About six years ago, I took a workshop with Jordan Bloom called “The Devil Is In The Details.” I have taken a lot of yoga workshops with a lot of skillful teachers and there is precious little I remember from many of them. But I remember much about that workshop with Jordan. I remember that he taught me to engage muscles I didn’t know that I had. I remember that I did my first handstand. I remember that, after three days, every muscle in my body hurt, including the tiny muscles in my punky fingers.
I remember learning about Akilandeswari (a form of Parvati), sometimes called, “The One Who Is Never Not Broken,” who rides a crocodile and derives her power from constantly self-immolating and reconstituting herself like a phoenix. I remember identifying strongly with this idea of deity, even though I’m pretty sure the self-immolation stories are an Americanization.
But what I remember most is that he started one morning’s class with this statement:
“Every day, you have to wake up a little bit horny.”
“You have to wake up a little bit horny for your life.”
I woke up the other day wondering, “Am I horny for my life?”
And we all know that if you have to ask the question, then the answer is no. Desire is irrefutable. Sometimes it is amorphous, more of a fragrance than an object. Sometimes when you’re in a room where someone is wearing Desire, it can be hard to tell who’s wearing it. Sometimes when you’re feeling it, it can be hard to tell what you’re feeling it for.
But you always know when it’s there.
Something I’ve notice about myself lately is that I always frame my desires in the negative. It’s easier for me to say what I don’t want than what I do want.
I don’t want to be bitter and jaded. I don’t want to look back and regret not living my life fully. I don’t want people in my life who speak unkindly to me. I also don’t want to run or eat anything but cheez its or write. I don’t want. I don’t want. I don’t want.
But what do I want? What am I horny for? And if the answer is nothing or I’m not sure or not this not that, then have I successfully achieved enlightenment?
And I’m not depressed, either, not in the clinical sense. Depression is a real chemical experience and it’s not mine.
I’m just fucking apathetic. I’m defining apathy here as the generally inability to get it up. Apathy as a sort of existential impotence. I am not horny for life.
To what do I attribute this lack of libidnal energy? I could just say life. That’s so easy. I’m 42, the age at which some people say that middle age begins. In the past year, I’ve struggling with addiction, divorce, aging parents, losing friends, losing community, losing money, and probably most importantly, losing my cocky swagger and idealistic optimism.
I am deep in the fog of loss.
So, then you might say, of course, of course you can’t get it up. Of course you’re emotions are blunted.
I mean, yeah, but also, how many babies have been conceived after funerals? I’m not kidding. This is a real thing. Experiences of the reality of impermanence so often lead to greater lust for life. So where’s mine? Like, for fucking serious, have you seen it anywhere? Because I am on a rampage of removing things that I don’t want from my life, all the while not having a clue what I do want. I starting to wonder: will I even know what I want when I see it?
But, as a yogi, am I even supposed to want to want things? Don’t the sutras say that desire is the cause of all suffering? Aren’t I supposed to be moving towards non-attachment? I mean, sure, on some giant karmic spiral staircase of lifetimes, yeah maybe. But you don’t get enlightened without desire. In fact, you know what happens in the absence of desire? Nothing. Hobbes said that desire was the motivating factor behind all human activity. I think that includes yoga.
It’s like Wittgenstein’s ladder. You gotta climb to the top of a lot of incomplete or incorrect knowledge before you reach something real and then (and only then) do you get to push the ladder away. And you gotta want to climb a ladder. Especially a steep and scary ladder like life. Or self-knowledge.
Basically, what I’m saying is that if I already know that I don’t want to look back on my life with regret for not having lived fully, then first I have to want my life.
But how do you cultivate desire where there is only apathy and indifference and impotence?
This is a question that married people have been asking since the beginning of…um…marriage. And the answer from our culture is generally something along the lines of, “fake it till you make it.” Ugh. Do I have to even go there? No. There’s another way.
I recently wrote an article about tapping into sexual pleasure using meditation. The trick there is not to fake it. The trick is to get quiet and tap in. Tap in to how you’re feeling and where. Tap in to what feels good. Tap in to what doesn’t. Jessica Graham, a sex coach, told me to stop relying on overstimulation and tension as a way to get to pleasure and to start tuning into more subtle sensations.
That’s good advice, not just for sex, but also for life. I have a real tendency to lean in to overstimulation, overcommitment, overexcitement, and let’s be real: complete and total overwhelm. And now that I have reached a point of complete and total over saturation, it’s actually not a surprise that I can’t feel anything and don’t want anything. My circuitry is overloaded. Desire does not compute.
So now what?
Now I get quiet. Now I stop giving in to the shoulds and the oughtas and start getting back in touch with what is. Now I stop trying to impose what life and desire and whatnot look and feel like and go back to the practices that have always allowed me to be ambitious and passionate and dedicated: meditation, reflection, embodiment. I do yoga. I eat leafy greens. I go to bed early.
Does that sound like a super boring way to cultivate desire? I dunno. Not to me. These are the practices that have allowed me to maintain curiosity and interest through both the mundane and the tumultuous. So as much fun as it’s been (sic) to stay up late penning dramatic emails to people who may or may not read them and waking up too hungover (emotionally and often actually) to meditate, I’m out.
I’m putting on perfume and going to bed.