Longing is not desire

Longing is powerless – knowing

I will never have –

can’t have – shouldn’t have.

Longing is tinted with lack

and veined with loss.

Longing and fear of loss

imprison desire.

But I am getting old –

time thins before me.

A passionate woman is

feared by men –

distrusted by women.

Trust me or move aside

because I have a passion for life.

My love is not your longing.

My love is not what you long for.

I desire more than your love –

sweet as it is.

I want to touch and be touched

by everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bad Baby

During my research into working creatively with fear, I explored some sessions of EMRD (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).  I used the sessions to look at my claustrophobia, which is marked, but not totally debilitating: anxiety in lifts, on the underground, in airplanes, going into caves or other enclosed places, putting on a balaclava, having my head under the bedclothes, etc.  Lots of people have these feelings.  I felt, for me, they might be connected to an experience of accidentally almost being smothered by my brother in the backseat of the car when I was 5 years old.  He had fallen asleep on top of a pillow that was on top of sleeping me!  I was impressed with how working on this memory through EMDR actually significantly reduced my claustrophobia (though not removing it entirely). So I asked the therapist if she felt EMDR could also be used to address my eating issues.  She said possibly, so we had a go.  What emerged was an image of a huge, hungry Bear who felt it could dominate me whenever it wanted to!  This certainly encapsulated the feeling of being taken over described in my previous posting.  That was as far as the EMDR process could take me.  When I explored it more with Sandra Reeve, the message arising from this was that I needed to “dance with the Bear.”  Hmmmm…….  Dance with a bear????

Reading Bromberg [1], who I mentioned in my first posting, offered me a way of viewing the Bear and its effect on me.  He asserts that, “most of the symptoms associated with eating disorders can best be understood as an outcome of dissociation.”  He describes “a never-ending war between parts of self, each denouncing the other around the issue of appetite and desire ”.  He locates “an affectively out-of-control infant within a dissociated self-state that takes on an imperious life of its own”.  This last sounded like it could be the Bear.  And a “war between parts of self” brought to mind another therapeutic method I had come across in my research into working with fear: Internal Family Systems Therapy[2] (IFS).  It focuses on communicating with parts of self.  I contacted an IFS therapist to see if he could help me with the Bear.

I had five sessions altogether and they proved to be both interesting and helpful.  The Bear quite quickly turned into a very large Baby that was cut off from me and all of my other “parts” (literally on the other side of a deep trench) – what is known as an “Exile” in IFS terminology.  With the therapist’s help, I dialogued with lots of other parts of myself that had a let’s-keep-the-Baby-out-of-the-picture attitude – ostensibly protecting me from this very Bad Baby.  These are divided into the “Managers” who organise and control things for me, and the “Firefighters” who react and create little (or big) distracting dramas.  They are aspects of myself I easily recognised.  I then remembered I had actually encountered the Baby many years ago.  It had arisen when I was having Gestalt therapy just before my 40th birthday.  I even wrote a little song about it at the time:

BALLAD OF THE BAD BABY

I’ve been the good baby all of my life.

I’ve been the good girl.  I’ve been the good wife.

I’ve been the good mother.  I’ve been the good friend.

But now I’m afraid that this is gonna end.

 

Refrain:

For, the bad baby’s waking up.

The bad baby’s waking up.

She’s waking up today,

And there’ll be hell to pay.

Yes, the bad baby’s waking up.

 

The bad baby wants to fight.  The bad baby wants to cry.

The bad baby doesn’t love you, and she will tell you why.

The bad baby’s full of anger.  The bad baby’s full of pain.

She knew you wouldn’t love her, that’s why she never came.

 

But,….(Refrain)

 

I’ve tried to take good care of this bad baby inside me.

I’ve kept her in a glass box, but now I’ve set her free.

So if you think you see something strange behind my eyes,

You’ll know that it will be the bad baby on the rise.

