It occurred to me this morning that, in general, I’m still confused about what I want.
I’ve had a tumultuous history with my own wants. At some point, very early, as I was learning to be a people pleaser, I gave up wanting anything because I thought it was bad. What I understood was that everyone else’s wants were far more important, and it was my more-than-full-time job to provide those wants rather than selfishly have my own. With rare exceptions, that’s been my modus operandi my whole life.
When I went through a life coaching and emotional intelligence program, my coach suggested I had a perfect right to get my needs met, and he defined some of my “wants” as needs, for example my longing for community and connection. I was enraged. Nobody had ever before made such an outrageous proposal. He clearly didn’t understand the terrible vulnerability of needing or wanting anything from anyone. Having the right to get needs and wants met was the most ludicrous, dangerous piece of heresy I’d ever heard.
That was four years ago, and I’m as angry about it now as I was the first time I heard it.
I also can’t leave the idea alone. I think about it all the time.
I picture my needs and wants as a snarling chained wolf with blazing eyes, nothing but matted grey hair over bones, backed into a tight corner, determined to go down fighting.
I grieve, literally, to admit I chained it there myself. I chained it without food, water or shelter, and walked away — for decades. During those years of neglect, it starved and thirsted. It suffered alone with no help, no hope, a solitary prisoner.
I’ve done a lot of animal rescue work in my time, and I know sometimes an animal is just too far gone to rehabilitate. Sometimes you can save their bodies, but the abuse and neglect they’ve suffered has damaged their will to live and their ability to trust and connect, and rescue comes too late. Sometimes, against all odds, some strength of heart or spirit survives and an animal accepts affection and care, but its body is too starved or broken to heal.
Part of what I’ve been doing since I’ve come to Maine is to try to rescue my chained wolf, this piece of self I rejected, denied and tried to destroy.
It’s a long process, filled with grief, shame and anger. It takes determination, patience, and the willingness to own my history, my pain and my choices, as well as consenting to my responsibility for my own self-healing. Overcoming internal taboos is desperately hard work, and Wanting is one of my oldest taboos.
Sometime last year I wrote a list titled “Things to Want.” It was short and consisted of necessities, mostly. After a lot of hesitation, I added two things that were not necessary but I just … wanted. It felt wrong. It felt shameful. I left the list on my desk and over the following days and weeks I looked at it as I went about my life. About eight months later I bought one of the unnecessary things, a perfumed body oil I love. It cost about $25.
It was like offering a little bit of bland food to my starving wolf, pushing it near with a stick so as to avoid getting mauled. Not so much food as to make it sick, but a place to start.
This morning, in the pause of winter and our first big snowstorm, my partner and I talked about our plans, our dreams, and our progress. Later, I went out to walk in the snow and I suddenly saw another layer to wanting, another step closer to making amends to my chained wolf.
Wanting is just the beginning. Making a Christmas list is only the top step. What’s the list under the Christmas list, and the list under that? What is it I really want, independent of anyone else? What about the dreams I hold in common with no one, that are just about and for me? If I was free — If my wolf could bound through the snowy landscape and disappear into the Yule forest — what would I want? If we could escape judgement, our own and others’; escape for a moment our stories and labels and self-definitions; escape family, social and tribal expectations; escape our ideology (most imprisoning of all) and want, honestly, nakedly, with all our hearts, what would that Christmas list look like?
In other words, it’s not about the perfumed body oil (Aphrodisian Fire, by the way, from Kate’s Magik). It’s about touch, scent and caring for my thinning skin. It’s about deliberately honoring my own feminine sensuality.
I don’t need any particular product, cosmetic, clothing, gizmo or piece of technology in order to honor my own feminine sensuality, although there are plenty of things to buy that might support that want, including Aphrodisian Fire, but I see now those are really just symbols. I have the power to honor my sensuality in the way I live — in the choices I make about who I connect with and how, and how I treat myself.
Santa hasn’t got my choices in his sleigh.
I’m very attached to the dreams my partner and I hold in common. I love our vision, and I’m invested in it. It’s going to take a lot of money, and we don’t have that right now.
Maybe we won’t ever have it.
Maybe I was a damn fool (again) and I should never, never, have listened to someone who says it’s okay to have needs and want them met. Maybe I should walk away from my wolf again, and this time never come back. Let it starve to death.
But maybe our grand vision and plans are only the top layers of what I really want. Maybe the plan is the wrapping paper around the real treasures of self-reliance; living as part of a complex, self-sustaining system; building independence from the energy grid and a culture I largely can’t support; fostering community and trusting in my greatest joy … writing.
I don’t have to wait for the plan to happen to have those things. I don’t need money. I don’t need to wait for someone else. I don’t need to brutally imprison or eliminate my wants and needs. I can be learning, building and transforming my life right now, today, from the inside out. I can, day by day, draw a step closer to my wolf with food, with water, with a gentle hand and with compassion, and maybe, one day, come close enough to remove the chain and let the poor creature go free and wild into the world, wanting and needing as it will.
So, I’m making a list and checking it twice. Or three times. I’m peering underneath the items, things, objects, stuff on that list. What is it I really want? What am I really longing for? And if I look under that, what do I find? What are the deepest wants and needs?
Merry Christmas, everyone.
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