Inhabiting Desire

As we sit in meditation, trying to focus on the breath and the body, thoughts and feelings arise in our mind and heart and eventually we become aware of them. We may, for example, become aware that we want certain things, that we have carnal appetites we were not aware of, the desire to have sex with a particular person, or a free-floating sexual desire with no particular object. Or we may desire to possess something, or to win recognition, approval, fame, or fortune. Our first instinct may be to suppress this desire. Desire is painful. It is painful to want something we don’t have and likely never will. So we try to push our desire down, an act that robs us of precious psychic energy and that is futile anyway. The desire will likely keep pushing up to the surface and continue to frustrate us.

Or we may resolve to fulfill our desire. As soon as we are finished meditating, we promise ourselves, we will have that dangerous liaison or go out and spend money we don’t have on some obscure object of our longing. Many desires are harmless and their fulfillment perfectly healthy, but others, when we try to act on them, bring immense harm, to ourselves and to others.

In meditation a third approach to desire is available to us. Instead of trying to suppress a desire, or acting on it inappropriately, we can try to inhabit it as thoroughly as we can, to fill it with our awareness, to have the desire itself fill us until we positively bristle with it. We live in a world of perfect economy. Thoughts, impulses, and feelings often arise in our mind because they need to. Often all they need is our attention, a moment of conscious life in our awareness. Suppression and acting out are both strategies for killing off desire, the one by pushing it down, the other by satisfying it and ending it that way. Simply being with our desire is a far less violent and more efficacious strategy. By letting our desire live in the full warmth of our awareness for the brief moment of its rising up, we can actually enjoy it without causing any harm to ourselves or to others. And the desire itself also gets what it needs and happily falls away with the next breath. If it arises again with the breath after that, so be it. We simply inhabit it again, giving it our full attention as we breathe it in, letting it go as we breathe out, neither pushing it down nor pushing it out into the complex and troublesome world of external consequences, but simply being with it for as long as it needs us to be.