We’ve been reviewing the five precepts for laypeople with an eye to training our unconscious impulses through our conscious behavior. Today, we look at the third precept:
I undertake the training rule to refrain from sexual misconduct.
This training rule is a difficult one to practice mindfulness with, because it it touches on one of our most basic instincts: #1 is survival, and #2 is procreation, even if we have no personal desire to produce offspring. The imperative to go through the motions of procreation seems to have no natural limit. What we can hope for is to become free of compulsion by seasoning our basic instincts with wisdom and compassion.
As an ethical precept, the avoidance of sexual misconduct means striving to refrain from causing harm through our sexuality, even unintentionally. Rather than defining sexual misconduct in terms of any specific sexual behavior, the emphasis is on considering the impact the behavior can have on others and oneself. It means taking into account much more than the particular sexual activity one may be involved in. …
Renunciation is an important part of healthy sexuality. Renunciation is the capacity to let go of any desire which might cause suffering and hurt. Without being able to let go of sexual desire, there is no freedom. Spiritual freedom is not to be free to act on our desires; it is being free to choose wisely which desires to act on. It is to be free of compulsive desires. …
Sexual behavior and sexual relationships are among the most complicated, multifaceted aspects of our inner psychological life and outer inter-personal life. Sex and sexuality involve hormones, social conditioning, beliefs, motivations, emotions, and the mysterious activity of “chemistry” between people. Sex is seldom about simple pleasure. To be mindful of our sexuality is to begin to unpack all the complexity it comes with. As the different aspects of this complex stew are seen clearly, we can learn where our freedom is found in relationship to it. (Gil Fronsdal, from https://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/freedom-through-the-third-precept/)
As with any other object of our desire, we mistakenly believe that “if only” we had this experience or could date that person, we would be satisfied; we’d feel happy and fulfilled. However, there is no sensual experience of any kind that can provide lasting satisfaction, and if we attend to our experience with mindfulness, we can discover this ourselves.
Our expectations become distorted by our own desires and the encouragement of many sectors of our culture. We might imagine that the person with the most sexually desirable (to us) partner is the happiest person in the world, but of course reality is more complicated.
Our experiences, especially those from early in our life, form the subconscious conditions that can drive us towards various sexual explorations. We have the ability to accept and look into our drives and desires, sorting out causes and results where we can, and identifying wholesome and unwholesome behaviors. Every time we set our intention on wholesome outcomes, we are bending our subconscious towards awakening.