Last night, I was reading Mark Twain's fascinating book, Following the Equator, and came across the following description:
"The system [of pledging to break a bad habit] does not strike at the root of the trouble, and I venture to repeat that. The root is not the drinking, but the desire to drink. These are very different things. The one merely requires will--and a great deal of it, both as to bulk and staying capacity--the other merely watchfulness--and for no long time. The desire of course precedes the act, and should have one's first attention; it can do but little good to refuse the act over and over again, always leaving the desire unmolested, unconquered; the desire will continue to assert itself, and will be almost sure to win in the long run. When the desire intrudes, it should be at once banished out of the mind. One should be on the watch for it all the time--otherwise it will get in. It must be taken in time and not allowed to get a lodgment. A desire constantly repulsed for a fortnight should die, then. That should cure the drinking-habit. The system of refusing the mere act of drinking, and leaving the desire in full force, is unintelligent war tactics, it seems to me."
Twain was, of course, discussing the manner in which a person should break a bad habit. Habits, he tells us (using drinking as his prime example), have two components: the act and the and the desire to commit that act. In order In order act to avoid an act, to break a habit, Twain suggests that we must remove the desire, not merely cease the act, for the desire will always manifest eventually.
Upon reading this passage, I found myself considering those habits that we encourage within ourselves: diets, exercise, and even proper dental hygiene.
We learn to diet, not because we eat things that are good for us routinely, but because we have a desire to look and feel better. We are able to keep our exercise routine, not because we do the exercises in a certain order, but rather because we have the desire to have abdomens that make women swoon or bikinis that make people stop and stare. Children learn to brush their teeth not through rehearsal of the motions, but through a desire to keep the cavity monsters at bay, and this develops later into a desire not to kill your date with bad breath.
What does all this have to do with Druidry?
How can the concept of desire versus act inform our Paganism?
One of the most common issues Dedicants have is their inability to maintain a formal, consistent personal practice of meditation or daily devotion. Often, we begin strong and soon, rather inexplicably, our personal practice tapers off or ends quite abruptly.
I suggest that perhaps our problem is not with the act, it is with the desire to create and maintain that act throughout our entire lives.
Twain states that if you can repulse a desire for a fortnight, you will beat it soundly. By that same token, can we then build the desire over the same amount of time?
Of course, ridding one's self of a desire is a simpler, more clear-cut thing than creating a desire. When seeking to ignore a desire, you simply do something to remove it from your mind (exercise works wonders here), but to plant a desire is more difficult.
If the removal of a desire requires something to distract you from it, then it stands to reason that the creation of a desire will require things that focus attention on this desire. Let's consider first how to build the desire to do daily ritual.
As our goal is to remind us of ritual in order to build the desire to practice it, the first thing to do is fairly obvious: build an altar. It doesn't matter if it's an elaborate piece of carved limestone or three bowls and a stick; what matters is that it is visible to you once, twice, or even three times a day.
If you decide to put it into your bedroom, you might take the following things into consideration: place it right next to the door, not in a back corner somewhere, or perhaps atop the vanity in front of the mirror. Make sure it is in a location where it will be seen (or even stumbled over) every day. This will start to remind you of the worship you could be doing.
Next, we'll use a tactic gleaned from motivational speakers everywhere: affirmations. Take a 3x5 index card and write the words, "Today I seek to honour the Gods." Tape this to your mirror in the bathroom, to the steering wheel of your car, or laminate it and paste it to the wall of your shower, again making sure that it's in a place that you will see it every day. If you're feeling really frisky, you could even sigilize the phrase and post it in that form.
Finally, as icing on the cake, you can start reading hooks, watching movies, or listening to CD's that turn your attention back to the Gods. These could be fantasy fiction, religious works, or things like Ceisiwr Serith's A Book of Pagan Prayer (a personal favourite of mine). You might also write rituals for use when you do start the devotions, or prayers of praise.
Once you have all this set up, don't take any action. Let the altar sit unused, read the affirmations but don't recite them, read the book or listen to the CD exclusively for a fortnight.
By the end of that fortnight, you should be ready to begin daily devotions. More to the point, you should be eager to begin devotions. If you aren't yet, give it another week.
As Twain said, action always eventually follows desire. Here, we're simply looking to place a positive desire into our minds for constructive use.
The same process can be done with any form of daily mental discipline, from meditation to Tai Chi. Simply replace the altar with a meditation seat or a Tai Chi mat, the affirmation with something more appropriate, and the book with something such as the Tao Te Ching.
Nearly every Dedicant has issues with this section of the DP, and those of us who are no longer working through it often feel a need (a desire, if you will) to go back to the daily devotions and meditations we once did. Hopefully, this essay can help.