 

Yes,…(Refrain)

 

This bad baby isn’t kind.  This bad baby isn’t fair.

This bad baby wants to make a mess of everywhere.

She hasn’t learned to love, and she hasn’t learned to care.

But I know that I can’t live as if she isn’t there.

 

For,…(Refrain)

 

I’m loud and unreasonable.  I want to be heard.

I’m not being fair.  I’m being absurd.

I know that you are angry, and I know you have a right.

But I no longer can keep this bad baby out of sight.

 

Cause…(Refrain)

 

If you think that you know me, if you think that I’m your friend,

I hope that you can see this change through to the end.

She’s very unattractive, but I think that you can see,

This terrible bad baby is the other half of me.

 

Help this bad baby to wake up…(Refrain)  (written 12.11.1989)

My first marriage did not long survive this awakening – too much of a challenge!  But the other dramas of that difficult time pushed my awareness of the Baby back into the unconscious again.  I was not as fully aware as perhaps I might have been that her “awakening” actually signaled a slow but steady rise in compulsive desire around food.  I was still trying to manage her rather than communicate with her. The IFS process helped me to move the controlling parts of myself, the Managers and Firefighters, back just enough for me to reach out and connect with the Baby.  She did not initially want to communicate with me – why should she?  Eventually, I was able to cross over the barrier and we seemed to agree to listen to each other more.  So now I consciously give her ice cream or chocolate cake at times and I cuddle her (myself) more these days.  This feels like some sort of success to me, but still I feel there is more to do in this area of distorted desire.  The IFS therapist observed that my use of an intermittent “fasting” routine, which I have done for almost 4 years since I heard Dr Michael Mosley talk about it on TV, might be my way of reproducing the circumstances of my early weeks of life.  I think he has a point, but it seems to be the least punishing way I have ever found of controlling my weight – and it has other positive health benefits.

Desire confusion around food is on-going.  What I am more able to do now is feel where the desire is coming from.  Quite often, my body is saying, “I don’t want” while the Baby is saying, “I want.”  And my body is getting a bigger voice in my life than it used to.  That voice is slowing strengthening, but I need to remember that the Baby can easily dominate things from behind a screen.

 

[1] Bromberg, Philip M (2011) Awakening the Dreamer, Clinical Journeys; Hove, East Sussex, New York; Routledge.

[2] Schwartz, Richard C (1995) Internal Family Systems Therapy; New York, London: The Guildford Press.

Is Stoicism of any use?

I have been reading Epictetus.  Along with Marcus Aurelius, he keeps popping up in my general reading around philosophy and desire.  They were both Romans (MA was Emperor between 161 and 180 AD).  The classical Greco-Roman perspective was patriarchal with big dollops of misogyny.  So – I’ve said it – that’s the way it was then – but we can still think about their philosophy even so.  They were both adherents of the Stoic school of philosophy.  Epictetus was earlier (c.AD 55-135), and he influenced MA.  Epictetus was born a slave, which is interesting in itself, as he talked a lot about freedom and slavery in relation to desire in his Discourses.  His master had access to the Imperial household, recognised and supported Epictetus’ abilities, and eventually freed him.  For his own safety (philosophers in Rome were out of favour with the Emperor Domitian), Epictetus moved across the Adriatic and founded a school of philosophy at Nicopolis on the west coast of Greece.

Epictetus’ general advice was to focus both your desire and your aversion only on whatever is within your control.  Only then can you be considered free.    He asks, “Can you be forced by anyone to desire something against your will?”1  This gives his student (and us) pause for thought.  He talks a lot about will – of course – and the exercise of restraint.  Anyone who has tried to deal with eating issues knows that will power has its limits – or can work so well that it kills you.

