Anatomy of Desire

I will deviate from my normal posts of paintings to share some notes about a lecture I would give to my children if they would pay attention (they often do – they are great kids!). It concerns the anatomy of everyday desires such as the desire to buy a new computer game (I am using  the game “Far Cry” as an example). Here is how it goes:

FruitfulDark: Anatomy of everyday desires

I have often been gently accused by loved ones for being too preoccupied with suffering, darkness and even death. Many of my paintings such as this one and this one deal with suffering and uncertainty. No doubt I am guilty as charged. Because, like T.S Eliot,

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

When I was eight years old, I watched the body of a loved one being lowered into the ground. I have never seen her since. I vividly recall the heart rendering cries of her close companion as the coffin was lowered. These things impact on us if we are sensitive and open to question things, and this changes our view and understanding of life.

At the very least, an awareness of the suffering of others, carrying knowledge that somewhere today someone is receiving news that will destroy their life as they know it, that innocent animals are being subjected to suffering, that somewhere a toddler is alone and confused – all this at the very least changes the meaning of everyday desires:

FruitfulDark: Anatomy of Desire

We also realise the cyclical and never-ending onslaught of desires and the deceptive idea that somewhere in the near future lies a situation where all desires are fulfilled, where we will once and for all be happy and remain so. I know I fall for this almost every week, despite having nearly 50 years of evidence to the contrary.

In his book The Law of Attention: Nada Yoga and the Way of Inner Vigilance, Edward Salim Micheal says:

Understanding death a little better helps one understand life a little better too, and understanding life a little better helps one understand death also a little better, until one finally arrives at discovering that these two conditions mysteriously merge into one another, revealing a state of non-differentiation between them—just as there is only one atmosphere surrounding the globe, unchanging in its essence, whether it is day or whether it is night.

Whenever I stop at a traffic light and sees a cattle truck pull in beside me, empty or full of anxious, gentle animals, I recall something that William James wrote:

The sentiment of honor is a very penetrating thing. When you and I, for instance, realize how many innocent beasts have had to suffer in cattle-cars and slaughter pens and lay down their lives that we may grow up, all fattened and clad, to sit here in comfort and carry on this discourse, it does, indeed, put our relation to the universe in a more solemn light.

He concludes that the acceptance of life on such terms – where we face the suffering of others and the world at large with honesty  – impels us, if we are to live honourably, to take our share of suffering and do some self-denying service to others in return for all the lives upon which our lives are built.

Well, to be honest, this is probably a lecture I should practice myself before I could deliver it to my kids. The one who has arrived has a long way to go…


4 thoughts on “Anatomy of Desire

  1. I love these charts. The first describes the anatomy of desire perfectly, and I think the adult version is only different from the childish version by a matter of degrees. Adult desire fastens itself upon different objects, but some of the wanting and the subsequent boredom are similar! The second chart, though, for me speaks to the beauty of desire. It is wonderful that things like games can help keep us upon an even keel. I don’t think I ever saw a better illustration of the beauty, delight and purpose of idle pursuits.

    They are not so idle at last. Instead they help us engage in the business of living, of moving through time, of getting past heartache. The ups and downs of simple desire, being so pale in comparison with life’s big challenges help us manage perhaps …

    Children play. They need to play in order to learn the important life lessons. Like other mammals play is the means of our learning how to live. And adults are wise to hold fast to this manner of learning even as the decades roll by. Some people are more sensitive to life’s jolts than others, but inside we all know something about play because it is instinctive. Maybe that’s where art comes in — it’s a larger, more capacious and refined form of play — something ripe for adult living.

    Good luck in talking to your kids. I’ll be curious whether toys get purchased or not. Children can be very tenacious when they want something. And there’s a lesson there for adults too. Especially for artists! BE tenacious. Keep going after that wil o’ the wisp that is the picture. As games go, it’s a good one!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Beautiful comment Aletha! I am blown away by your insight about the second chart. I never looked at it that way, for me the second chart was only to show that the tradegy of not being able to buy a game pales is insignificant compared to larger tragedies like the house burning down. However, your perspective is truly out of the box and really resonates with me. These small desires and joys, like a good painting session, really do make life worth living and – for me at least – helps me focus on the present moment and get out of the silly conversations that go around in my mind when I am idle. Thanks again for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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