What is Desire?

In many conversations I have had about writing this blog and exploring desire, there comes the question of definition:  What is desire?  I don’t feel any urge to answer this in a definitive way.  I have already said that longing, for me, is not desire – and yet I know it is an important element of some desires.  It just does not equate with desire for me.

However, I am always interested in what others say about this question.  A friend recently sent me this quote, which is from “Abraham Hicks” who is a channelled teacher.  I have nothing to say at the moment about the value or not of channelled teachings, but I found the quote interesting:

We would describe the sensation of desire as the delicious awareness of new possibilities.  Desire is a fresh, free feeling of anticipating wonderful expansion.  The feeling of desire is truly the feeling of life flowing through you.  But many people, while they are using the word desire, feel something quite different. Desire for them often feels like yearning.  For while they are focused upon something that they want to experience or have they are equally aware of its absence.  And so, while they are using words of desire, they are offering a vibration of lack. They come to think that the feeling of desire is like wanting something that they do not have.  But there is no feeling of lack in pure desire.

I recently wrote a “found” poem on desire as a verb.  A found poem is one that is basically something the poet has found, and turned into a poem just by how it is arranged.  This poem I “found” in my much used, very battered paperback Thesaurus, which has been a companion for about 55 years. I have hardly changed what was there on the page and it is still in the same order that it was.

To Desire: Roget’s Pocket Thesaurus, 1963


To wish, wish for, care for, affect,

like, take to, cling to, fancy.

To prefer, have an eye to, have a mind to.

To have a fancy for, have at heart, be bent upon.

To set one’s heart (or mind) upon,

covet, crave, hanker after, pine for, long for.

To hope, etc.

To woo, court, ogle, solicit, fish for.

To want, miss, need, lack, feel the want of.


Note how Roget finishes with lack.  And there is no inclusion of anything like what Abraham Hicks describes as “pure desire”.  What is this “pure” desiring?  What jumps out for me in the Hicks quote is the word “expansion”.  This word resonates with my own sense of deep desire – that it is an opening to, rather than a closing around, the other, whatever that other may be.  This quality of expansion takes desire out of the realms of craving and of lack.



Author: MaryAb

Born in upstate New York. Moved to the UK in 1971. At home in Devon.

Author: MaryAb

Born in upstate New York. Moved to the UK in 1971. At home in Devon.

4 thoughts on “What is Desire?”

  1. I am sure some form of ‘Jouissance’
    Is in there somewhere, although that be moving away from the word and concept of desire but maybe that’s what is need. And Jouissance is such a juicy word, and concept – at least when read through the French feminist lens. The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia .

    The French feminist writer Hélène Cixous uses the term jouissance to describe a form of women’s pleasure or sexual rapture that combines mental, physical and spiritual aspects of female experience, bordering on mystical communion: “explosion, diffusion, effervescence, abundance…takes pleasure (jouit) in being limitless”.[13] Cixous maintains that jouissance is the source of a woman’s creative power and that the suppression of jouissance prevents women from finding their own fully empowered voice.[14][15] The concept of jouissance is explored by Cixous and other authors in their writings on Écriture féminine, a strain of feminist literary theory that originated in France in the early 1970s.

    Other feminists have argued that Freudian “hysteria” is jouissance distorted by patriarchal culture and say that jouissance is a transcendent state that represents freedom from oppressive linearities. In her introduction to Cixous’ The Newly Born Woman, literary critic Sandra Gilbert writes: “to escape hierarchical bonds and thereby come closer to what Cixous calls jouissance, which can be defined as a virtually metaphysical fulfillment of desire that goes far beyond [mere] satisfaction… [It is a] fusion of the erotic, the mystical, and the political.”[16]

    Also Audre Lord May have something to say that’s useful – she certainly did about the ‘erotic’.
    C x

  2. Lorde does indeed define the erotic in terms of joy: the sharing of joy with another – self-connection with one’s capacity for joy and deep feeling in all aspects of one’s life. It’s the energy, and she calls it the power, that arises when we realise we are capable of feeling deep joy and are really able to share deep feeling with others, that she maintains can enable us to engage in real change in the world. I keep coming back to this “opening to” – not turning away from. We certainly need a phenomenal amount of energy and power at the moment to engage in fundamental change in the world.

  3. Yes. So here I read Abraham Hicks saying that
    a) Desire is a fresh, free feeling of ANTICIPATING wonderful expansion. (my caps)
    b) The feeling of desire is truly the feeling of life flowing through you

    It’s the anticipation of the experience and the experience itself. In fact the anticipation almost leads into the experience – it’s the gurgle and rumble of water finding a new channel as it bursts down a trench or through dry leaves or parched soil.

    And that seems like jouissance too, as Caroline says.

    Then the lack thing is what we humans with our inevitable egos do with pure essences. We hi-jack the essence of will or love or anger or joy and (because we have small, personal needs and lacks and traumas and histories) can easily turn them into ambition or greed or jealousy or contempt. So we turn the flowing torrent of desire into a painful sense of lack.

    Just as you and Caroline have both described here.

    1. I think desire is lots of different things to different people – but the kind of desire which I am now calling a deep desire is more about opening to rather than closing around “the other”. This is what I am increasingly interested in. It’s the opposite of closing down into isolation. I have felt from the beginning almost of this enquiry that desiring from a sense of lack is a sad shadow of the desire that is possible – that can enhance my life rather than afflict it. When I find myself indulging in a sense of lack, I give myself a shake (and would appreciate a shake from others if they notice me doing it!). Pain is certainly a part of life – but when it is self-inflicted that seems pretty unnecessary. Am I being unkind? I do know how long it has taken me to get to this point – and I have needed the help and wisdom of others. I’ve certainly spent a lot of time closed down into isolation – and not noticed the robin singing in the tree.

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