Working with Desire

  Trying a little too hard?

Buddhist psychology speaks to cultivating healthy desires, minimizing unhealthy desires and ultimately going beyond desire.

Willpower determines how energy flows. Healthy desires lead to gratitude, joy, generosity, stewardship and service.  Unhealthy desires lead to greed, compulsion, self-centeredness and suffering.

I remember years ago on a retreat going through the food line and realizing that what I'd choose to eat would have three potential qualities.  Anything I ate would either give me energy, be neutral or drain my energy.  I'd either feel uplifted, the same or worse.

I started to slow down my food selection.  I'd look at the dish in front of me and ask my body if it was going to give me energy, be neutral or be a drain.  (I soon realized it wasn't just what I chose, it was how much as well.)  That slowing down helped me quite a bit.  I learned more about the difference between satisfying my mind and listening to my body.  

The choices we face each day have the same possible outcomes, though the results may not be so immediate. 

One of the most striking things about the potency of Buddhist psychology is how much emphasis there is on cause and effect.  

We are invited to reflect on the consequences of any action.

If I restrain from a habit I know is not life-enhancing and pay attention, I notice some kind of compulsion or need arise.  When I pull myself away from getting lost in internet surfing, for example, I notice a restlessness ... a desire for entertainment to satisfy a hungry, unsettled mind.

Stepping away from addiction reveals a 'hungry ghost,' some form of craving that gnaws from inside.

The Buddha put it this way: 

Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a polluted mind, suffering will follow you, as the wheels of the oxcart follow the footsteps of the ox. Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a pure mind, happiness will follow you, as a shadow clings to a form.

I heard Joseph Goldstein make a nice distinction about this quote.  When we act from unhealthy desire, just like the wheel of the oxcart, suffering will follow.  But there can be a little lag time.  When you speak or act from healthy desire, happiness follows like a shadow.  Less lag time.  The experience of  happiness is more immediate. --------
Ultimately we can go beyond desire altogether.  When we release grasping and greed the opposite states can arise:  generosity and abundance.   When we desire nothing other than what we already have, the moment, in it's fullness and emptiness, is complete.