Desiderata is the Latin plural for "desired things."
One definition of "desire" is "the feeling that accompanies and unsatisfied state."
Another definition is "as sense of longing."
These definitions are much deeper than the standard "to want strongly."
I think very few of us actually live enough in the moment so that we aren't, at some level, unsatisfied or aren't living with a sense of longing. I'm not sure that it's even healthy to not be desirous of better circumstances or situations. Something has to keep us moving forward. We can be comfortable with the now, but something has to encourage us to move forward into the future and different circumstances.
There are moments, when I want time to stand still. I wish I could get back those moments, for instance, when a sleepy child would stretch out a sleep-sweaty hand and cup my cheek. Or those first, early years of our marriage when everything the other person did was so wonderful and exciting and perfect. Yet, had we not been forward looking, had we not desired something more, we'd not have worked hard to shape our sleep-soaked child into a young man. We'd have been content with him remaining cute and charming and child-like. We'd not have worked to make our relationship with each other grow, so that in later years, when we actually see the flaws in each other, when we don't always find each other fascinating, we still like each other.
In a recent email exchange with my wonderful sister-in-law, we were discussing aparigraha and our perceptions of ourselves.
She wrote: I’m no longer going to say “where did the time go?” or “I can’t believe [summer/September/your birthday, etc.] has zipped by so quickly.” I often say those things as an excuse for not getting something done, but it stops working after a while, and I think by saying it I’m reinforcing in myself a perception that time is going by too quickly, is too dear, and somehow I’m losing out. It is very hard to live in the moment when you’re busy looking over your shoulder watching it all whiz by....Oh yes, I’m going to stop making excuses for the house being a mess. As in, when someone comes over I’m not even going to refer to the condition of the house. This one takes a lot of effort! I am also not going to wait to have people over until the house is cleaned up. On the other hand, I am still working on keeping just a corner of the house tidy, the part people see when they come in through the garage. Unfortunately, that also includes the kitchen!
For some, keeping a tidy house, staying "on top of things" comes easier than it does for others. My sister-in-law and I are very alike in that we are in the group that find domestic routine quite challenging. We intend to do things, like sweep the kitchen floor or wipe the counters, but we don't ever quite get to it until crisis hits. We have both come a long way in the last decade or so, but we are still faced with challenges.
And this is where tonight's installment of Desiderata comes into play. The stanza I've been focusing on as I've been wending my way through the last 10 days post-chemo and as I have just started getting brave enough to look ahead to surgery and radiation this winter (and allow myself to understand what that means for me) talks about exactly the same thing:
"Beyond a wholesome discipline; Be gentle with yourself."
It's not unusual to use the adjectives "strong" or "weak," "effective" or "ineffective" and on occasion "healthy" in front of the noun "discipline." But it is pretty unusual to use "wholesome" along with "discipline." I like that concept though. We all know people who take discipline too far. In fact, we all know people who are so focused on their self-discipline or on imposing discipline on others that it seems all joy is sucked out of their lives. Of course, there are the others, too. Those who lack discipline to the point that life is chaotic and random.
We all need discipline. Self-discipline. Again, most of us know what we should do. I certainly do. Yet, so many of us beat ourselves up when we don't. Or, worse, we quit striving to do what we know we should do because we haven't yet done it. That pretty well sums my typical approach up. If I miss a day of exercising, I'm more likely to miss the next day, too. If I eat something I shouldn't or go overboard with a less than optimal food, it's harder to do better because I already feel like I've failed. It's an odd psychology. But it's mine, nonetheless. And I need to own it.
I did pretty well with gentle discipline when my kids were young. I need to learn to do the same with myself. I need a wholesome discipline: exercise 5 times a week, New American Plate, rest, recreation, laughter balanced by work for pay, family, and domestic comforts (such as clean clothing, food in the house, clean floors, etc). When I fall short of my goals or under-shoot the ideal, I also need to be gentle with myself. If I don't allow enough time to get in a good walk before it's too late in the evening, instead of berating myself, I need to just go out and do what I do have time for. If I never even make it out the door, I just need to let that go and look forward to the next day's walk. When I load too many comforting carbs on my plate (or worse, go back for more), instead of beating myself up, getting depressed, heading for more carbs--because what does it matter at this point--I need the discipline to reach for something else and the gentleness to remember that each meal is a new opportunity and that maybe I can salvage this one, somewhat. And if not, at least I can focus on how, in the long run, that third plate of chicken and noodles may have tasted good, but now I feel all bloated and logy and lethargic so I'm really not enjoying it. Had I stopped, had an apple instead, I could enjoy the same food tomorrow.
What I desire it to cultivate within myself a wholesome discipline and the ability to be gentle with myself.
And I should probably remember that when it comes to my children, too.