So did my racy title get the desired effect of having you check this out? 😉 I must admit I am feeling a little “daring” with my writing these days. My father thought my last posting made me sound like an Evangelist. We’ll see what he thinks about this one. J
So no, I’m not going to directly write about sex, but rather a closely related topic – DESIRE!!! I felt the need for all caps because you can’t really talk about desire without emotion, right? Desire can be a gift when it drives us to accomplish worthy goals. Unfortunately, desire can also be a curse when it controls us or a loved one to the point that basic principles of human dignity are violated. When I think about the negative side of desire I think of the movie “Seven” that came out in 1995 starring Kevin Spacey. I’m still haunted by that psychological thriller over 15 years later!
For those of you not familiar with the film, it’s about a serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who sets out to murder 7 people he believes embody the seven deadly sins, which include gluttony, lust, greed, wrath, pride, envy, and sloth. The seven deadly sins were first described by an ancient Greek monastic theologian in order to provide a conceptual system of the spiritual shortcomings humankind has struggled with throughout the ages. Each of these sins relates to desire in some way, so I thought it would be intriguing to take a look at them. For more interesting information regarding the history of the seven deadly sins, I recommend looking at http://www.deadlysins.com/sins/history.html.
Three of the “seven deadly sins”, lust, gluttony, and greed, are obviously the manifestation of normal human desires unchecked. Let’s take gluttony, for example. We all need to eat, and a multitude of wonderful human connections take place around the sharing of good food and drink. Unfortunately, when we consistently consume more than we need, or fill our bodies with unhealthy substances, obesity, illness, and unhappiness are the result.
As promised in the title, I’ll now touch on “lust”. We obviously need this primitive desire to ensure that our species will continue to exist. On a more cosmic level, the depth of human connection possible when people share themselves physically can lead to the height of spiritual communion, sometimes expressed in the social institution of marriage. But when people with personal voids repeatedly try to fill that emptiness with meaningless sexual experiences, the satisfaction is transient, especially if there is an absence of other positive relationships in the person’s life. Further, we can all cite examples of people who have hurt the ones to whom they’re supposed to be committed when lust leads to lies and deceit.
Only those with the purest of callings are able to escape the pull of money in this culture. The current economic crisis could arguably be attributed to the sin of greed. How many people overextended themselves when the access to home mortgages was so easy? How many politicians and business leaders have been led into dishonest dealings because of greed? That being said, the accrual of money as a result of hard work or a creative idea is extremely satisfying. The happiest people are not tortured by “keeping up with the Joneses” but rather use what they and their families need, and then become active in charity.
Wrath, the most extreme expression of anger, is also one of the seven deadly sins. Anger is a completely normal human emotion that serves an important purpose. We become angry when something important to us is threatened. We can best understand and keep our anger from turning into wrath if we seek to understand what feels threatened, and then explore whether that threat is indeed real before reacting. If after careful consideration we determine it is real, we are then often better equipped to peacefully find solutions that protect what’s most important to us. I’m sure we’ve all felt the strong desire to protect something valuable to us at some point.
I define the sin of pride as the excessive desire to be right. One of my best teachers over the past year has been Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits he encourages is “first seek to understand, then be understood”. There are so many different attitudes and approaches to life in this world. Who’s approach is right? Who’s is wrong? Although we could all identify actions that are truly evil, more often than not a person’s cultural, social, and economic circumstances influence the choices people make about how to live their lives. This doesn’t make one way wrong and another right, but rather simply different. What’s right for one person may be completely wrong for another. As our very partisan political landscape demonstrates, pride frequently gets in the way of progress.
Envy is the sin of desiring that which we have no right to expect. Life is not fair. The natural human inclination to be dissatisfied means there will always be people with more of whatever it is we seek. The sin of envy prevents people from appreciating the good things they have, because they are excessively focused on whatever they perceive is lacking. Having a front row to the suffering that disease can cause reminds me even on my darkest days that things can always be worse.
So the first six sins all show how uncontrolled desire will lead to unhappiness, but the seventh sin, sloth, highlights how the absence of desire can be just as bad. I came to understand this concept after reading Shatter Your Speed Limits by Wendy Lipton-Dibner. By using a cute narrative, Wendy talks about how people can get what they want out of life by working hard to identify their “burning desire”. The process is not dissimilar to peeling an onion. On the surface, we may think we want something, but if we are unable to discover what that achievement truly represents for us, we may not be able to generate the passion and dedication required to make it a reality. I’ll share that Wendy’s process helped me to discover that starting my own practice was my “burning desire”. I’m happy to say that after assembling my resources and giving myself the internal permission to go for it, I’m making my dream come true! J
The sin of “sloth” is probably the only vice from this list that I have not felt the pull from at one time in my life or another. I try to learn from the quieter people in my life how to occasionally “be still”. I know I’ll always need to keep practicing this! Each of you has a virtue in some area that makes it difficult for you to relate to one or more of the “seven deadly sins” as well. Share this strength with those around you who struggle in the areas in which you excel. In my opinion, this is one of the most special gifts a person can give.