, in part because we don’t trust our longings. We are afraid we will be led astray. What if we eat so much we end up weighing 800 pounds? What if we end up alcoholics? Or penniless? Or fat, penniless, alcoholics?

I’m not going to lie. It could happen. But it won’t.

The trick is to be really honest with yourself about what you really want. When I was doing my CICO research, I came across several handy charts noting the correlation between particular hungers – for salty foods, for chocolate, for sweets – and what your body might actually need. Dying for a bag of potato chips, maybe what you really need is chloride. Try Meditation, breathing exercises, exercise, leafy greens, and some more vitamin B and C. Always grabbing a bag of jellybeans at 3pm, maybe you’re missing some tryptophan, sulphur or phosphorus. Try switching out candies for pumpkin seeds or sweet potatoes.

I now apply that same reasoning to my more soulful yearnings. If I’m fantasizing about winning the lottery, maybe all I need is to feel slightly extravagant – perhaps a macaroon and a hot chocolate from my favorite French patisserie will do the trick (and for less than $5, I can feel like a millionaire). When I start to wish my workday would end and I begin to gaze upon my cubicle walls with resentment, I make the counterintuitive decision to find MORE work to do, instead of wasting hours on the internet with one eye on the clock.

Jealousy, resentment, anger, frustration – every day I get more adept at identifying these emotions and instead of ignoring them, or attempting to numb them with food, I lean into the feelings. I let them wash over me without judgment and then, gently, try to find the cause and the remedy.

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive.
There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.
George Eliot

Hunger motivates us. We overeat, drink too much, indulge in laziness (and lazy thinking), and we hope that if we stuff our psyche up with enough nonsense, we can ignore the pain that comes with an unsatisfied soul and an unrealized life. But we’re going about it all wrong. We shouldn’t ignore or deny our hunger; we should look it straight in the eye and then find a way to fill the void.

In the film The Family Stone, a character tells the story of working on a documentary about a man in a small Alaskan town who became obsessed with carving a totem pole. A sad, wasted soul for most of his life, he suddenly seized upon the idea, and it gave him a sense of purpose. The community banded together to help him fulfill this dream. When the totem is finally raised, everyone finally sees the manifestation of this man’s hunger and its fulfillment. As the character explains, “it filled up a hole in his heart.”

What’s the hole in your heart? How can you go about finding it and filling it?

“Today, consider the desires that really count – what you really need to be content,” advises Ban Breathnach. “Then make sure there’s at least three moments today that fulfill mind, spirit, and body with what you alone must have.”

“Our souls know many different kinds of hunger: physical, psychic, emotional, creative, and spiritual,” she concludes. “But the Great Creator gave us the gifts of reason, imagination, curiosity, discernment; we possess the ability to distinguish between our hungers.”

“Don’t despise desire…Love. Hunger. Appetite. Desire. Holiness. Wholeness. It’s all One.”

Cover photo by Yamil Saade via Flickr
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