Your heart’s desire; the fear of having it all ~ Dave Matthews & George Bernard Shaw

Mythology began with just three muses, Aoidē (“song” or “voice”), Meletē (“practice” or “occasion”), and Mnēmē (“memory”), but overtime expanded to nine. While my three primary muses are music, movies and books, the people in my life often inspire creativity and creation, some more than others. Yesterday brought such a weaving of muses in a flurry of creation that produced Bound :: Unbound and also an intention to create something else.

In the day’s early hours, a friend posted a song on Facebook featuring a quote that stayed with me, continues to stay with me:

There are two tragedies in life.
One is to lose your heart’s desire.
The other is to gain it.
      ~ George Bernard Shaw

Now, the first of those tragedies is easy enough to understand. We’ve all lost love, friends, fulfilling jobs and games on which an entire season was riding. In the moment of loss, no tragedy seems greater than losing our heart’s desire. But the second of these tragedies, poetic and clever as it may be, the tragedy of gain resists wrapping my head around. Is it a ‘careful what you wish for’ admonition? Or is Shaw cleverly disguising a ‘sour grapes’ pique? A buddhist might say, “Any heart’s desire is a conditional thing, ephemeral, so in gaining it we are already in the process of losing it.”

It stayed with me…rumbling around in my subconscious…bubbling up to consciousness and back down…as I went through my morning routine, as I drove to my Chiropractor’s, as I lay on the table under Jay’s gentle manipulations of my chi, and my body.

Yesterday was about my right side, particularly my right hip. As Jay and I worked on these areas, the wourd “bound” came to mind. Yes, the physical sensation of being bound up in my painful hip, but also in the emotional and psychological senses. The sense of being ‘bound up’ in a pattern of behaviour. The people and places and things I feel bound to in my life. The paths on which our life’s purpose and our fate is bound.

Bound, binding, the ties that bind, tethered, tied up, slip the bonds. These were the words and thoughts running about in my mind while driving home from the appointment, when the iPod spun up Dave Matthews’, If I Had It All . The song played pleasantly in the background of my thoughts, until the chorus…

If I were a king
If I had everything
If I had you.  If I could give you your dreams
If I were giant-sized, on top of it all
Then tell me what in the world would I sing for
If I had it all

The morning’s quote came roaring back. Yes, if I gained my heart’s desire what would I sing for, what would I go on for?

At the time, that seemed a brilliant connection, one worth writing a post for. There seemed to be in this verse, somewhere, a reponse to Shaw’s riddle. I set it aside for later, returning to my musings on the ties that bind, deciding to stop at a favourite diner for cheap breakfast at lunchtime. There, over ham & eggs (sunnyside up, thankyou) with hashbrowns and brown toast, I worried out the free associations of bound, bindings and tethers into my journal until it coalesced into the essential form of Bound :: Unbound. I finished my hash browns, paid up and returned home where I transcribed and completed the poem, believing I had slipped the bonds of “bound”.

The rest of the day filled up quickly, leaving If I Had It All on the back burner, percolating.

Now, a day later, I look at it the chorus again. The same circular arguments that had perplexed me the first morning I read Shaw’s quote continue to do so. Was there any more wisdom here? Is Dave really saying that so long as our heart’s desires elude us we have a reason to sing, a reason to go on…that should we ever have it all, there’s no longer a reason to sing? No, I think not. It’s a sour grapes lament. It’s a denial.

I go back and read the lyrics from the beginning. The first verse makes it clear what this song is actually all about.

Sometimes I can’t move my feet it seems
As if I’m stuck in the ground somehow like a tree
As if I can’t even breathe
Oh, and my screams come whispering out

I am stuck. I find myself back with bindings, tethers, all bound up. This is a cry of anguish, of pain, of loss, grief, of someone caught in  a trap of despair. Someone bound to all these. Stuck and unable to free themself.

As if nobody can even see me
Like a ghost, sometimes I can’t see myself
Sometimes, then again, oh

Sometimes… He sings. Sometimes…?

Sometimes I want to see myself, I want to be seen. I want to be a king, I want to have you and give you your dreams. Sometimes, but, then again…that would require slipping these bonds, would require will, effort, self-esteem. I dream I’m giant-sized, on top of it all, but I am not. I know I cannot be. Cannot risk the failure.

So, better not to risk. Better not to dream. Better instead to think: “if I had it all, I’d have nothing to live for, nothing to strive for any longer, so why even bother slipping these bonds? Why bother striving at all? Why bother trying to dig myself out of this hole, this rut I’m trapped in?” Besides…

If I had it all, you know
I’d fuck it up

This is a song about defeatism, about being bound to the earth when we could fly, about satisfying ourselves with being small when we could be bigger than our imagination. If I Had It All is a song about fearing failure so much we’re cowed to the point of feariing success. This is a song about being bound by fear, and so are Shaw’s tragedies.

So… No, Mr. Shaw, there is no tragedy in gaining our heart’s desire. Of all those thoughts swirling about in my head this morning, none rings with much truth, except the Buddhists thought, the conditional, ephemeral nature of all desires. There’s a beginning there, a means to unleashing ourselves from fear, a means to take risks.

The only fears greater than never attaining our heart’s desire, are the fears of losing it, or of discovering even that is not enough. These are the tragedies of the human condition, our fears, not the gaining or losing, not the having or not having. Fear keeps us grounded, bound to a lesser vision of self, keeps us safe from the potential consequences of risk. This tragedy of fear keeps us bound to conditions that ensure two others.

There are two tragedies in life.
One is to never strive for our hearts desire.
The other is to gain it, expecting never to lose it.

Again, the first of these tragedies is clear enough. The other, well, it’s clearer than Shaw’s second tragedy. A Buddhist inflection helps to understand it: all things, all conditions are impermanent, ephemeral. The only eternal is our spiritual self; all other things and conditions will come, and go. In gaining your heart’s desire know that someday you will lose it, if only through the simple fact that someday, you will die. So, while you have your heart’s desire, treasure it like it’s the last day you’ll ever have it. Treasure, cherish, nurture, protect, love, with all you’ve got.

And then, when it’s lost, let it go. And then, strive again.

As a friend so artfully observed, we often “discover that our heart’s desire is not in fact the final satisfaction but rather another scenic view along our journey–beautiful as it may be.” Then she reminded me that, “well, really Patrick, there is no such thing as having it all. We like to believe there is because we naturally need resolution (just like in a great song) but if we are honest, there is never a point where we have it all. Somewhere along the way we sacrifice something that we would liked to have kept.”

Yes, and there is always something more to strive for.

My heart’s desire for the past three days has been to complete this post. I’m going to call it complete. I know it’s not, and will likely revisit it, revise it, rewrite it at some point. This is just the scenic view of the moment.

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