Desire: The key to the life we didn’t even know we wanted.

I want to talk today about desire. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately after having read The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte. What do I really desire? What makes me feel really fulfilled and alive? What do I do that makes me feel good? What does feeling good even mean to me? What does that look like, taste like, feel like? It’s something I’ve started incorporating into my decision making, into my conversations, into the way I carry myself throughout my life. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

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For years I did things out of obligation. I did things because I thought I should do them. I did things I didn’t want to do because someone asked me to do them. I think this is something that most of us can relate to, at least to a certain degree. Lately, however, I’ve decided to push that way of being aside as much as possible, and instead start really doing the things I love, the things that light me up inside.

I gave a talk to a group of about two hundred university students today, discussing my work as an environmental organizer and attempting to get them excited about ways they can contribute to tackling some of the major crises of our time. The one theme I kept coming back to during that talk was desire. That simple word carries so much weight. And it carries so much freedom. When we really listen to the words it whispers in our ears and to the guidance it provides, it can create profound and blindingly brilliant shifts in the way we live our lives.

As someone who devotes a significant portion of my time to organizing around environmental and social justice issues, I particularly feel the need to take on roles because I should. But Danielle LaPorte says we must do the exact opposite.

Do not rise out of obligation.
Do not rise out of feared consequences.
Decide to rise because you want to expand – your being, your life, your possibilities.
Decide to rise because superpowers are meant to be activated and applied in every day life.

I love this.

There is so much gold in her book, I cannot even begin to do it justice in a single blog post. But the essence is this: We set goals. We orient our lives around achievements. But those goals might not make us happy. Achieving them feels like checking off boxes on a to do list. We set goals around what we believe we should do; we set benchmarks based on the pressures and stereotypes of society around us. What we need to do instead is create a beautiful and transformative shift to set goals based on what we desire, what lights us up inside, what sets our very bones aflame with feelings of sweet sweet satisfaction. Desire mapping. It’s a key to a lock we didn’t even know existed within our souls, and beneath it there is an awareness of our truest dreams.

Throughout her book, Danielle leads us on a journey to uncover what feelings we really desire. I wandered, both literally and figuratively, for a long time until I stumbled across the ones that felt true to me. I tried on different feelings. For a while courage and authenticity stood out to me. I wanted to feel courageous, I wanted to be willing to step outside of my comfort zone. I wanted the bravery to really express myself, authentically. But then I realized, for me, those were tools to achieve the feelings I actually desired, rather than the feelings themselves.

I hid away on an island for a weekend, without my phone or the internet, and dug deep to my core. Mala beads in hand and incense burning, I found my words. None of that, of course, is a prerequisite for desire. Your journey is your own. But whatever that journey is, trust in it. The words I stumbled upon are simple, and they feel so right.

Love. Spirit. Possibility. Joy. Belonging.

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I desire to feel love, in the form of deep friendship and connection and the intimate stirring of the heart.

I desire to feel spirit, in the calm energy that courses through my body when I truly connect deeply with myself and with something greater than me.

I desire to feel possibility, in the anticipation of something bigger, in the hopeful embers in my soul, in the excitement of the unknown.

I desire to feel joy, as my body is broken open with unbridled bliss.

I desire to feel belonging, in knowing that I can simply be myself and feel truly accepted for who I am.

With these in hand, I can begin every single day and ask myself “What will I do to feel this way today?” I can make every decision with those five desired feelings in my mind. I can choose the people, the opportunities, the experiences, the destinations that serve my true desires. And by orienting my life around those things, not only do I feel more fulfilled, but I also feel more real, and more true to myself.

I can desire to rise in ways that make me glow, outwardly, and inwardly. I can be the best expression of myself because more of the things I do will fill me up to the brim with goodness, and then I will have so much more to give.

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Practicing Gratitude.

Gratitude. We all know it’s important, but many of us don’t consciously incorporate it into our daily lives. It’s not something that comes easily. We can’t simply decide we’re going to start being more grateful. It’s something we need to practice every single day. But it’s worth it. Being able to see the world through a lens of gratitude changes things, it changes everything.

Gratitude. It’s something I’ve been aspiring to cultivate for quite a while now. I genuinely believe the way we see and perceive the world entirely changes our experiences of it. So I’ve been doing my best to be grateful for… everything, or at least pieces of everything.

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The other day, I was driving behind someone going 40  km/hr in a 60 zone. We’ve all been there. It was pouring rain and I know my tires don’t have the best grip on wet  days, but regardless, I was in a rush to get somewhere and was feeling antsy behind this slow driver. We were  approaching an intersection and the light turned yellow.  The car in front of me drove through the intersection, but  I decided at the last minute to stop. I pressed down on  the brakes aggressively and my wheels hit a slick patch  on the road. My tires ended up skidding and by the time I  had come to a stop, the nose of my car was well into the intersection. Thank goodness I was going slow, I thought to myself, as traffic started criss-crossing in front of me. In situations like this, it becomes so easy for us to turn a complaint into a moment of gratitude.

