Desire Withheld

JordanWriting. Practice.

Yes, lately I’ve become that insufferable person who finds a spiritual lesson in just about everything. Sorry, kids, you’re just going to have to get used to it. I’m a writer. Life is handing me metaphors left and right and I’m going to juice the heck out of them (did I mention I’m getting a juicer?)

Still, I didn’t set out to take a “sugar hiatus” as a spiritual practice– this temporary break from eating the deliciousness that abounds in all its addictive glory (this makes Trader Joe’s my dealer) wasn’t timed to be part of my thirty-day meditation challenge. It just happened that after a gluttonous long birthday weekend I could feel the telltale signs of sugar overload: low blood sugar crashes during exercise, fatigue, powerful cravings for more, bloating. And yet, the timing was appropriate. This isn’t the first time I’ve been off the sugar; once I went as long as a year. On average I make it about a few months and get back to moderation. But then comes a holiday or a party and I find myself crawling, bloated back to ground zero. This time around, I’m noticing a parallel to my meditation practice and even my writing practice. There is something about giving up sugar, which leaves a cacophony of cravings in its wake, that feels a lot like those first few minutes in meditation when my mind is the Honey Badger doing what it wants. Or that blurry early morning meeting at the blank page when the only words my fingers can make are “coffee…coffee…coffee…”

Sugar is powerfully addictive and also IN everything (my yogurt, my rice crackers, even my baked BEANS?). So its withdrawal leaves me grasping after something, anything: a need to feel full, satiated or just to make the strange craving pain recede at all costs. I won’t lie; sometimes it’s physically painful. But here’s the part where it starts to get interesting to me. In lieu of putting something in my mouth, I am forced to find distraction. And that distraction is most often reading or writing or connecting with a friend. More often, sometimes I’m forced to just sit with the craving; it nags at me like an annoying little terrier, pecking at me, hounding me while I go about my day. I’ve decided, my sugar hiatuses, while partly for my health, are also a kind of ascetism: me getting just a little bit closer to that quiet wisdom I’m pretty sure is there under the layers of Ben & Jerry’s.  Like meditation, it’s at the eye of the storm—that point at which it seems the chaos will never end–that surprising wisdom, insight, or  surrender, lies.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to brag about how strong my willpower is. I’m a terrible ascetic. It’s impossible to be one, anyway, with a young child, and I believe in allowing oneself pleasures of all kinds. We are, after all, only here this one go round in this singular body (that I know of anyway).

But I also find great insight in putting my cravings just out of reach and grappling with that wily human feeling, desire, which rides the axis between happiness and suffering, with its tongue stuck out the whole time. Withholding desire is, in fact, the very thing I like to do in my fiction—a strategy that writing teachers are always suggesting. Dangle the object of your character’s desire just out of reach. Show us what happens to her when she can’t have what she wants. Within the conflict of wanting but not having,  juicy feelings arise and give way to interesting actions.

Inevitably, I always go back to sugar, though usually in moderation. I think we’re here to experience contrasts. Inevitably, your characters have to sort of get what they want (or, as the Stones have sagely told us, what they need). Inevitably, I fail to withhold, I give in, crashing, face-first into the ice cream bowl of my desires. And that’s okay too. There’s probably a lesson in that too, but I won’t be able to tell you until I hit bottom (of the pint, that is).

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If you like what you’ve read, you might enjoy my novel of healing and suspense, Forged in Grace, my writing book Make a Scene, or my creativity guide with Rebecca Lawton, Write Free (purchase through one of us directly).

JordanDesire Withheld