The Desiring Subject

Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires. from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake

I want to write about desire.

We find ourselves inhabited by all sorts of desires, some welcome, others less so:

  • perhaps I’m uncomfortable today and wish the weather was cooler, warmer, sunnier, drier, wetter, …;
  • perhaps I’m unhappy today and I reminise about how good things used to be;
  • perhaps my attention is caught by an attractive person and I want them to love me or have sex with me;
  • perhaps I am hurt or frightened by someone and my thoughts circle around making the cutting riposte, revenge, murder.

It seems to me that there is an important distinction, but what can feel like a fine line, between indulging (what Blake calls ‘nursing’) a desire and investigating it.

Indulging Investigating
I allow the emotion and fantasy of the desire to build into a scenario of fulfilment. I am simply with the qualities of the desire: with longing, with anger, with ache.
I move into future possibilities, or worry (like a dog with a bone) at past events. I stay in the present to give the desire room to breathe, to allow it’s true nature to unfold and tell its story.
I am had by the desire. I have the desire.
I am elsewhere. I am present to myself and the desire.

I realise this is all true, not just about desire, but about anything that draws me away from the present into the past or future. God is only here and now.

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the pearl

of great price, the one field that had

treasure in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

R. S. Thomas

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