My ex-husband used to say to me, “You just want it all, don’t you?” and I would say something along the lines of “Well, yeah, don’t you?”
I am a hedonist and AND is my favorite word. But I don’t think there’s as much of a conflict between desire and contentment as we’ve been led to believe. Contentment is not the absence of desire.
I am, in many respects, very content. I love my home, my friends, my boyfriend, my dogs, my job, and my calling in life. I want all these things and I work hard to maintain these relationships and duties. There is a desire to maintain this contentment. It took me a lot of years to achieve this state of being.
And it did require attaining some things I wanted. I wanted a comfortable home and a place to write. And I made it so. I wanted relationships that were whole and healthy. I am making it so. I wanted a job where I felt I could make a difference and I made it so and am making it so. My wants led me to a good place.
But I still want a great many things. I want to travel, I want to enjoy fine dining, I want to publish a book with a traditional publisher, I want, I want, I want. These desires give me focus which leads to my contentment.
I spent my youth very unfocused. I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. So much so that the future was not something I could even imagine. I couldn’t see a place for me.
I now have a place, but it’s fluid. I am by no means stagnant which I think is implied when you remove desire from contentment.
I started meditating a few years ago – mindfulness practice. I’ve read some Buddhist literature. I understand the premise that suffering is a given and I understand that learning joy despite it is a goal. I think there is room in there for desire. I think it keeps us moving forward and is the hallmark of being human.
I am not just willy nilly feeding my appetites with the various sins. OK, well sometimes I do, but I’m losing my point.
The seven deadly sins referred to widely in Catholicism began as the eight evil thoughts – Evagrius Ponticus, a 4th-century Christian monk came up with them. They are gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sloth, sadness, vainglory, and pride.
I don’t think desire is an exact synonym for lust. Nothing would get done without desire. Desire to be a better person, desire for better government, desire for a better planet. These are good desires and lofty ones. Ones we should work towards.
The problem arises, I think when the desire is so all-consuming that it does preclude contentment. If I don’t enjoy what I can of the here and now, my striving just becomes frenzy.
Frenzy is the opposite of content.
I hate being in a frenzy which I am all too frequently. I find it usually happens when I became overly concerned with another’s opinion of me. I’m a world-class procrastinator probably due to a fear of failure or some other mental defect, but the frenzy to get something done by the deadline always leaves me anything but content.
It is my desire, my want, to remove frenzy from my life. I have some good role models that I have observed – some for years now. I am so much better than I was. I desire to be better yet. My contentment grows and grows as this occurs.
I am reminded of “go placidly amid the noise and haste” – the opening line of the Desiderata, the 1920s prose poem by Max Ehrmann. I think contentment is the ability to be placid — peaceful — in the middle of all the noise and confusion of the frenzy around us. There is no shame in desire.
I want it all. I want the life I envisioned and continue to revise as my desire grows and changes.
This, I think, is a good thing.
I am content.