Hello, beloveds! I haven’t written for a while because I’ve been busy birthing myself. I’ve become someone new and I needed a few days to sit in her skin (my skin!) and just be for a bit. But here we are, and I’m ready to write again. Thanks for being patient.
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What I want to talk about today is the shadow side of desire. Everything has both a light and shadow side. For instance, we can use food to nourish ourselves, and we can also use food to hurt ourselves. We can use sex for healing magic, we can also use sex for emotional destruction. We can listen to someone to help them, and we can listen to someone to manipulate them. Everything has dark and light, yin and yang.
Desire is no exception. It also contains light and dark aspects.
Like many, I was taught as a child that desire was bad, unless it had to do with churchy desires (opening to God’s love, asking Jesus what I should do with my life, etc. Glad I got over that.)
Certainly desires of the flesh- for sex, sexual fantasies, sexual expression- was a big ‘no-no’ in my life and my environment. As I matured, desire became much less worrisome and much more interesting. Much of this website is about me opening to my desires and experiencing them, especially those related to sexual expression and sensuality.
Over the last 2-3 years, I have specifically worked with my desires to embrace them and accept them in my daily life. To even accept desire as a facet of who I am. I have come to believe (with my head) and understand (with my body) that desire is actually a good thing. That it can be used to make life more beautiful and enjoyable. Desire can expand us, if well used.
This is the light side of desire.
But there is also a dark side of desire. And it is not about expansion or beauty. The dark side of desire is about enslavement and destruction. I wanna talk about that.
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I have been entangled in the dark side of desire for several years now. Trying to make the best of it, but knowing- deep, deep in my soul- that it was the wrong thing. I understand now the allure of the Sirens that Odysseus listened to on his epic voyage. The beautiful, curvy bodies of those women, naked + undulating in the water, singing to him exactly what he wanted to hear.
That’s what the shadow side of desire feels like. It is heavy and wet. The desire calls to us, telling us we can have exactly what we want. The closer we get to our desire, the better it feels. Good god, it feels fucking awesome. We could be swept away by it, taken in its arms, swayed, kissed, and caressed by the desire. We want our desire to penetrate us and fulfill us, like the best fuck ever. (The image of Sirens as women is not lost on me. There are some female bodies I have undulated with in fantasies. I get how good that might feel. And the depth of desire it creates.)
But the siren’s song pulls adventurers to their death. It smashes them upon the rocks.
And this is what the shadow side of desire does to our soul.
The shadow side of desire has tentacles. It invades the nooks and crannies of our ego and attaches to whatever places within us that are wanting and unfulfilled. Attachment is the way desire’s shadow takes hold within our psyche and spirit. The shadow side of desire does not embrace us and nourish us, though- it causes us to waste away.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone, there is a magical mirror, called The Mirror of Erised (which is ‘desire’ spelled backwards). When one sits in front of this mirror, they see “the deepest, most desperate desire of their hearts.” The keeper of the mirror, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, tells Harry Potter that, “Men have wasted away before it, not knowing if what they have seen is real, or even possible.” Sitting in front of the mirror, looking at their desires- so close but unfulfilled- people have died from not eating or drinking.
This is what the shadow side of desire does to us- it wastes us, like a tapeworm, from the inside out.
This is because the shadow side of desire is not connected to the soul. In fact, the shadow side of desire goes against the soul. It is about attachment to what we want, rather than what is best for us. The shadow side of desire is about feeding our desperation and inadequacy.
How do we know if desire is a shadow? Ask yourself: what happens if you don’t get it? If that idea makes you scream + wail + cry + get angry + lash out- it means the desire is connected to the ego.
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I think most of us know, from the moment the desire enters our mind|body, that ego-based desire is not going to work out.
There is something- that proverbial quiet voice- that knows, from the very first, that this desire is not what is best for us. We can try to work with the desire, to make the best of it, to learn deep, important lessons from it- but that makes it no less shadowed.
Shadow desire makes us beg. We would do anything for it to come true. We would wait 1,000 years. We would make ourselves small in spirit and thought. We would hurt others to gain it. We would lie- mostly to others, but also to ourselves (when they ask you, ‘are you okay?’ and you must say ‘yes,’ when the truth is ‘no’) to gain our desire.
We would do anything to have what we want.
That is shadow desire.
