Desire

The five hindrances are:
1. Sensory desire
2. Ill-will
3. Sloth-torpor
4. Restlessness-worry
5. Doubt

There is the case where, there being sensual desire present within, a monk discerns that ‘There is sensual desire present within me.’ Or, there being no sensual desire present within, he discerns that ‘There is no sensual desire present within me.’ He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen sensual desire. And he discerns how there is the abandoning of sensual desire once it has arisen. And he discerns how there is no future arising of sensual desire that has been abandoned.
from MN 10, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Practicing with desire can be very simple. One instruction is to just notice when desire comes up in us. We wake up; we desire to stay asleep or at least to stay in bed. We wish we didn’t have to go to work (maybe). We want something nice for breakfast. We wish for a new car (or a cleaner car, or a car with a full tank of gas). We want to feel pleasant feelings in the body, to hear pleasant sounds, to be praised and appreciated. Maybe we crave particular foods, or cigarettes, or alcohol, or specific entertainments. Perhaps we wish for a partner, or a different partner or different parents. The first step is to notice which desires are most prominent and most persistent.

Once we identify our dominant desires, we can investigate them. Is this a real desire or a proxy for an impossible wish? Is there anything we could do to fulfill this desire using wholesome means, say, planning and effort?

We might remember a desire that seemed overwhelming at an earlier point in our life and try to identify its cause and the cause for its ending. Was the desire fulfilled? Outgrown? Was new information brought to bear that made the desired object undesirable? Was it overtaken by a different desire? Was our attention diverted and we just forgot about it?

This exercise can be taken at as gross or as subtle a level as we please. Looking more and more closely, we can see how frequently the mind reaches out for something, how our discontent with things as they are is endless.

And yet, sometimes we are contented. Sometimes we can just rest in things as they are. It is easy to miss these moments, as they tend to be unremarkable. We’re invited to watch for periods of contentment, when there is no active desire in the mind. It can seem mysterious how these moments come about. What was happening just before? Is there anything we can do to sustain or support this condition? It’s an ongoing investigation.

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June 23, 2013 · 11:00 pm

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