(38) I want thee, only thee (from Gitanjali)

by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore
Original Language Bengali

That I want thee, only thee -- let my heart repeat without end. All desires that distract me, day and night, are false and empty to the core.
     As the night keeps hidden in its gloom the petition for light, even thus in the depth of my unconsciousness rings the cry -- I want thee, only thee.
     As the storm still seeks its end in peace when it strikes against peace with all its might, even thus my rebellion strikes against thy love and still its cry is -- I want thee, only thee.

-- from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I want thee, only thee

This is the prayer of every heart, regardless of belief, regardless of how we live. Every kind gesture says, "I want thee." So too does every angry action. Amidst our distracted lives, "I want thee" is the inner mantra. We just have to recognize it and encourage it to come forth.

All desires that distract me, day and night, are false and empty to the core.

I don't write often about the nature of desires. Religious voices have a tendency to speak about desire with a certain gleeful cruelty, creating environments of suppression, rigidity, and shame. Fully realized spirituality does not foster those qualities and, instead, nurtures self-awareness, presence, and flow. If joy and a sense of fullness are not present, something is off balance.

Keeping that important point in mind, we should still take a moment to consider why legitimate spiritual teachers talk about desires as a problem. When we speak of desires, we immediately think of sexuality. But desires are anything we want or crave or seek out. Yes, desires can be about sex and sensual pleasures. Desires can be about possessions and wealth and acquisition. Desire can be directed toward social position or life goals. Desire is anything and everything that hooks our attention and pulls at the will.

Here's the real issue: The things and experiences we desire are not necessarily bad or "unspiritual." It is the dynamic of desire itself that is the problem. We imagine that if we get this or experience that we will be happy or fulfilled. When we finally get that experience or attain that sought thing, we do indeed receive a burst of satisfaction -- for a moment, or a day. And then something is missing again. We are already angling for the next thing we want. A new desire.

That's the nut of the problem: Individual goals are attainable, specific experiences can be had, but desires are endless. Satisfying those desires never brings happiness in a lasting way. We become caught on an endless road of pursuit, disappointment, and more pursuit. Yet we persist in the chase. Sometimes we think we are being smart by deciding we have been chasing the wrong things, and so we start to pursue different desires. Yet the problem remains. Experiences can be achieved, but desires themselves are never satisfied. In the process, they siphon off large portions of our awareness and life energy.

It takes real wisdom and courage to step off that treadmill. Actions cease to be about fulfilling desires and, instead, become an expression of the inner self. Possessions and experiences are received with a sense of gratitude and a light grasp, knowing that they will pass and true fulfillment is attained elsewhere.

But how do we free ourselves from desires without resorting to repression and self-cruelty? Perhaps that's a discussion for another day. Let's allow the question itself to simmer in our thoughts and see what rises to the surface. What do you think?

As the storm still seeks its end in peace when it strikes against peace with all its might, even thus my rebellion strikes against thy love and still its cry is -- I want thee, only thee.

This closing line is my favorite. There is a kindness in how Tagore assesses our "rebellion" and stumbling. Even in our anger, even in self-destruction, even amidst our worst faults, we are seeking peace. Picturing Tagore's storm, I imagine the individual with an excess of unfocused energy striking repeatedly against this mountain of peace, wanting to spend itself against that immutable stillness, until, in exhaustion, the soul settles and finds its own peace.

In the end, we are all trying to express the words, I want thee, only thee.



Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover's Gift and Crossing
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38) I want thee