But let’s persevere with Epictetus.  I am going to quote here the entire Chapter 2 from his Enchiridion2:

[1] The faculty of desire purports to aim at securing what you want, while aversion purports to shield you from what you don’t.  If you fail in your desire, you are unfortunate, if you experience what you would rather avoid you are unhappy.  So direct aversion only towards things that are under your control and alien to your nature, and you will not fall victim to any of the things that you dislike.  But if your resentment is directed at illness, death or poverty, you are headed for disappointment.

[2] Remove it from anything not in our power to control, and direct it instead toward things contrary to our nature that we do control.  As for desire, suspend it completely for now.  Because if you desire something outside your control, you are bound to be disappointed; and even things we do control, which under other circumstances would be deserving of our desire, are not yet within our power to attain.  Restrict yourself to choice and refusal; and exercise them carefully, with discipline and detachment.

Epictetus maintains that if you can do this, it will lead to a state of tranquillity.  In many ways this sounds like the state of equanimity so valued in the practice of Buddhism, where one is no longer gripped by the craving of attachment and aversion.  And, as in Buddhism, it cannot actually be reached by a simple act of will – but requires deep awareness and examination of attachment (desire) and aversion.  Epictetus is not entirely anti-desire – nor were any of the Stoics as far as I know.  The Stoic approach is more what you might call common sense and sticking with the achievable that is moderate and honourable.  He makes it sound simpler than I think he knows it is.  He shows how there has to be a weighing up of what you desire more/most.  If you feel you deeply value freedom and honour (as the Stoics tend to), the choices of turning from desires that are outside your control and engaging in “discipline and detachment” become more obvious.  So – you have to go down deep to feel what it is that you really want.  These deep desires need to be achievable and (as described in the 20/10/2018 post) “hedonic” to be effective at helping to moderate all the other competing desires that can arise.

Amy brought up the Rebel in her comments on 01/11/2018.  I think the roots of this might be in the desires for freedom and for having one’s autonomy respected, deep desires coloured by both cultural and personal differences in their meaning.  You can see these desires arise in infant development, rise again in adolescence – but then often getting lost in the competing desires/demands of adulthood, sometimes leaving people with a sense of not having really lived their own life.  Epictetus must have been able to live with not being free in the ordinary sense (he had no choice while he was a slave), but he obviously deeply valued inner freedom.

Do I want to be “tranquil” whatever that means?  Where was my “choice” in the episode of the Snickers bar (01/11/2018)? And, as I pointed out, there are cultural forces like shame that enter in.  Is this part of “discipline and detachment?  It doesn’t quite feel like that.  But Epictitus does make sense to me, too – especially in the idea of desire needing to be somehow “achievable”.  And inner freedom feels immensely desirable.  Do we all want to be free?  And what does that mean to each of us?  I was listening today to some songs of freedom from the South African freedom struggle – the desire was powerful there.

  1. Discourses, Book IV:74
  2. Discourses and Selected Writings; Penguin Classics

Who or what is taking me for a ride?

If I put “desire” into the alchemical vessel, will its golden essence be found?  That’s kind of what I’m hoping to do, but I’m thinking it’s very easy to end up with fool’s gold.  The connection between fear and desire can be seen in some of the possible “impurities” I’ve been considering:

  • Drives/needs: for food, sex, safety, security, a sense of self-worth etc. These are baselines for desire rather than desire itself, but the potential for confusion is present even at this level.  For instance, the overlap in desire imagery between food and sex has often been noted.  When basic needs/drives are frustrated or damaged, they might lead to problematic desires connected with:
  • Addictive behaviours & substance addiction
  • Obsession
  • A focus on worldly desires such as for wealth, power, conquest, fame, etc.
  • Longing: It seems to me this is not as able to motivate action as desire is. It even can lead to chronic inaction. Pothos was one of the Erotes and symbolised longing or yearning.  It’s interesting that his flower was one that was used at funerals!  Are we in the realm of Freud’s Thanatos?
  • A focus on physical pleasure/hedonism: Might this be a distraction or escape from facing inevitable mortality?

