Thursday, July 27, 2017

Those Who Restrain

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or Reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling. And being restrain'd, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of desire.

- Wm. Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

* * *

It is the function and purpose of life, all life, to be as it is: complete, unconstrained in its expression, without apology or the notion that one might be required. 

William, again: The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.

Things are as they are: eagles, crows, William. Nothing is absent for the eagle. Nothing absent for the crow. William was the rare, incendiary man for whom nothing was absent from his mind, spirit, work. All were twined and twisted into a mobius skein of ceaseless experimentation, work, audacity and courting the condemnation of the powers and wights cropped on top of the pile in early Nineteenth century London. He died penniless, it is true, but oh, how he lived.

You and I are not Blake and nor should we be. He did a fine job of it. No, for you and I the question remains: who are you? Are you the sum of culture, the sum of a family's yearning, the sum of your experience? Where are you in the midst of the life you are living? Can you tell? How? Where is the line where others' expectations end and yours begin? Or is that, too, twined and twisted with no beginning or end?

I'm asking for a friend.

The question inherent in William's statement is, what is desire? Where are its origins? If this seems a repeat of the questions surrounding who you are, well, that is as it should be. You are your desires, you are the forces inside you, you are wind and sail and that truth cannot be avoided, though it can be sullied.

Take a minute and think about why you swing your legs out of bed in the morning. Take a minute and do some back of the envelope math and estimate how many mornings you've seen. Now ask yourself how many mornings have you really seen, been awake to, been glad to see - no matter what lay ahead - and felt plugged into the power of your life, your desires, your sense of being in the world. Don't be too hard on yourself. Not all of us are incendiary all the time. That is why Blake is Blake and Whitman is Whitman. It is also why you are you. The work of your life is lit by the fire you keep burning (even when there's nothing left to burn). This fire is desire: animal, spirit, heart. Too often desire is defined down to mean base. Nothing could be further from the truth. Desire is being suffused with life and light and power and intuition where your mind and body move with surety, a surety bred in the bone, deeper than consciousness: the product of life honing itself over millennia.

You are it. Thou art that. Tat tvam asi. Act accordingly.

* * *

The half-life, the awful half-life of seeing your freedom from across the way but not knowing how to cross over is the plight of all us fucked fuckers. We are restrained, constrained by forces we cannot master though with all our being we don't want to be half men and women. As far as I can see, the problem lays in how we think about those constraints, how we restrain ourselves because we've estimated the costs of action and choice and found them too high to pay. It might end a marriage. It could cost you a job. It will likely disappoint family. You are convinced you can't move until there is certainty in the outcome. Risk becomes doubt. Doubt become inaction. Inaction becomes bitterness, and thus we become fucked - not by any outside actor, but by our own hand.


Consider this: we have a shitty understanding of desire. We assume mayhem. We assume desire is more of the groin and not the mind. We believe desire is an unleashing and we have been taught in a million large and small ways by our family, our culture, that danger lies in that direction. And that is true, though not how such admonitions are intended. They mean wildness. I mean freedom. Remember, you are wind AND sail. You are the force itself and you are the means to direct it, to shape it, to use it to find out what it means to swing your legs out of bed and feel the floor electric with possibilities. There is nothing more dangerous to others than a soul that has found its freedom and refused to relinquish it. This is a love to hold against all the gods.

* * *

None can restrain your desire except by your permission, your acquiescence. None can shape your desire or use it without your leave to do so. William tells it bluntly: Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.

Surely, the gift of your life is not so weak. Surely, it pulses with genius, the animating spirit of your days. If you have been laid low, if you have suffered, if you have stumbled, if tragedy has found you, if you have let beauty slip by unnoticed, unattended, you use all of that to find your freedom, to lift the chains of what might have been, of what was, for what might yet be. It is not too late. Your gifts are not too small. It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity, to sing high and clear, to glide through days. But a greater thing is to rejoice in the world as it is, to sing with a voice cracked by experience, to refuse to glide, but walk instead among those who need your encouragement, your example of overcoming your losses and griefs by unshackling your desire and using it to carry you on to the next and the next and the next.

This is the genius of the fucked: we overcome and in so doing become kinder for the trials we have known. The undaring, shadow life isn't worth the paper it is printed on.

* * *

May your well run deep.


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