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Desire

In my welcome post, I told the story of a harrowing early solo flight in a glider that ended in a terrifying and humiliating porpoised landing in front of a crowd of onlookers. The resulting crisis of confidence nearly made me quit flying altogether. I agonized over that experience, fearing it was proof that I'd never succeed in learning to fly. And yet the following weekend I came back to the gliderport to continue my lessons. Why? What force could be strong enough to overbalance my fear and embarrassment and allow me to keep flying? Quite simply, it was desire. I wanted to fly more than I wanted to hide.

A co-worker was once describing a weekend he spent practicing instrument approaches under the hood in a multi-engine airplane. As he put it, "We spend enormous amounts of money to subject ourselves to extreme stress and we call it fun." He nailed it. We call it fun because, well, it is fun, and the irresistible force that lets us enjoy the arduous and tolerate the miserable is desire.

Desire tends to get a bad rap in our culture. It's often characterized as a destructive force associated with selfishness and greed. From an early age we're taught to deny what we want in favor of what we're supposed to do, and this is probably necessary to some degree. There are certain academic, social, artistic, and physical skills we need to develop as we grow up that often require doing things we'd rather not do. What we risk in the process, though, is the ability to recognize and tap into that primal desire that arose so naturally when we were young. We can completely forget or discount what we really care about, ending up as disillusioned, frustrated, and unfulfilled adults.

I think it's actually in this state that we're most likely to be "selfish" and "greedy," pursuing possessions, experiences, and addictions in a vain attempt to fill the void in our lives. In contrast, when we're aware of what we really care about and allow that desire to direct us, we can make our best and most positive contributions.

I'm not talking about blindly acting on every impulse. I've often found that what I think I want isn't what I really need. Over time, though, I've come to something of a "litmus test" for desire: if I had or did the thing that I think I want, would it serve merely as a distraction and an escape or would it really contribute to my fulfillment? Paying close attention to my mental, emotional, and especially physical experiences can help answer that question and direct my desire in a way that's consistent with my values. The totality of my desire considered in this way can serve as a compass indicating what's truly important to me, independent of what anyone else might think.

I won't claim that I can unfailingly identify my true desire or that I always understand what it's telling me, but I do know one thing. I have my desire to thank for the continued opportunity to practice and share with others this endlessly rewarding craft of flying.

That's something I find very fulfilling indeed.

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