“Desire is the kind of thing that eats you
and leaves you starving.”
~ Nayyirah Waheed
This is about desire, to recognize it for what it is, to own it, and not to be victimized by it.
Because desire, as it is mostly experienced, doesn’t feed us that way. Desire is like salt—floating in a sea of it is sensational, but be thirsty for it and it will leave you starving.
You can’t talk about desire without addressing abandonment. Not because everything has to be funneled through a dualistic yoga philosophy filter (though that would be a very enlightened goal), but because the truth of my own experience informs me so.
I could tell you about abandonment for as long as you care to listen. I can tell you about abandonment like the Inuits could tell you about snow. It was my greatest fear as a child, and I had a most bizarre relationship with it. Perhaps because we moved around too much, too frequently, and I was left alone too frequently, too long. Fear was one of the earlier memories I could recall. That fear motivated me.
Growing up, I didn’t know what I would become, but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be desirable, I wanted to be noticed. It wasn’t about attention—a mosquito could get your attention, a crying child would most definitely get your attention.
It was about want—being wanted.
The kind of want that is the “light of my life, fire of my loins”; the kind of want that inspires sin; the kind of want that enslaves. Even as a child, I had dangerous intentions. And as a child, I didn’t understand that:
“Just because someone desires you, it does not mean that they value you.” ~ Nayyirah Waheed
Because desire is like salt; it will ravish your flesh, and leave your bones in the cold. This isn’t dark poetry; it’s what my experiences inform me, what my cells remember. It’s chilling realism.
Perhaps because I used to watch all the Bond films with my father. Perhaps I was too young, but those are the women that I first came to know. And I wanted to be like them. It’s no surprise that I ended up an actress; it’s no coincidence that the femme fatale roles came my way. I styled myself deliberately and voluntarily so, growing up, and I’ve been the beneficiary of an industry that banks on sex appeal, on the flesh of youth, on the superficiality of beauty, and on the object of desire. Being that object of desire—on camera and of—is a double-edged sword; it gave such validation…yet left you naked, cold, and starving for more.
Desire is like salt, a pinch won’t hurt, but it can’t be all that feeds you.
In his book, On Desire: Why We Want What We Want, William B. Irvine stated that desire dictates the “positional value” of an object, that has an otherwise absolute value. In the world of desire, value is assigned. Therein lies the problem. Desire is projected; desire is dictated; desire is someone else’s power over you. Desire places you in a position where you have zero control. Desire enslaves you.
What I’ve learned is that beauty doesn’t feed you, flesh doesn’t feed you, desire doesn’t feed you, but they will all consume you, seize you, and then they will haunt you, enslaving you to need, need more, and be desperate without.
Desire is like salt, too much of it can harm you. Too much of it becomes an addiction, addictive “not unlike the ways as cigarettes or hard drugs, with the craving triggering the same genes, brain cells and brain connections.” Yearning for desire is like yearning for salt, the brain is stimulated the same way as when it’s hooked on hard drugs. And like hard drugs, desire is sure to transform you, because desire itself, morphs.
Uncontrollable desire is neurotic, psychotic, and the burning blood that feeds sociopaths. Uncontrollable desire poisons you. Uncontrollable desire mocks you as it feasts on your own flesh.
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
At the heart of jealousy, is desire, disturbed, intoxicated, and poisoned. Shakespeare teaches us through Othello.
Desire, of the carnal type, will ravish you, and then trash you—that’s “positional value,” which might as well be disposable value. We live in an increasingly “disposable” culture, but is that the kind of desire we yearn for? To vie for that kind of desire, is like smoking cigarettes. And like smoking cigarettes, you are slowly killing yourself. But there is an antidote, and it’s called self-worth—that belongs to us; that’s our power; that’s absolute value, and absolute power.
For every ounce of desire, cultivate a pound of self-worth. That’s our light, and only light can save us, because we are meant to be cherished—flesh, bones, light, insecurities, strengths, cries…soul. All of it, the whole of our being.
The discerning factor is where our value comes from, i.e., where we decide it comes from. Desirability is value assigned by others; to need that kind of desire, is the curse of the insecure. Self-worth is value we give ourselves, value that we determine and grow.
Self-Worth can thus transform how we conceptualize desire and that is how we can own desire. Because once we are able to discern the sources that feed our value system, we are then able to assume control, autonomy, and sovereignty of our body, our temple. We must, repeatedly and mindfully, cultivate self-worth; make every breath a mantra, because it must be repeated. It can’t be repeated often enough. We don’t hear this enough, but we need to.
To detach ourselves from our ego is the work and practice of a lifetime. To detach ourselves from desire is to arrest life, as Tolstoy said. Most of us are not the Buddha; we are not ascetics; we are living, breathing, feeling, sentient beings. But we can live a mindful life.
Desire is as vital to life as our heartbeat. To desire is to live. Tomorrow exists, because we yearn for it. We can still experience desire without becoming victimized by it. We can still want, and be liberated. We can still experience the kind of desire that is the light of life, and flame the fire not only of loins, but equally of the mind, and of the soul.
We always desire what we cannot have. Mastering desire is to turn the table on the players. To win desire, is to own yourself. So I haven’t really changed. I still, as I was as a child, desire to be desirable. But salt won’t feed me. Desire my mind; desire my soul. Let me take pleasure in that kind of desire. Explore me through that kind of desire, and taste the difference.
Author: Xiren Wang
Editor: Travis May
Photo: With permission from Dimitris Lambridis