Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, June 23, 2011

One or Two Parts of Desire*

Something about my attention span, or what I like to think of as my "hungry mind," has me most often reading several books at once.  And sometimes, two or more authors are wrestling each other for space inside my head.  This is particularly the case when their words and ideas share conceptual and/or psychological acreage.

At present, I am making my way, week by week, through Piers Steel's The Procrastination Equation as part of Put it to Bed's Procrastinating 101 feature.  At the same time, I am reading Martha Beck's The Joy Diet:  10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life.  Because who doesn't want one, right?

And the work of these two writers is intersecting around thoughts of desire.

Dr. Steel is concerned largely with the limbic system, and our difficulty controlling the impulses that arise from it, leading to procrastination.  Dr. Beck has her readers adopting a progression of habits, ranging from "NOTHING"--as in "doing nothing for at least fifteen minutes a day"--to "RISK"--as in "Every day, do at least one frightening thing that contributes to the fulfillment of your desires"--to "FEASTING"--as in "Have at least three square feasts a day [which] may involve food.  Then again it may not."

In week three of my retooling, ala Beck, I am directed to focus on "DESIRE."  "Each day," she instructs, I am to "identify, articulate, and explore at least one of [my] heart's desires."  According to Dr. Beck, desire is something that has been pretty effectively schooled out of us.  We are so busy tending, (or not, as Dr. Steel observes) to all the things that are required of us, and that others expect, that we are not much attuned to what we want.  We have been taught to be suspicious of what we want, and to regard wanting itself as selfish, and also as risky.  Because we expect to be disappointed, wanting something, and acknowledging that disposition, is setting ourselves up.

Dr. Steel is concerned with impulses, and an inability to delay gratification.  But in the conversation he is holding with Dr. Beck inside my head, they find common ground in their concern with what Dr. Beck calls "true" desire.  She says, and I believe Dr. Steel would agree, that the things we are afraid we might want, if we unleashed our minds and hearts, are, in fact, pale imitations of our real desires.  She holds that the addictions, distractions, petty compulsions and cheap amusements that pull at us--and Dr. Steel would say keep us from doing what we should--are not our "heart's desires."

In fact, those heart's desires are what we really should be doing, or concerning ourselves with.  And true procrastination, in some existential sense, might be seen as putting off the life we are meant to live (in Oprah-speak), rather than as the lag time we experience in getting down to business we have not been very intentional about agreeing to.

I find myself woefully out of touch with what I want, but I am looking forward to thinking about it.  For the moment, it seems to be almond M & M's, but I suspect that is not exactly in the realm of a "heart's desire."  Obviously, it will take some work to uncover the real stuff.  But in the meantime, chocolate couldn't hurt, right?
*This post's title was suggested by a (much more serious) book I love, entitled Nine Parts of Desire:  The Hidden World of Islamic Women, by Gwendolyn Brooks.

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