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Desire: Are You Content or Simply Settling?

by Julie PetersFebruary 05, 2020
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goldfish jumping out of the water

Getty Images/mikdam

“Desire is the feeling that there is something more out there for us, something bigger, something that has meaning and wants to drive us forward in our lives.”

Contentment and gratitude are virtues. If we are lucky enough to live in a place where we have access to healthy food, clean water, and health care, we certainly have a lot to be grateful for. Contentment means being OK with the life we have to live, understanding that who we are is already enough, and giving up the greedy striving for some vague and pointless more

Then there’s desire. Desire is the feeling that there is something more out there for us, something bigger, something that has meaning and wants to drive us forward in our lives. That energy is powerful enough to make us willing to take risks. Going after our desires is incredibly rejuvenating: When we know what we want, we know exactly what we must do. It’s a delightful position of power.

Wanting something, however, can also be incredibly vulnerable. Desire points us toward what is missing in our lives, and that missing piece can be scary to admit to and painful to look at; it’s much easier to settle.

Is Settling Bad? 

Settling isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It has a comfortable connotation to it: When we calm down, the mind settles. An old house will creak and groan as it settles into the night. We can settle in for a long weekend of resting. There is a certain peace that comes with allowing ourselves to relax into the gravity of what already is, to know that what we have and who we are is enough.

But we’re human beings—we come with a desire to experiment, to innovate, to play. I believe we fundamentally want to grow and change and experience all that life has to offer. But we also fundamentally want to stay safe and maintain our connections to others. That means we sometimes sacrifice our desires on the altar of our fear. 

Maybe we want something that seems very hard to access—a partner, even though we’ve been single for years. A baby, even though our bodies may not be able to have one. A new career, even though we don’t have the money to go back to school. If these desires feel impossible or too scary to attempt, we can push them down deep inside our bodies, pretending like we never really wanted them anyway. It’s exhausting to resist feeling something we really do feel. That’s not settling. It’s swallowing.

If, on the other hand, we could actually change something about our lives and chase these deep-down wishes, we might risk the safety and security of the lives we have now. We risk our carefully cultivated identity that we are actually OK with things exactly the way they are, that we don’t really need that thing we desperately want. Unmet needs can show up as the constant heat of anger, borne of the frustration of having a power we are not using. Anger is, paradoxically, an optimistic emotion: Anger fundamentally believes things could be different than they are now. Anger knows there’s still some power left to use.

The Power of Desire

Desire exists for a reason. It’s different from craving: Craving wants stuff—food, sex, drugs, alcohol. Anything to fill the void of unmet needs or unhealed wounds. Craving placates us, it tries to keep us still, its only goal to feed itself. True desire wants real change. It wants deep meaning. Connection. Growth. Acknowledging our true desires is incredibly vulnerable, because there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to get whatever it is we want, and then we might have to grieve. But grieving is OK, too. It means we lost something that really matters to us, even if that thing was only a dream. Even if it doesn’t work out, though, following our desires means we’re willing to access our own power to change, and that’s a courageous choice. 

Start building your resilience now and benefit in hard times. Read “Build Resilience by Creating an Upward Emotional Spiral.”


Julie Peters

Julie Peters is a staff writer for Spirituality & Health. She is also a yoga teacher (E-RYT 500, YACEP) and co-owner of Ocean and Crow Yoga studio in Vancouver, BC, with her mom, Jane. She is the author of Secrets of the Eternal Moon Phase Goddesses: Meditations on Desire, Relationships, and the Art of Being Broken (SkyLight Paths 2016) and WANT: 8 Steps to Recovering Desire, Passion, and Pleasure After Sexual Assault (Mango Media 2019). Learn more at www.jcpeters.ca. Follow her at @juliejcp.

Learn with Julie! 

Register for Julie's courses Stress Management Skills for Real Life: Practices for a Calmer Happier Life and Moon Goddess Meditations: A 16-night journey of desire, heartache and connection.


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