The late philosopher René Girard suggested that human desire is “triangular,” meaning that it arises not from any intrinsic value in the object of desire, but rather that we imitate others and experience desire for the same things that they desire. The toddler wanting the toy that another toddler has; the junior executive wanting the same clothes and car that the senior executive has; the lover pining for the same beloved as a rival—these are all experiences of this triangulation of desire. We learn what we want by looking around at what others want.
The saints and mystics teach us another way, a way of rejecting such false desires in order to discover a wellspring of authentic desire rooted in God. Instead of glancing nervously at others, they suggest we should stare lovingly at Christ and imitate him. Instead of looking outward at objects, they suggest we look inwardly at the vast, teeming life God wishes to share with us. Instead of looking upward at those who have more than we do, we should look downward toward those who are poor.
In short, a conversion of heart means rejecting a false triangulation of desire (me, a rival, and an object of competition) for a new triangulation: God, the poor, and my deepest self.