In-Between Thoughts: Contextualizing Desires

My physical therapy is working! My foot is noticeably less numb and my butt and back definitely hurt more than they have in weeks. The pain is re-localizing, just like my PT wants. God bless the body’s ability to heal and all the gratitude to mine for doing it’s thing.

Onto gym thoughts (another 8 pullups in a row today! I AM WOMAN)…

Hello, baby bicep!

I am totally backsliding in a couple commitments I recently made to myself: 1). To live a generally unplugged life, and 2). To refuse to accept the false beliefs of perfectionism. It’s frustrating and fascinating to observe myself backsliding, because I know going into them that I feel SO MUCH BETTER when I am mostly unplugged and when I embrace imperfection. Why do I keep going back to those poisoned wells?

As much as I loathe the impact of St. Paul on the Christian church in several big respects, I do identify with this passage (though not quite the “evil” and “hate” overlay):

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

Romans 7:15, 19

Perhaps this is the birth of self-consciousness: desire directed at our own actions (or active capacity) in the face of the sudden and strange realization that we are disappointing ourselves.

We are indeed complex, perhaps split creatures. We are the contradictory ideas we hold while still retaining the ability to function. I’m not sure it’s healthy to label these contradictory ideas as comprised of a “sinful nature” and a “redeemed nature”, if we’re sticking with the “some but not too much Paul” theme. That seems too binary, too black and white, too simple. It seems, rather, that we have these desires and beliefs about what will satisfy our desires, and that it is those beliefs which conflict. To be more precise, these beliefs appear to conflict because they reflect different aspects of satisfaction along the entire spectrum of satisfaction and desire.

(Of course, sometimes those beliefs are flat out wrong and confused. Even so, they still reflect something true about what we have experienced to be satisfactory.)

For instance, I do find some enjoyment and satisfaction in scrolling. It provides a steady stream of endorphin blips. But scrolling for longer than, say, 5 minutes, while continuing to deliver those endorphins, will start to have a more negative effect on my state of mind than positive, whereas other forms of satisfaction (reading, piano playing, etc.) would have positive effects that don’t disappear into the negative.

I don’t want to demonize scrolling, nor the desire that leads to scrolling. Ultimately, I don’t think the solution lies in rejecting an entire “self” who enjoys scrolling and embracing a other “self” who enjoys reading. Overcoming unsatisfying habits relies on recognizing what kind of satisfaction I really need, what desire is really at play. Am I looking for a moment of mindless activity as a rest for an overworked brain? Or for enriching relaxation?

It seems that at least part of the solution, or at least the beginning of the solution, rests in knowing ourselves better. In contextualizing rather than demonizing our desires. This isn’t to say that all desires as we understand them are good and worthy of being met. (“But I really wanted to rape her!” is not exculpatory.) However, I truly believe that even our desires for harmful ends reflect a deeper desire that is at least natural; even if not good (I must beware the naturalist fallacy), it is at least constitutive of ourselves as human. If anything, knowing our desires in better and deeper context should make us more gracious to ourselves and others, even as we endeavor to pursue satisfaction in ever healthier and truly fulfilling ways.

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