When addressing desire as a resistance to practice it is important first to realize that desire itself is not bad. Desire is a natural survival mechanism. Desire is what gets us to eat, to sleep, to find shelter; it gets us doing what we need to do to survive and thrive. It is desire that fuels our passions, moves us to be creative, and to find pleasure in life. If someone is fully at peace with theirself, there is no need to grasp for things.
Desire becomes a problem when it becomes wanting and shifts us out the present moment. When we are full of fear, disconnected from ourself, we search outward for more and more….If we are acting without presence of mind it’s easier to get caught by wanting and become lost in a never ending cycle of un-satisfaction. Take notice when “if/only” thinking, arises, like: “If only I made X amount of money, then I would be successful.”, "If only I wasn't sick, then I would be happy." such thinking is where wanting or clinging often arises. Most of our ideas of what we need or want in order to be happy are wrong. This is because these “solutions” are almost always external.
Happiness or contentment is never dependent on external factors. If we are shifting our attention outward for satisfaction, we are actually pushing ourselves away from the very thing that can provide the peace and contentment that we are seeking.
When desire becomes a hindrance to meditation, the best solution is to give it mindful and compassionate attention. If the desire is strong or particularly difficult to face, you can work with it using the RAIN technique.
Through the practice of meditation we can develop a sense of how wanting-desire creates tension and takes us into suffering. The stronger the wanting-desire, the less mindful we are. Often the experience of wanting something can feel unpleasant, but suffering because of it is optional. We are taught that when we feel uncomfortable we should go do something about it, rather than observe the source of the discomfort. If we face the thoughts and emotions with openness and presence, we shift away from the small wanting self to our more expansive awareness. When we sit with desire and investigate the nature of it, in the moment we are experiencing it, no matter how difficult it may be, we allow ourselves to be freed from the clinging grasp of desire.
Instead of disliking how you feel or being unhappy about the experience you are having, accept what is rising. Instead of becoming caught in the never ending chase to satisfy a want that will most likely never be fully satisfied, let it have full presence and move through you. Often times the clinging as a result of wanting-desire goes unnoticed. It is like we become zombies blindly chasing after the object of our desire. But if we give it presence and recognize the energy around it, the wanting-desire often weakens and fades away.
If you find it too difficult to sit with the desire then try just slowing down. When we introduce a pause between the want and the action of chasing after the want, we are more able to make a better choice.
We continue to give away our power to others when we need others to get us, to understand us, in order for us to be ok, to be free. As long as we want other to respond to us in a particular way, we give away our power. If our well-being is dependent on another’s response, then we are not free. We have given up our power and have become enslaved.
Remember always be kind and compassionate with yourself, don't judge or criticize yourself. Recognize that there is usually an unmet need that is driving the wanting-desire. Explore the connection of this want in your body. You don’t have do anything about it. Just noticed it. Just feel what you feel. There is no wrong or right way to feel what you are feeling.
Even though we find it difficult to just let go, we remain aware of our resistance to let go. This holding on and being continually aware of ourselves and our attachments, however, will lead us to seeing that chasing or grasping for our desires is not the path. Instead, we recognize that the thing we are holding onto , and just be seeing what it is, we let go a little.
This process is activating our neural network, beginning the change to the particular neural pathway that keeps us holding. This takes practice, and each time we touch it with awareness, even if it is for a millisecond, this pause, allows for a new neural pathway to be formed. This pause breaks the chain of habit energy and reactivity.
I am Do'an Prajna, a bhikṣu (fully ordained Zen Buddhist monk) and zen teacher. Here I share my thoughts and observations about living a life of compassion, attention and gratitude.