 

Before going deeply into desire, the surface area needs to be examined – then, ideally, to go down layer by layer.  I seriously doubt I will be that systematic but, as archaeologists know, what is discovered on the surface can give important information about what might be below.  I wrote an essay in high school on “Why I want to be an archaeologist.”  Was this the beginning of my desire to dig down deeply?  Instead I became a therapist, and it’s my daughter who now has a PhD in archaeology.  I’m not sure I have an archaeologist’s patience.  There will be a few spontaneous plunges and resulting re-surfacing that might happen in this enquiry.

On the surface of my life is a certain desire to eat in a unregulated manner that seems to take possession of me and does not really relate to any current actual need for food (although it probably relates to my very early actual needs for food/comfort etc.).  There is a difference, according to much on-line advice, between hunger (naturally arising from natural need) and appetite (the desire for food), which in either extreme (excessive or repressed) falls within the impurity of addiction in the above list.

I have always had difficulties with impulsive/emotional eating, often when I am tired, or when I am living in my head or when I am unhappy, frustrated, anxious or angry.  I am one of millions who suffer from this.  There are so many of us you might as well call it normal.  But it is very humiliating be thrown out of control so frequently around food, and this is made worse by the pressures and shame our culture projects onto women’s bodies and appetite.  Ever since knowing the circumstances of my birth, I have felt my eating issues were rooted in my birth experience and then compounded by my relationship with my not-quite-available mother as I grew up.  I have written about my birth and my mother elsewhere in Nothing Special, Experiencing Fear and Vulnerability in Daily Life (2015, Triarchy Press), but, in a nut-shell, I was separated from her at my hospital birth and brought to her every four hours for “ten minutes a side” –  then firmly taken from her again.  My father was away and the hospital wouldn’t let my mother go home until he returned two weeks later.  My mother said by then I was “a very good baby”, meaning I didn’t make much of a fuss.  In my childhood, while she was providing my food (and she was very good at this), I remained unaware of any impulsive eating.  But I did suck my thumb (a lot) until I was 11/12 years old when shame of the behaviour finally out-weighed the desire.  I also went through a period in late childhood of stealing – mostly little things from five & dime stores that I didn’t even want.  The shame I felt every time was excruciating.  This came to an end when I stole $5 from my mother’s purse.  She asked me about it and I denied knowing anything, but the unbearable shame about lying to my beloved (if unobtainable) mother brought an end to my stealing.  I am noticing the connection between desire and shame arising here.

It was when I left home and started feeding myself that the sense of a lack of control around eating began to be felt.  I have found various ways of managing my weight through my adult life – but not a way of managing the feelings of shame and being out of control around certain foods (usually fatty, sweet things).  I was breastfed, and honour my mother in her insistence on this against the prevailing culture of the time.  Having breastfed my own children, I now know how sweet breast milk tastes.  Sweet is a very primal taste and is associated with feeling nourished, relaxed and held.  Only, indulging in sweet foods doesn’t really provide that, does it?  At least not for long.  It’s been like this: I’m driving home from a long day and know I will be passing a shop.  The desire-thought for a Snickers bar arises in my mind (a neat package of sweet, fat & protein – like breast milk).  I recognise it and think I’ve got a handle on it. I try to let what arises in my mind just flow through me: “You deserve it after such a hard day!” – the taste memory arises – “You’re too weak to stop yourself, aren’t you!” – I smell the Snickers bar.  But I then remind myself about how bad I will feel afterwards, both physically and emotionally, and tell myself that what I really need is a couple of crackers and a cup of tea, followed by a 15 minute lie-down.  Yes – I am almost home and relax a bit.  Suddenly someone else takes control of the car and of me, and I am turning into the local shop, getting out, buying a Snickers bar and eating it immediately in the car.  I drive home feeling defeated and humiliated – but also sort of satisfied.  I have been struggling with various versions of this scenario throughout my adult life and still can’t seem to get out of being taken for a ride by this kind of desire now and again.  I know there are many others who can immediately relate to this.  What to do?