But why can’t we do that all the time?

A couple weeks ago, at a yoga class, we were lying on our backs in the final resting pose of the practice, Savasana, when someone started snoring, loudly. At the time, I felt frustrated that it was causing me to be so distracted and unable to focus on my breathing and relaxation. Yesterday, I went to yoga again, and guess who was back – the snorer. This time, however, I chose to flip my perception of the situation to one of gratitude instead. I thought, Wow, I’m so grateful that I’m in a room filled with such accepting people that no one is commenting, snickering, or remarking on this. I’m so grateful that this environment is so non-judging and safe that it is okay for someone to fall asleep and start snoring in a relatively public place. And suddenly, I was able to let the snoring go, and just be at peace in that dark room. I no longer felt the presence of that individual, instead, I felt the presence of community.

A little while back I was at an event where someone asked a fairly obnoxious question of the presenter. They were clearly supportive of the issues being discussed, but their question seemed ignorant and over the top. I felt embarrassed. The person I was sitting next to rolled their eyes and let out an audible sigh. But then something clicked in my mind and I thought at least they’re here. Maybe that individual wasn’t contributing in a really meaningful way, maybe they were asking ignorant questions and making irrelevant statements, but they were showing up. They were in the room. They were learning. They were present. They were being supportive in the only way that they knew how. Suddenly, I felt appreciation rather than agitation for this person. It’s amazing what a shift in perception can do.

I’ve always wanted to stop complaining, but I’ve always found it difficult because so much of what we think and say is made up of complaints. But what if instead of just stopping complaining, we flipped those complaints into moments of gratitude.

This mountain is so steep, my legs are sore can become I’m so glad my legs are strong enough to get me up such a big climb.

I don’t like this song turns into I’m so grateful that this song is making my friend so happy.

It drives me crazy when she doesn’t pull her weight in this project can transform into I’m grateful for everything she has contributed.

Truthbomb - Danielle LaPorte

Truthbomb – Danielle LaPorte

This morning, I was at a service at the Unitarian church that I’ve been dabbling in for the past few weeks and the minister said something that I really loved. She spoke about the fact that so often we’ll be in a situation in which we are not content or feel unsatisfied with something going on. Whether we hate the way the food tastes, dislike the paint colour of the room, or are agitated by something someone has said, we almost always find something to complain about. But chances are, there is someone else that is feeling so overjoyed about whatever it is we are dissatisfied with. You might hate a song playing on the radio and be inclined to switch it off, but take a moment and consider that your friend might be glowing inside just listening to it. You might be bored or frustrated with the direction a conversation has taken, but maybe it’s lighting someone else up. Why does it always have to be about us? Why can’t we, for a moment, see how what we are complaining about might actually be wonderful for someone else? And if the subject of our complaint is actually making someone else happy, shouldn’t that be enough?

It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness. 

So here’s my challenge. What would it look like if we turned every complaint into a moment of gratitude instead? What if we were grateful for all the the slow drivers, the snorers, the bitter food, the gaudy paint colours, and the obnoxious music blasting through the stereo. What if we learned to catch ourselves and, even for just a moment, shift to gratitude? What if we began to recognize that what might make us feel frustration, agitation or annoyance might be making someone else feel over the moon? Why not just let them fly? Why not try and soar with them?

Let’s choose to see beauty in the world we are presented with, rather than always hoping for a different one.

My Truth: Where I’ve Come From.

I was at a potluck today and was speaking to an individual there about the idea, which I believe is quite true, that as humans we have this amazing ability to manifest. We can create in the physical world that which we believe to be true in our internal world. When enough of us believe in creating a different reality, it will begin to become possible, and indeed, inevitable.

The gentleman I was talking to quoted Confucius, who said,“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.”

I’ve heard this quote before, but never did it hit me like it did today; I experienced a moment of understanding and realization. This is why the work I have been doing over the past year to learn to care for and love myself has been so important. I cannot possibly contribute to creating the world I want to create if I am not at peace with myself. How can I manifest love when I don’t love myself? How can I cultivate unity when I’m out of touch and disconnected to my own body and mind? This is what I have been working on recently, and what I’m so passionate about sharing. I feel the changes I have made in my life to prioritize accepting and connecting with myself working and affecting my life in a positive way every single day.

So today, I’m going to be brave, and acknowledge the work that I’ve done and how far I’ve come. A friend of mine recently posted a blog entitled What I Don’t Want You to Know About Me. That language really resonated with and inspired me. I always want to put my strongest foot forward and hide the struggles I’ve faced in the past. But I think to properly celebrate where I’ve come, I need to acknowledge where I started. As well, I think if I want to really share my journey with other people in a meaningful way, I need to share the hard bits too.

