Category Archives: wanting

Monster Mash :: What are you waiting for?

delayed.jpgLast week we took a trip to the East Coast, a whirlwind week of new sights, old friends, extended family and autumn foliage. Pretty much ‘perfect’ in every way. Until we arrived at the airport for our flight home and were informed it was delayed four hours.

We made the best of the situation and chose a good restaurant to have a leisurely lunch. But eventually we felt the pull of our departure gate, the only place to get real information. Once there we discovered that it wasn’t just our flight to San Francisco that was delayed, but flights to Seattle and L.A. as well. Conflicting explanations as to the cause of the delay were bandied about, leaving our idle minds to go wild with wondering. Had Kim Jong-un pushed the nuclear button and boom? Had there been a seismic event of epic proportions? Were the wildfires still burning creating too much smoke to land? Or was there a Midwest waltz of tornadoes we wouldn’t be able to fly through?

How much easier it would have been to settle in if we knew early on that our intended plane had a problem and had to be replaced with a different one. Of course if there was anything wrong with the plane, we would prefer a new one, thank you very much. It wasn’t until seven hours later, right after we finally boarded, that the pilot shared that helpful information.

So there we all were: passengers for three flights crammed into this relatively small wing of gates at the airport. But we fortunately found seats and set in to wait.

What is waiting anyway?
So often in our lives we are in this state of waiting: In traffic, in the grocery store line, and at the airport. As I sat there I realized that this body of mine has to be somewhere, why not here? I am not in pain or danger. My stomach is satisfied, my bladder is empty. Nothing is actively causing me suffering. Why not simply be present with this experience? After all, even if the plane was on time, I would still be sitting there for a certain amount of time.

The knowledge that I would be there quite a bit longer than anticipated changed everything. Instead of planned passivity I was awash in a flow of impatient emotions, each of which I met with that same statement: ‘The body has to be somewhere. Why not here?’

Over the years I have talked about waiting as an opportunity for practice. I have cited the grocery store line as a place of awakening, if we are present and open to the experience. I have said that I teach a style of meditation I call ‘a portable practice’, that can be done ‘in an airport waiting area.’ Well isn’t this just karmic comeuppance, Miss Meditation Teacher! Let’s see how you deal with what turned out to be a seven hour wait at the gate!

First let’s look at this word ‘waiting’. By waiting we are saying that this moment doesn’t count compared to some future moment we are anticipating. What an opportunity to practice being present with whatever arises.

Waiting is also wanting things to be different than they are. Wanting is a kind of poison that we binge on. Whether we want more of what we have and hate to let go of the experience when things change, or we want things to be different than they are, wanting is the cause of suffering.

This truth is the core of the Buddha’s teaching. And it’s a great place to start any exploration of our relationship with whatever is arising in our current experience.

As I was sitting in Gate 42C at Logan Airport, I had a lot of time to ponder this, to ask myself ‘How am I in relation to my current experience?’ This is not to find fault, to shame myself into looking at the bright side, or to try to change anything. It’s just a way to be present and see the truth of what’s going on.

The wanting things to be different flavors everything in an experience, doesn’t it? If we can set aside that wanting even briefly, we can find all kinds of things to engage us in this moment. Certainly a room packed with travelers is full of entertainment potential. There are children whose antics are amusing, and their weary parents whose situation makes mine feel infinitely less onerous. Great compassion to them. There are friendly people to talk to as well as those trying to carry on their work lives. One man conducted a whole webinar as we all sat around, forced to listen to him expound on contractual marketing in the hospital sector. Huh?

The body has to be somewhere. Why not here? This has so many applications. When we’re stuck in the sick bed or the hospital, or stuck inside due to inclement weather, or stuck in traffic. We can ask ourselves what else is here in this moment besides the idea that ‘I don’t want to be here’?

A little boy expresses joy at seeing an airplane out the window. Can I have such a beginner’s mind as that in regard to all that is arising in my experience? All the simple pleasures?

Instead, so often the mind begins a circular pattern of regret and recrimination: What could I have done differently? In this case, I could have gotten the airline app that would have told me earlier that there would be a delay, and we could have perhaps spent the day sightseeing instead of sitting here. If stuck in traffic, we might think what a difference it would have made to take a different route. At the store, what if we had stood in a different line? And is it statistically possible for us all to be the person that always chooses the wrong line? Or does it just seem that way because we don’t notice all the times we breeze through and things go easily. That’s our natural negativity bias that neuroscientists talk about kicking in. Did I even once say to myself ‘Gosh, of all the flights I’ve taken over the years, this is the first time I’ve had such a delay.’ No. Even though that is true, it didn’t cross my mind.

