There are certain times in life when blind, relentless desire makes itself shamelessly evident, in a baby and in an adolescent.
We see blind desire in a baby. An infant takes everything to its mouth indiscriminately, shamelessly, without any sense of control, of good or bad, or of morality, propriety, or consequence. A baby simply blindly reaches out for gratification and tries to drink it in. There is considerable danger in that. Babies often hurt themselves.
We see somewhat of the same thing in the adolescent. At puberty, the body shoots huge doses of hormones into the adolescent and a period of blind, obsessive, restlessness follows. There is a crass, often times shameless, reaching out and, as in the baby, this blind desire makes for a dangerous period. Adolescents also frequently hurt themselves, not to mention others, while in the grip of this energy.
When desire is blind, inchoate, and uninitiated, as in the baby or adolescent, it is dangerous, dangerous for the person who has it and dangerous for those around. But this desire is also, as we shall soon suggest, the energy that lies at the very centre of life. It is a divine energy. As such, it should not be repressed, ignored, shamed, or put down. Neither should it be given free scope to act out. It should be honoured and disciplined through a proper initiation process.
How do you honour and channel blind desire in a child? By accepting that energy for what it is, the deep principle of life made manifest. Accordingly we should never shame it: “You are pig!” “You are selfish!” The child should never be made to feel dirty and guilty for having this energy. Instead the child should to be initiated into its fuller meaning by connecting this desire to the heart of life itself within the family. This sounds abstract but what it means is that we take this raw energy within the child, the desire to eat, and discipline it by connecting it to the much deeper joy of dining, of sharing food, life, and love within a family and community. There is a discipline in that. The child has to learn boundaries, respect, and manners, but discipline, controlling the desire, is not the goal. The goal is taking that raw desire and linking its energy to the centre of community life.
If we can do that, we will produce a healthy child, namely, a child that is able to discipline its appetite and yet thoroughly enjoy, without guilt, the pleasures of eating.
It is this principle which we must use to initiate adolescents at that other raw moment of life, the onset of puberty. At that moment, just as in infancy, raw desire is rampantly manifest, not just in terms of sex but also in terms of grandiosity. In the adolescent, desire is, again, raw, wild, and dangerous.
What’s to be done? As in the child, that energy needs both to be honoured and disciplined. Just as in the child, this is done by connecting it to the what lies at the heart of the community.
Thus, raw desire – sex, grandiose dreams – within the teenager is not to be belittled or shamed. It needs to be honoured. You don’t tell a teenager struggling with this: “You are an animal!” “You are an unrealistic dreamer!” Just as in the child, one does not discipline raw energy by making the person feel guilty, dirty, or worthless. This energy, irrespective of its crass manifestations, is sacred. It is the pulse of life itself flowing through us, part of God’s creative energy incarnate in our bodies, the groaning of the Holy Spirit, deeper than words, praying through us. It is spirit seeking connection.
To paraphrase Michael Meade: Within youth, nature sets loose a series of eruptions. The youth heats up biologically and emotionally and is seared from the inside. The youth is driven to seek an outer experience that will match that inner heat and turmoil. If he or she doesn’t get connected to the warmth and beauty at the heart of the community, he or she will burn and rage with injustice, or turn cold with resentment and depression.
We do not help, nor discipline, our young people by making them feel guilty about sex or grandiosity. We must honour that energy in them but connect it to the heart of life in such a way that, feeling its sacredness and life-giving energy, they become infinitely more reverent before its great power.