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Knowing this about shadow desire, because I lived it, makes me understand why the religious leaders warned against it. Shadow desire is destructive. It is unkind. It is painful. It does not serve love. Better to avoid it altogether than to experience any of it. Better to avoid desire altogether than have to deal with the process of letting go.
But what if we do experience it? What if we have shadow desire? What do we do with it?
There are two options.
Option One: Walk Away and Taste the Pain
Actually, you’re not just going to taste the pain, per the line from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, you’re going to eat the pain and feel it disperse in your body and live with it until it’s done, until the shadow desire has died. And while this is the healthiest option for dealing with shadow desire, it is also the most painful.
If you decide to let go of the shadow desire, it will be 3-6 months of the most intense emotional pain you’ve ever felt. I will not lie: it feels like your soul is being torn apart. It is days of crying + anger + frustration + more crying + bargaining with God. Everything you would have done to have your desire fulfilled will now be part of letting it go. It is its own Dark Night of the Soul.
The counterintuitive thing is, when you let go of shadow desire, Life rushes in to support you. The process of letting go of shadow desire does not mean a lack of pain, but it does mean you will be supported in the process. The soul, when it is heading in the right direction, will be supported.
For me, it meant when I needed a friend to listen to my wailing and pain, there was always someone there to talk to. Someone who may not have understood, but who had empathy. It meant that Life gave me new ideas and tools, just at the right moment, so I could keep walking away. It meant that healing books, words, videos, and images were handed to me, as if by magic. Sometimes the gift was that, if I cried for 4 hours and really felt my sadness and grief, I could avoid three days of pain.
The pain of this path is that you must dig out the places where your desire lived. In dreams, hopes, expectations. In places where you wanted different, better, or more. And because ego is about attachment, the work of ‘un-attaching’ can be very painful. It will make you scream and cry. And there will come a point where your current situation is unworkable, and you will think about going back, back to what really didn’t work. But you can’t do that. Your soul won’t let you. You must push forward into who you are becoming.
In the end, all the effort is worth it, because you are free.
There comes a moment when, after working hard, day after day, digging out and crying and pushing, you break the surface. You can breathe again. You’ve left the old you behind. And while you may find yourself down under the waves on occasion, you are definitely able to swim and move towards stability in this self who has let go of the old desire. The shadow desire no longer weighs you down. And this extra energy pushes you forward.
You have fought- and you have won.
You have won yourself back from your captor.
It is hard work, but it is possible to make yourself stronger. Broken, but stronger.
Then, there is option two.
Option Two: Become Comfortably Numb
Pink Floyd used that idea to talk about the benefits of drugs. And that’s sort of what happens when you decide to let your shadow desire stay a part of your life. You must become gradually numb, and that kind of feels okay. Because while fulfilling the shadow desire feels good (for years, decades, a lifetime)- your soul will gradually be dying inside you. And that is painful. And to get through, you will have to numb yourself.
Maybe the numbing will feel good. The call of the soul is a pesky, frightful thing sometimes. Many people choose this path of numbness simply because it avoids pain. And I completely get that. We have so much pain in life, why add to it with soul work?
The results of choosing numbness are also totally workable. Your life won’t go quite right, but then, most people’s don’t (so how would you even know the difference?). You will not quite be able to tell the truth of what’s going on inside you. The beautiful things will dim. You will feel you’ve lived not quite the best way you could have (which is a painful thought most people shy away from). Other parts of life will not be as vibrant, because numbing the call of the soul numbs everything else, too. There will always be the 1% of you (or more) that knows you should have listened.
How are any of these consequences any different than the average American life?
They aren’t. Which makes numbing out a fine and easy choice.
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Of course, I’m biased. Now that I know a human can get through the process of letting go of shadow desires, I want to support everyone in doing so. I want people to face the pain and get through it and be free, not to wear the pain for the rest of their life and call that heroic. It’s not. It’s masochistic (and not the sexy kind).
True desire, the desire of the soul, the desire that expands the soul- that is the light side of desire. The shadow of desire is about enslavement and smallness. It gradually lets us waste away on a diet of unfulfilled hope.
Letting go of shadow desire is a painful process, but it can be done. And if you need to make this choice, reach out to me. I’m here. I’ve been through all the traps and switchbacks and dark spots. I will walk with you and sing you a new song: a song about how good and strong you are. A song about how your soul is happy.