My Story. 

When I started university five years ago I struggled with mental health issues. I suffered from uncontrollable anxiety that was most often triggered by stress, but could just as easily arrive unexpectedly because of a strange and annoying ticking sound my fridge was making. It was unpredictable and usually arose along with situations that I didn’t have a whole lot of control over. I would become overwhelmed by everything I believed I needed to accomplish in a day, or in a lifetime, and I would shut down. Most often this left me on the floor, alone, shaking and in tears. Sadly, often it led me to lash out at the people in my life who I loved and cherished the most. In my deepest and darkest moments I would have little to no control over my actions or words. I said things I didn’t mean, and then didn’t even remember saying. I punched a hole in a wall. I hurt myself. I tormented the people around me with mind games that I didn’t even realize I was playing. I damaged many of my closest relationships. I would get into a panic state and become completely unaware of who I was and what I was saying or doing.

That all being said, I managed to accomplish an awful lot in this period of time. I kept my grades up. And I volunteered extensively and did a fair amount of on-campus organizing work. But it always felt like it was so much more of a struggle than it should be, or than it had to be.

This is hard to write, to admit publicly. Not because I am ashamed, but because it is so different from the person I am now. It is so hard for me to identify with who I was back then; it feels as though I am describing a different person. But that was me. That was my reality. I recently wrote a poem reflecting on these experiences, which you can read here. I think it’s the best way I’ve been able to express what was going on in my mind and body during that time. It also speaks to where I am now, and the freedom that I feel.

I say all this recognizing that I am deeply privileged and that my lived experiences are in no way comparable to the terrors that many have felt, seen, or heard. I have always had a family who has cared for me and supported me, and I realize that this is not something that can be said for everyone. I would like to acknowledge that anything I write here is based only on my own lived experiences and I in no way intend to make assumptions about the experiences of others. I know that this experience, for the two years that I struggled with it on an ongoing basis, was no where near as challenging as what may have occurred to, or is currently occurring to, other individuals. But for me, it was still very real, and made up my darkest moments.

When I was in my second year of university and my anxiety, and everything that came with it, had for all intents and purposes ruined my relationship at the time, I realized that I needed to get help. I began to seek out counselling and toyed around with a couple different counsellors. Although none of them ever really felt right for me in the long term, I am still very grateful for the resources they did offer me. I treaded water for a couple of years, working hard to keep my anxiety under control, but knowing that it was lurking in the recesses of my mind and body, waiting to re-emerge.

It didn’t always express itself in its fullest form. Often it showed itself as neediness in relationships, or the inability to feel complete and satisfied with my life. It drove me to hide from myself, to numb pain with alcohol, food, and relationships. I didn’t know how to be alone, how to be happy with who I was. For the longest time, I didn’t think I could change. I thought I was stuck. I thought the anxiety, fears, judgment, doubt and pain that I experienced were so ingrained in who I was that it was impossible to remove them from myself while still maintaining my own integrity.

Finally though, somehow, I shook off that old coat of fear and anxiety. It had become so comfortable, so warm. It had worn down in all the right places to better fit the curve of my chest and the movements of my arms. But it was ragged. The fabric in the elbows was beginning to wear thin and threadbare, and the collar, frayed. I looked in the mirror and what I used to see as safe, comfortable, cozy, and even sometimes elegant and beautiful in it’s raw, vicious, violent strength, now seemed ugly. Looking in that mirror, at that old coat, I tried to unbutton the buttons and tear it from my shoulders. But I couldn’t. The seams had become sewn into my own skin. I rummaged through the closets and drawers of my mind to find the shearing scissors or sharp knife that could easily rid me of its suffocating presence. But I had nothing; I had no sharp angles, no strength. So I had to create it, from scratch, from nothing. A needle here, a pair of kid-sized scissors there. I tried to saw through the thick fabric with a butter knife, its blunt end nearly useless. But the more I tried, the more I worked, the sharper it got and soon I was able to start to cut away the layers piece by piece. And now, remnants and tatters still cling to me. There are still scars where the needles that sewed the coat also pierced my own flesh. But beneath it all, I’m beautiful. And even without that coat, I’m all the things I thought I was with it on, and so much more. I’m safe, comfortable, cozy. I’m whole and complete. And above all, I’m free. I can be whoever I want to be and do whatever I want to do.

So that is why I am writing this blog and sharing my story. Because I really believe in it. I believe in all the little tools and tricks, the ideas, the thoughts, the affirmations, the truths, the spirituality. These practices are the whetstone that allow us to sharpen the blade within us to cut through our fears, our ego, and all the other barriers that get in the way. They are what allow us to access the love, gratitude, forgiveness, joy and potential that lies beneath. It will look somewhat different for you, then for me, but I think it’s possible for anybody.

Whatever battle you’re fighting, I believe in you.