What are the origins of desire?

My first response to this question was to consider the primary experience of “wanting” – where “wanting” might first be felt – from the perspective of becoming newly born:

The Birthing of Desire

 

I want to move!

I want more room – more space!

I want this squeezing to stop!

I want the hurting to stop!

 

I want the warmth I have lost!

I want the holding I have lost!

I want the sounds I have lost!

I want the soft light, soft dark I have lost!

I want the place of just being I have lost!

 

Desire begins with loss.

In accepting comfort, love is born.

What was is forever lost.

Love makes it bearable.

 

Now…is “wanting” the same as desiring?  My daughter-in-law pointed out that the way we regard the word “want” has changed from the original sense of lacking something required or essential1 to a more selfish “having a desire to possess” (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/want).   This possibly reflects the increased value we give to being an individual that has arisen over historical time.

William Irvine2 looks at the connection between desire and motivation, seeing that some types of desires are far more motivating than others.  His conclusion is that hedonic desire (clearly emotional) is far more motivating than non-hedonic desire (seemingly intellectual).  The intellect tends to form “instrumental desires” that lead towards something more rooted in emotion.  There are “chains of desire” in which it can be hard to determine the origin.  But if there is motivation then there is emotion.  He points out that “emotion” and “motivate” come from the same root: “movere,” the Latin for “to move”.  What he calls the “wellsprings” of desire lie in the classic approach/avoidance response – our wanting to feel good and avoid feeling bad.  This response can be seen in just about any life form that can move at all – and it is about surviving and thriving.  From the Buddhist perspective, this leads to attachment and aversion, both forms of what is called “craving.”  I intend to explore the Buddhist view of desire at a later point, but, as my above poem indicates, it may be necessary and natural to be pushed beyond avoiding feeling bad – and feeling bad may be necessary in order to connect with feeling good.  How good it can feel when a pain disappears!

Looking for origins is a never-ending backward glancing.  Behind the infant is the desire of the two people who came together, with varying desires, to create the embryo.  When looking at creation mythology I found a number of myths about “original parents” – and their desires.

Prapto3, a Javanese movement teacher who inspires and informs me, likes to tell one of these stories.  Here is my recalling of it as he told it in June 2015:

Shiva wants to be married – to have sons, make his own community.  He falls in love with a beautiful woman, like fire.  They go on honeymoon, riding the buffalo through the cosmos – Uma is in front, Shiva behind – over the south ocean of Java.  There is a beautiful sunset.  They see the stars coming – the shining of the sky – colours changing – at the same time, the moon is coming.  Uma is so beautiful in stillness, like a flower opening.  Shiva’s desire awakes.  Shiva is lost in desire.  She is flower fire in the cosmos shining!  Shiva wants intercourse.  Uma says, “Please, don’t or the cosmos will see us!”  Uma wants to go home and prepare.  Shiva says, “No! Now! Really, I need it!”  But she didn’t want to.  Uma refuses.  Shiva is angry.  Both become demonic.  Uma goes down and becomes Queen of Demons.  Shiva ejaculated sperm drops to the ocean and lots of demons are born – grow big – eat!  The God of Oceans says, “You cannot eat others.  Go ask your father for food.”  Up to Shiva all the demons go.  Shiva breaks his fangs.  He makes them into the God of Time, Kala.  He sends the God of Time down to Uma.

After the story, Prapto said, “The man cannot understand the meditation of the woman.  Always wants penetration of Emptiness.”

I realise I have wandered all over here.  But “wanting” is a thread through it all.  What else is emerging?

