The Paradox of Desire

What does your heart truly desire?yartzeit candle heart hands

I don’t mean something you’d like to have happen to you, like ‘win a million dollars.’ I’m thinking about something in the realm of action – a desire that you might actively pursue. What do you really want out of life?

If you’re like me, you’re probably getting ready to roll your eyes right now. Is this going to be one of those motivational messages, “law of attraction” nonsense? Fear not. I’m not interested in spiritual ideas unless they hold some tangible reality for me. And the truth is, we all have strong desires, which affect our lives in a variety of ways (not all of them beneficial), and it’s worth your while to pay attention to your desires and how they affect you.

This week’s aspect: Chesed and its contradictions

Desire is the origin of creativity. This feeling of wanting to do something. This is chesed, the first of the seven mystical attributes which I am taking on (in a hopefully demystifying way) in this series of blog-posts. (Follow these links for more about the practice of counting the Omer and the seven attributes). Usually translated as “lovingkindness,” for my purposes here it is perhaps better described as the outpouring of passion.

I personally experience this force most clearly in my need to express myself as a musician, and I imagine many musicians and other people who have dedicated much of their lives to creative pursuits are like me in this. I see it too in many of my Feldenkrais students, in their intense desire to overcome whatever challenge has led them to seek my help.

Too much chesed, though, can create some problems. Many histories and tragedies have been written about the dangers of unfettered passion, but that’s not what interests me today. Instead, I’d like to explore the way our desires often undermine themselves. Sometimes this is as overt as self-sabotage, but it’s often more subtle than that, as if the resistance is already ‘baked in’ to the way we manifest our desires.

In fact, this resistance exists in every intention we have, down to the smallest movement. You can feel it yourself if you lie on your back quietly, and begin to do a very simple movement – for instance, pressing one shoulder backwards into the floor. Pay very close attention to your breath as you begin the movement, and you’ll see that you interfere with it – a moment before you begin pressing. You might even feel a tightening in the muscles of your chest that work to lift the shoulder forward, engaging as if to…what? Brace for this gentle movement? It doesn’t matter why we do it, the important thing is that it happens. usually, the more important the intention is to us – the more intense the desire, the stiffer the resistance. You know what this is like if you’ve ever spent a sleepless night trying to fall asleep. Somehow, you can’t fall asleep until you stop trying! This is just as true for any deeply desired intention.

As you may well know if you’ve read my bio, I went through a very difficult time in my twenties, when I couldn’t make music because of persistent pain in my hands. During that time I ached for music as for an absent lover. And the more I ached for it, well, the more my muscles ached, and the less I felt able to play.

A way out

My journey out of this contradiction wasn’t easy. The very process of re-learning how to move involved learning to temper my desire with discipline, self-compassion, perseverance, humility, and keeping myself grounded, as I developed more self-mastery. Or at least that’s one way of putting it. We’ll be going deeper into each of these aspects over the coming weeks.

(For instance, I really care about these blog-posts, and as I sit here typing, I can feel a certain tightness in my belly, in my chest, between my shoulder-blades… I keep getting up and going to get a snack just as soon as I have a good idea, like some manifestation of a fight-or-flight impulse. But I know better now than to simply push though this resistance, and instead I have cultivated the skill to diffuse it, or find my way around it.)

Discover for yourself:

So what is it that you desire? It could be a new endeavor, or something you pursue every day. It could even be a dream you usually don’t admit or even realize you have. Moshe Feldenkrais famously said that “A healthy person is one that can live fully his unavowed dreams.”

What happens when you think about realizing such a desire?  Can you feel resistance? There may be the voices that rise up to protest why it’s impossible, or the ones that explain that really it’s not your fault, or whatever. Let’s leave those aside for now. What do you feel in your body as you contemplate moving forward with something important to you?

Here’s a sweet little movement experiment for you which explores some of these ideas in an embodied way.

This recording is taken from a Sounder Sleep® class I taught a few years ago, and as such is a bit different from your usual Feldenkrais lesson. You can do it right here in front of your computer, though I would recommend doing it or sometime when you won’t feel self-conscious.

The recording is about 12 minutes long, but give yourself a few minutes after to reflect on the experience. Think about your desire as you did before. Do you feel the same resistance, or has it changed? I’d be curious to hear how it was for you, so do leave a message below, or contact me directly.

In the esoteric schools of thought a Tibetan parable is told. According to the story, a man without awareness is like a carriage whose passengers are the desires, with the muscles for horses, while the carriage itself is the skeleton. Awareness is the sleeping coachman. As long as the coachman remains asleep the carriage will be dragged aimlessly here and there. Each passenger seeks a different destination and the horses pull different ways. But when the coachman is wide awake and holds the reins the horses will pull the carriage and bring every passenger to his proper destination.

In those moments when awareness succeeds in being at one with feeling, senses, movement, and thought, the carriage will speed along on the right road. Then man can make discoveries, invent, create, innovate and “know.” He grasps that his small world and the great world around are but one and that in this unity he is no longer alone”

–Moshe Feldenkrais, Awareness Through Movement, p.54

4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Desire

    1. Josh Post author

      Thanks, Ben! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Do I remember correctly that you play guitar? How about trying to play a bit (or do something else significant to you if I’m mis-remembering, and do forgive me if I am) before and after the exercise, and let us know how it goes?

  1. ilona fried

    Great post! I recently began a Feldenkrais Training program which made me much more aware than before of how my body creates tension when I write (which I also wrote about!). Glad to see it addressed here. I’m still learning how to navigate that situation….

    1. Josh Post author

      Thanks, Ilona! I’m still learning too!

      Enjoyed your blog very much. What a grand adventure you make of life! Looking forward to continuing the conversation.


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