2013-01-23

Desire Isn't the Enemy

We like food. It feels good. We can get obsessed with it if we get focused on too much – if we want only the finest foods, and we want a lot of them, and we want them right now. We also fall into obsession when we focus too much on denying the desire. Either way, we are defining ourselves by our desire – and that is the root of what gluttony is all about: allowing ourselves to be defined by desires for gratification.

In the balanced life, we have desire, and we are OK with the fact that we have desire. Our desire gets a seat at the table (as it were). But desire doesn’t gain total control. The voice of desire is neither suppressed nor indulged.

If it is helpful to call “gluttony” a sin, it is helpful only insofar as paying attention to the voice of desire can guide us to a place where we respectfully hear that voice, and then make our own decision. That’s what neither repressing nor indulging looks like: it looks like separating ourselves from our desire, not identifying with it -- stepping back from it, yet paying attention to it.

What is this desire? Where did it come from? What does it have to say to us? Honoring it and hearing it, but also being alert to other options. What other desires are alive in us? Freedom is not immediately caving in to every desire. Nor is freedom steadfastly suppressing every desire.

Nowhere are the contradictions of our lives and of our culture more obvious than when it comes to eating and body image.
“One minute we are bombarded with images of food, advertisements for restaurants or the latest sweet or fatty snack, with recipes and cooking tips. A minute later, we’re reminded that eating is tantamount to suicide, that indulgence and enjoyment equals social isolation and self-destruction. And someone is making money from both sides of our ambivalence about, and fascination with, food, diet, gluttony, and starvation.” (F. Prose)
These messages from the media, we can, perhaps, turn off. The internal messages don’t just turn off.

Be attentive, not indulgent. Talk to yourself: “Oh, there you are, you attraction to that cheesecake. I feel you there, pulling at me. And I know you are coming from a worthwhile place: you want me to have pleasure and maybe some energy from the calories and a little sugar rush. You’re just trying to look out for me.” From there, you’re in a much better position to choose. Maybe you then take that cheesecake, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you work out a different strategy to meet the need that is being voiced in you. By neither repressing nor indulging you are liberated from being controlled by the desire.

Desire isn’t you. And it isn’t your enemy. It’s a dear friend who’s a lot of fun, but sometimes gets crazy ideas. It’s not your master, and it’s not your slave: it’s your friend. So when your friend proposes some wild scheme involving, say, chocolate, you laugh. And then you’re thoughtful. And then you can either say, “OK, let’s do it.” Or you can say, “Let’s do that later. Let’s do something else, right now.”

We all have that inner glutton. It’s one of our teachers, telling us to enjoy what this sweet life offers us. But with this teacher, we don’t have to do every single assignment. And we can decide for ourselves how much we want to be graded on (ahem) the curve.

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This is part 5 of "The Seven Deadlies"
Next: Part 6: "Consider the Lilies"
Previous: Part 4: ""Healthy Appetite"?"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sin"