In TRAINING by Beth Lee-Herbert4 Comments

Working with desire is one of the most challenging aspects of the human condition. We have this cultural notion that love will satisfy our basic inner loneliness. However, whether in relationship or not, another person can never satisfy all our desires. When we expect another person to fulfill us entirely, there is no place for the sense of the Other within relationship, as described by the philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas argued that metaphysical desires, such as love, cannot be satiated the way hunger can be satiated with food because it is beyond what we have known. When we view others as being able to satisfy this desire, we lose this metaphysical sense of love. When we seek love sometimes we are seeking to plug the hole of desire because it is uncomfortable.

For Levinas, this Otherness is entirely essential for love to exist, and a relationship that quells desire into satisfaction is devoid of the metaphysical aspect. Rather than pushing away desire by aiming for satiation, this metaphysical desire is in fact nourishing. Whether in relationship or not, resting with desire or longing without inwardly chasing after satisfaction is metaphysical love.

Levinas attributes seeing others as the same as oneself as the cause for the lack of tolerance for desire. However, I would argue that it is precisely the opposite, it is our lack of ability to tolerate desire, to tolerate hunger, to tolerate dissatisfaction that causes us to seek sameness to simply fill that desire. We feel the longing that stems from loneliness and we seek someone to fill that longing. The radical notion of allowing ourselves to be nourished by the hunger of desire is a turning towards the desire, rather than our automatic turning away from desire. We turn away from our desire by chasing the object of our desire. However, by reversing this trend, we can begin to be able to tolerate the desire itself.

In truth, desire is never permanently satiated. Once we get what we are chasing, whatever it is, that person or object will never permanently fulfill our desire. Once our satiation finishes, we either blame that person or object for not bringing us the permanent satisfaction they could never offer and we create other objects to desire and keep searching without satisfaction. We can find rest and nourishment by seeking to know the desire itself rather than believe that obtaining a desired object will cure our dissatisfied desire. By working directly with the desire itself, turning to face it, we are no longer controlled by desire as a powerful semi-conscious force chasing us as we hurry towards desired objects to gain satiation. If we have the tolerance to rest with the desire itself, we can find peace within the storm of desire. Metaphysical desire “desires beyond everything that can simply complete it” and by turning towards this type of desire ironically the hunger of desire can be found to be nourishing in itself.

When we turn towards our own desire, rather than looking at another person as an object to fill ourselves with, we can see the person as a whole person distinct from our own needs. We can clearly see people for who they actually are and have a deeper love for the individual in all their Otherness rather than mixing that up with discomfort of compelling desire. Rather than confusing an individual with simply being the satisfaction of our own inner needs, individuals can shine as themselves without the inevitable disappointment of fallen projections.

References: Levinas, E. (1979). Totality and infinity: an essay on exteriority. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

About the Author
Beth Lee-Herbert

Beth Lee-Herbert


Beth is a dharma practitioner based outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. She enjoys stainless skies and the fresh smell of rain, solitude and deep connection, silence and laughter, and every form of dance. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.

The photo is one out of 47 pictures from the documentary book, “Hippie”, by the prize-winning author Peter Øvig Knudsen, about the big Danish hippie experiment in the summer of 1970. The book was removed from iBookstore and App Store due to the 40 years old photographs of half and full naked hippies. Censored by Apple and Facebook as pornographic material in 2013.  At Levekunst we view this picture as playful innocence.

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  1. Thade Correa

    This is wonderful, Beth. Thank you. The way you write of desire is reminiscent of Rilke’s writings on it: “We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go.”

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