After almost seven hours hanging out together in this compact space, the carefully crafted formalities between us dissolve. The other two flights to LA and Seattle have gone. We are now a fleeting family with a shared experience. The airline representatives break out Halloween songs and do a little dance to Monster Mash. Reluctantly we are lured into enjoying ourselves. Things fall apart, but in a good way. And I recognize how the magic of shared human experience happens in the places where things don’t run smoothly. But you’d never discover it if the plane ran on time.mon-oj.jpg

The Second Noble Truth & Coming into Skillful Relationship with Desire


In previous posts we explored the First Noble Truth: That there is suffering in life. The Second Noble Truth says there is a cause of this suffering, and that cause is our grasping, clinging and pushing away of the objects, ideas, experiences and people that we either want or don’t want in our lives.

Wanting. We all know about wanting! Given a blank page we could each sit down and write a comprehensive list of desires, those things we want more of, those ways we want to change ourselves, our situation and the world.

Desire is a naturally arising phenomenon. Getting rid of it is not the goal. That would just be a desire to be free of desire. Instead we want to develop a skillful relationship with our desires. For many of us our current relationship is that our desires control us, dictating our behavior. That’s suffering!

The first step to come into skillful relationship with our desires is to notice a desire as it arises. And then, before we rush to fulfill the desire, we pause. We pause and just experience the desire fully. (See the exercise below.)

Pausing to just be with a desire can be challenging when instant gratification is so easy. With credit cards, stores open around the clock and overnight shipping from anywhere in the world, if our desire is for a particular taste or a particular possession, we can almost skip over the whole experience of wanting and go right to fulfillment.

Do you remember wanting something as a child? The waiting, the longing? We became intimate with our desire. We lived with it for long periods (that seemed even longer!) We could describe the experience of desire as a bodily burden that was almost insupportable. Many of these desires passed. Some didn’t. Some were fulfilled. Some weren’t. Some were given as gifts, treats or rewards. Some we were told to save for. Some we were told weren’t good for us and we wouldn’t be allowed to have ever. Some were for things that couldn’t be purchased.

While none of us want to return the power to our parents to decide whether our desires will be fulfilled, we can recreate a bit of that state of delayed gratification. Not as torture but as a way to come into relationship with our desires and to be more skillful in our response to them.
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Exercise
Stop for a moment now and see what comes up when you say, “I want…..” Whatever desire arises is fine. It doesn’t have to be anything special for you to work with it.

Now, close your eyes and sense in to your body, saying the statement again. Does the statement bring on any physical sensation? Does it bring up any emotion? Does it bring up any images beyond the visualization of the desire itself, perhaps a memory?

This is an interesting self-exploration that you can do with many different desire statements (both “I want….” and “I don’t want…”). For it to be most useful, write down the statements and any accompanying sensations, emotions or images.
When the desire arises of its own accord (not from the prompting in this exercise) you can also notice what, if any, thoughts preceded it and see if there is a causal relationship. You can notice what thoughts accompany the desire that energize or enable the wanting. And you can notice what thoughts follow the desire — judging yourself for the desire perhaps?

It is also interesting to notice any external causes and conditions that may have brought on the desire. For example, you’re walking down the street, perfectly content, when you see a luxury car driving down the street or something in a shop window and suddenly you feel wanting.
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Look at the last sentense of that exercise: “…and suddenly you feel wanting.” Wanting as in lacking in something. As if you are somehow incomplete. Suddenly you are not enough because you don’t have (fill in the blank). Amazing, isn’t it? What an opportunity to notice how we so readily attach our identity to objects of desire, and often even to the desire itself.

By pausing before fulfilling our desire, we give ourselves the opportunity to be fully present with it, to recognize it as a recurring pattern, and to come into awareness – through bodily sensation and evoked emotions and memories that flit through like faint traces of dream.

We may notice that many of our desires, if not instantly fulfilled, simply pass away. An itch that doesn’t get scratched often subsides.

By paying attention to what else arises with the desire, we may recognize that the thing we think we desire is just a mask for some deeper desire that we were not willing to look at, but can now.

These unmasked desires may be for things that can never be fulfilled, like a return to a seemingly safer time, the return of a loved one who has died, or a chance to undo past mistakes. But by allowing ourselves to be fully present with them in a compassionate and spacious way, these desires benefit by being given a voice. Once acknowledged they may shift, but even if they don’t, they enrich our understanding, thus reducing our sense of suffering.

In this compassionate non-judgmental spaciousness, we can also allow ourselves to acknowledge an addictive desire, when we realize that the desire is controlling our behavior and that no matter how often we rush to fulfill it, it never satisfies the gnawing desire that fills us. And if through this process we are not able to skillfully explore this addiction, we can finally seek the help we need to do so.

Desire is not a dictate that we must mindlessly obey, but simply a natural phenomenon coming into our experience of this moment. By pausing before rushing to fulfill desires that arise, we have a rich opportunity to fully experience this utterly human trait as something in and of itself. We can be in a spacious relationship with our desires, neither clinging, grasping or pushing them away. We simply hold them in an open embrace.