 

 

  1. Little W, Fowler, H W & Coulson J (revised & edited by C T Onions) (1964 edition) The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, Vol II (p2383); Oxford; Clarendon Press.
  2. Irvine, W B (2006) On Desire, Why We Want What We Want; Oxford, New York; Oxford University Press.
  3. If you want to have a look at Prapto (Suprapto Suryodarmo) moving, try http://www.darc.media/suprapto-suryodarmo-stone-is-not-just-stone/ Filmed at Avebury the same month he told the above story, I am moved by the stillness of the stone, the inner stillness in his movement and the restless traffic beyond.

 

To Begin

I think I am a life-long enquirer, although I have usually seen this as being a “seeker” or “traveller”.  Becoming a dramatherapist was part of the evolving journey, as was becoming a Buddhist.  Enquiry for me is about looking as deeply as I can, both within and without, waiting and wondering, digging around, opening doorways to see what will emerge or where I might step into – and finding ways to creatively express it all.  Always it is about questioning, questioning, questioning.  Enquiry is the thing, answers being not so important to me, feeling too close-ended, while resonances, patterns and connections are stimulating.

This blog arises out a previous self-generated enquiry that ran in various stages and formats between 2012 and 2017.  It started when Sandra Reeve invited me to take part in her first Project Group, a one year movement-based group where each participant would “bring into life a creative project” with her support and that of the other group members.  I still remember the rush of excitement when I received Sandra’s invitation and spontaneously knew I wanted to use the group to explore FEAR.  The project, which I named Working Creatively with Fear, took 5 years in all and found several expressions.  I created a performance of a series of my own poems based on the relationship some of the characters in Shakespeare’s The Tempest have with fear.  I ran a “therapeutic enquiry group” on the project’s theme with a group of therapists.  A book of my poetry and photos around the theme of vulnerability was published, and I wrote a chapter on my enquiry for the European Consortium of Arts Therapy Education.  Since the end of 2015, when the poetry book was published, I felt my desire to enquire was seeking out a new direction.

I like to write and am not so bad at it, poetry and essay being my favourite forms.  I am also now 68 years old and feel a bit behind those younger than me (and many older than me) in using the internet for creative purposes – so writing a blog seems like a good challenge.  This blog will not only contain my writing.  I am hoping there will be photography and video in it as well – and if I am feeling very brave, some visual artwork.  I will have to learn as I go.  I am not trying to promote anything, rather the aim is to share my enquiry.  I am curious about how others will respond to it – and what directions this might take me in.  But what am I enquiring into now?  Where do I want to start?  What do I want to explore?  What do I really want?  What is my desire?  Where will it take me?

The idea that came up, seemingly naturally, from my enquiries into fear and vulnerability was to enquire into DESIRE itself.  Why?  It first arose clearly when reading a book called Awakening the Dreamer, Clinical Journeys by Philip Bromberg towards the end of my research into trauma as part of my fear project.  Referring to H R Boris who wrote in the 1980s about working with anorexia, he states that “eating disorders arise when the dysregulation of desire is linked in infancy with the dysregulation of appetite.”  He goes on to say “that the essence of the human condition is having to recognise one’s insufficiency, and that the degree to which one draws satisfaction from human relatedness will keep one from seeking nonhuman solutions (e.g. food) as a means of compensating for the experience of loss.”  Further on he says, for some of us “what in adulthood might have developed into appetite and healthy, regulatable desire, instead, because it is denied the relational context on which that transformation depends, freezes the experience of being an affectively out-of-control infant within a dissociated self-state that takes on an imperious life of its own.”[1]  This immediately and strongly resonated with my own early history and still unresolved issues around eating.  Inability to regulate emotionally is connected with early trauma, which I had been investigating during my fear enquiry.  But desire feels so much more than purely physiological urges and appetite.  What about the desire to create, the desire to explore, the desire to connect, the desire to enter deeply into life, the mind, the heart?  I WANT my desire – but I think it needs to be freed from the limitations of early trauma.

[1] Bromberg, Philip M (2011, p.119) Awakening the Dreamer, Clinical Journeys; Hove, East Sussex, New York; Routledge.