As rain penetrates
an ill-thatched house,
so lust penetrates
an uncultivated mind.
As rain does not penetrate
a well-thatched house,
so lust does not penetrate
a well-cultivated mind. (translated by Gil Fronsdal)
In these verses, lust refers to wanting of all kinds, not only sexual lust. We lust after possessions, after praise, after approval, after specific foods and experiences (fill in your favorite here).
The big question is, what’s the difference between a cultivated and an uncultivated mind?
In an uncultivated mind, there is no input filter; we don’t stop to consider what results acting on our impulses might bring. We chase after what we think we’ll like and run away from what we think we won’t like, without a second thought. In this way we might shun a strict but skilful teacher, or turn away from challenges that we can’t necessarily win; we avoid practicing to develop any skill. In short, we don’t take up anything that doesn’t come easily, that might frustrate us.
Cultivating anything, especially our minds, takes patience and determination. We have to be willing to begin again, over and over. Both mindfulness and clear comprehension (Pali: sati-sampajañña) are required; that is, an awareness of what’s actually going on (as if we were an impartial observer), and some contextual understanding — what are the causes of what we’re observing? We have to start by accepting that there’s plenty we don’t know and that our commitment is to look as deeply into our experience as we can.
The type of effort required is not the 100% physical exertion of an olympic athlete; it is the steady commitment of a beginner. Think of the way we navigate when we are driving a car or riding a bicycle. Rather than trying to watch the lines on both sides of us and stay within them one metre (yard) at a time, we set our vision on the road ahead, taking in a “full screen” view, including our peripheral vision. We steer into the middle of that frame, keeping our focus wide enough to anticipate danger or uncertainty from all directions, even behind us or to the side. The door of a parked car may swing out in front of us; a child may chase a ball into the road; the car ahead may stop suddenly for no apparent reason. This kind of steady, open attention is a skill we can sustain and develop.
When we intentionally train our minds, we gradually become more equanimous, we “walk evenly on uneven ground”, which in turn improves the clarity of our perceptions. We can see that the world is not designed around our wishes, that other forces are at work. We generate a protective “roof” so that when temptation to superficial or unworthy rewards comes calling, we recognize it as not for us, and when an opportunity to behave in a wholesome way appears, we gravitate towards it.