One of the first things we learn on the path of meditation is that desire is an obstacle to our progress. And its inverse, avoidance (aversion), is an equal barrier to our evolution.
But today, I want to talk about desire in a different way. Because, we can actually harness desire to deepen and ripen our mindfulness meditation. That’s right, desire can help us live in the rich fullness of this very moment, undistracted and at ease.
But first, let’s quickly review why the Buddha taught that desire is such a powerful hindrance to realizing our basic nature as unlimited, whole, and fundamentally free.
The Problem With Desire
Pioneering Vipassana meditation teacher Jack Kornfield describes the sticky net of desire like this:
The first hindrance is desire for sense pleasure: pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily sensations, and mind states. What’s the problem with desire—what’s wrong with it? Nothing, really. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying pleasant experiences. Given the difficulties we face in life, they are nice to have.
But they fool us.
They trick us into adopting the ‘‘if only’’ mentality: ‘‘If only I could have this,’’ or ‘‘If only I had the right job,’’ or ‘‘If only I could find the right relationship,’’ or ‘‘If only I had the right clothes,’’ or ‘‘If only I had the right personality, then I would be happy.’’
We are taught that if we can get enough pleasurable experiences, pasting them together quickly one after another, our life will be happy…
Again, the problem is not the object of desire, but the energy in the mind. The energy of desire keeps us moving, looking for that thing that is really going to do it for us. The wanting mind is itself painful. It’s a self-perpetuating habit that does not allow us to be where we are because we are grasping for something somewhere else.
Even when we get what we want, we then want something more or different because the habit of wanting is so strong. It is a sense that being here and now is not enough, that we are somehow incomplete, and it keeps us cut off from the joy of our own natural completeness. We are never content.
It is the same force in the world at large that creates the havoc of people wanting and consuming, hoarding, and fighting wars to have more and more, for pleasure and for security that are never fulfilled.
Maybe you can relate to some of this?
When you look closely, you notice that much of our culture is structured to stoke our desire for beautiful things, people, experiences, etc. We’re swimming in it.
But if desire is such a problem, how can it help us in our meditation? And how can we harness it to grow and nurture our humanity?
Understanding Our Distraction
When we meditate, we quickly recognize that it’s challenging to keep our attention focused on our meditation object.
We bring our attention to the breath. And before we even realize it, we’re drifting away, lost in a pleasant fantasy. We’re thinking about plans for the weekend and what we’re going to have for dinner.
Or maybe we’re ruminating and regretting something that happened yesterday. A grudge that we keep feeding with negative thoughts like a dragon chasing its own tail.
The more we attempt to steer our attention back to our meditation object, the more we notice our distracted condition.
This is one of the first steps in developing self-awareness. We see that we’re chronically distracted and lost in mind-wandering mode. Our attentional system is frayed and fractured.
And most of the time, that condition is not apparent to us as we move from one experience to the next. And we don’t notice because most of our peers and companions are equally distracted.
We live in a field of distraction.
The problem is that we’re never satisfied in this state. We’re restless and haunted. Dimly aware that inner wholeness and fundamental contentment is always just out of reach and we’re at a loss for how to attain it.
Harnessing the Healing Power of Desire
But here is where we can begin to harness the positive and healing power of desire. As we start to become aware of our predicament, we get little glimpses into what it feels like to be fully immersed in the present moment.
We notice that the longer we rest our attention on our meditation object, the calmer we become. The mind begins to settle. Our body relaxes, and our senses open up, and we start to hear and feel the music of life again.
Just like we did when we were small children.
When this happens, we quickly realize the pristine nature of the present moment. And then we can start to notice that we have a small margin of choice.
We can actually choose to stay in the present moment or we can choose to remain lost in the carousel daydream of desire.
It’s here that we can pose a simple but powerful question to ourselves.
Which do I want more? To remain in this restless unsatisfied half-asleep state? Or to bring the mind home to my deeper self? To unify and cohere at the deepest levels of my being?
Of course, I want the latter.
But now I see that I need to nurture and feed my desire for that presence and wholeness because my desire for distraction–a deep culturally reinforced habit–is stronger than my desire for wholeness and unity of mind and purpose.
Feeding and Fueling Your Desire For Presence
Indeed, the Buddha’s teachings tell us that the antidote to this painful condition of deep distraction is the inner unity of attention and equanimity that we cultivate in meditation.
As you feed and fuel your desire to attune to the present moment, the result is wholeness, coherence, and healing.
That painful bone-deep feeling that something is missing dissolves in the cool calming waters of your equanimous mind.
And one of the essential keys to all of this is fueling your desire to live in the present moment. To attune, moment to moment, to the ever-unfolding here and now.
The more you do this, the more your desire for presence grows until it becomes so strong that you will protect it like a fierce mama bear protecting her child.
If you’d like to learn more about how to grow and nurture this desire, then I encourage you to join me for the Coming Home Mindfulness Meditation Training Program.