Taking Care of Our Desires

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Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
September 9, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
September 10, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 p

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The focus of our Dharma sharing will be the Third Training, True Love:

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy. I will cultivate loving kindness, compassion, joy, and inclusiveness which are the four basic elements of true love for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.Recently, when I’ve read this training, the commitment to “learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy,” has particularly intrigued me. As I considered it more deeply, I’ve recognized my own tendency to think about sexual energy in a rigid and binary way. I had unconsciously accepted the view that sexual energy is a thing that is either present or absent, that you either act on or not. But in exploring this training, the concept of “care” has opened me up to a more nuanced and compassionate way to approach sexual desires in particular and craving more generally.

As I began to wonder about what taking care of your sexual energy actually means in practice, I was reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to care for your anger, to hold it like a crying baby. He reminds us that it is not helpful to deny or reject any of our feelings. I have come to see this training as an invitation to spend time with desire, to explore and understand my relationship with it. I particularly appreciate the tenderness and nonjudgment implied by the word “care.” This is a departure from other common attitudes towards desire that are often limited to a choice between indulging or repressing.

So I have tried to hold my desires with more curiosity and compassion and notice:

  • When do they show up?
  • How do they feel in my body?
  • Are they pleasant or unpleasant?
  • How do I respond to different desires when I notice them?
  • What is my history with them?
  • Does the craving or the fulfillment of a particular craving cause joy or suffering?

As I sit with my desires, I am surprised at how often my cravings are about wanting to move away from certain feelings and sensations, not just wanting to move towards more pleasurable feelings and sensations. For example, I often long to travel, or even to just get out of the house. Upon exploration of these urges, I notice a strong desire to get away from everyday responsibilities and the anxieties they trigger, not just the wish to enjoy somewhere new. Or my cravings for foods often involve concern about later deprivation. “If I don’t have another cookie now, I’ll be hungry after I go to bed.”

These observations have helped me to be kinder to myself and my desires. Rather than just reacting to them when they arise, I am trying to slow down and notice the underlying needs or fears they may reflect.

We will begin our Dharma sharing with these questions:

  • How do you care for your sexual energy and other desires?
  • What are the conditions and circumstances that help you care for desires in a helpful way?
  • What are the conditions and circumstances that make it more difficult or challenging?

You are invited to join us.

Below is an excerpt on desire by Jack Kornfield.

Warm wishes,


The Buddha’s Enduring Counsel — Still Water Online Fall Practice Retreat, Friday, October 8 – Sunday, October 10, 2021

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Stepping Back and Looking at Desire
From A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield.

Step back and look at desire tenderly, with kind attention. Do not confuse the wanting mind with pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying pleasant experiences. Human incarnation entails both pleasure and pain, and enjoyment is a wonderful aspect of life. However, the wanting mind continually grasps at the next pleasure. We are taught in this culture that if we can grasp enough pleasurable experiences quickly, one after another, our life will be happy. By following a good game of tennis with a delicious dinner, a fine movie, then wonderful sex and sleep, a good morning jog, a fine hour of meditation, an excellent breakfast, and off to an exciting morning of work, over and over, our happiness will last. Our driven society is masterful at perpetuating this ruse. But will this satisfy the heart?

What happens when we do fulfill wanting? It often brings on more wanting. The whole process can become tiring and empty. “What am I going to do next? Well, I’ll just get some more.” George Bernard Shaw said, “There are two great disappointments in life. Not getting what you want and getting it.” The process of being driven by desire is endless, because peace comes not from fulfilling our wants but from the moment that dissatisfaction ends. When wanting is fulfilled, there comes a moment of satisfaction, not from the pleasure, but from the stopping of grasping!