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Daring to Know What You Want
by Lynne Whiteley Novy, MFCC

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A gorgeous woman in her mid-20s leaned toward me, the look on her face an invitation to conspiracy.
"What I want," she said, as though the words themselves were dangerous, "is to know what I want."

She proceeded to list all the things that she did not want, including living at home with her parents, her secretarial job and being 15 pounds "too chubby."

When she wound down, I threw out the obvious: "So, then, what DO you want?" Startled, as though she hadn't expected the question outright, she drew back and gripped her hands in her lap. "I don't know," she said. I waited. After a while, she said, "Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all." Again, I waited. "It doesn't really matter," she said. More waiting. "It's not possible." Silence. "I probably can't, anyway." Still I said nothing.

Finally, in exasperation, as though she thought me too slow-witted to comprehend anyway, she yelled: "I want to be a rock star!" "Sounds good to me," I shouted back.

How come it's so dangerous to say what we want? After all, it's a natural act. Kids do it all the time. As adults, though, I think it's risky business to tell the truth about what we want for two reasons: 1) We're afraid we can't have it. 2) We're afraid we can.

If we imagine we can't have it, we're left to deal with all the feelings of undeservability, disappointment and limitation with which we surround ourselves. If we decide we can have it, we're forced to face up to actually doing what it would take to make it happen.

What a rotten double-bind deal. So, what do we do? Well, we do the wise thing, of course. We pretend not to know. Or, even better, we decide not to want anything at all.

Sounds good. In fact, some of us make a case for this as a major step toward enlightenment. Pointing to Eastern philosophies, we note that since desire is the root of all suffering, we're wise not to want. We declare desirelessness is highly desirable state. Yes, this sounds good. As with all things that sound too good to be true, however, there's an obvious catch: Pretending not to want does not desirelessness make.

To consider it another way, here's a question: Is Mother Hubbard's dog no longer hungry just because she finds the cupboard bare? Not at all. In fact, the dog with no bone will eventually begin to chew on Mother Hubbard!

Like hungry dogs, we all want. And want. And want. If we pretend we don't, we either starve or end up unhappily chewing on wrong bones. True wanting, wishing and desiring are instruments of our inner guidance system. To ignore them is to deny access to our own hearts.

"Yeah, but what's the point of admitting I want to be a rock star?" said the young woman in my office. "What are the odds of my actually making it?" "I don't know," I said. "But all bets are definitely off if you never declare yourself."

Daring to say what we want gets us unstuck and sets things in motion. It's also an act of courage because it leads us to the next layer of questions: Do we want this for its own sake? Is it our heart's true desire? Or is it a means to some other end?

Here's where things get dangerous again. Sometimes we uncover hidden motives. Things that we think we shouldn't want, maybe, or things we'd like to avoid. Does the budding rock star genuinely want to sing her heart out on a strobe-lit stage for throbbing crowds? Or is her wish an exciting and elaborate cover plot to escape a boring life that's too attached to overly protective parents? Either way, saying what she wants leads towards her heart's truth.

Unless we're willing to say what we want, we go against ourselves. We deny our heart's desire. And if we don't follow our heart's desire, I think we relinquish joy. Risky business, all right.

Lynne Whiteley Novy, MFCC is a psychotherapist and a writer with a private practice in Petaluma, California. For more stories and information visit her web site at or see her listing in Share Guide's Holistic Health Directory.


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