At heart, desire is pretty simple: we want pleasure and we don’t want pain. To act on our desire is just as simple. It doesn’t take any effort to delight in the laughter of a child or to spit out a mouthful of sour milk. But pleasure and pain are not always so immediate and unmixed. Some pain is bittersweet; some pleasure burns. Over time, we pass from dislike to like or from love to fear. We willingly endure some sufferings for the sake of another or as means to a desired end. Or we may be bound up in unavoidable pain in a relationship or a job, or living with physical illness and deterioration. The varieties of desire that inspire our acts become more complex – and offer greater opportunity for error – but there’s still a coherent connection.
So what does it mean when we find ourselves persistently doing what we don’t want to do? Or not doing what we want to do, when we certainly could? What of those times when my deeds and my desire – surely one’s hallmarks as an individual – seem to divide “me” against “myself”?