Driving to Pittsburgh yesterday, I heard the song “Get Closer” by Seals and Crofts. “Darling, if you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me.” In light of the online class I’m taking on the Five Hindrances, I thought about that song as if I were talking to myself about being happy and content in light of the way I engage in and respond to the current hindrance of study: sensual desire (or desire in general).
Teacher Gil Fronsdal wrote in a recent daily meditation, “Often, the desire for sensual pleasure is a surface manifestation of desiring something else…Many times it is not the object of desire we want, it is the ideas we have about the desired object.”
There are many things I desire. The one I chose to examine more closely in this course is my desire to stay thin. Like other desires – eating, sleeping, having sex, shopping, etc. – the desire to stay thin can be a helpful and skillful tool, but like food and sleep and sex and shopping, the desire to stay thin can also become that “surface manifestation of desiring something else.”
Some people eat because they’re depressed. Some people have sex in order to not be alone. Some people shop to fill a void. Some people, like…oh…say…ME, stay thin for reasons beyond staying healthy (reasons ones I’m not comfortable confessing just yet). Yuck. This is not a comfortable thing to examine. But if I want to be “closer” to understanding this desire, I need to get “closer” to it, I guess.
I’d rather just have sex or something.
Because my main (and most helpful) reason for staying thin is to be as healthy as I can, NOT staying thin, while an option, is not something I desire or will actively pursue. However, in my desire to stay thin, I’ve noticed that sometimes I get grumpy and discontented when making food choices or exercising. An instruction I found helpful was today’s meditation from Buddhist teacher Ines Freedman, who used taxes as her example, but I inserted “exercise” to illustrate my point.
Freedman wrote, “…We are not our moods, no matter how prevalent. If every time you sit down to exercise, you are unhappy, maybe you have a choice. What would you rather do? You have to exercise in order to stay thin, would you rather exercise happily or angrily? Is it any more authentic to exercise in a bad mood?”
Just as it’s easier to gain weight than lose weight, it’s often easier to feel or react to negative feelings than bad. We dwell on them and personalize them and let them hinder our desire to be happy and content. For instance, I hear from people all the time who tell me they feel stuck and can’t start losing weight because they’re afraid of failure. They don’t feel they have any choice except to lose weight, but they don’t know how to take that first step.
What I’m learning is that we have choices within our choices, like a family tree of choices. I can choose to stay thin, and within that choice, choose to do it with a more positive attitude. You can choose to lose weight or you can choose to not lose weight. From that choice, you can choose to do it in fear or with hope. Within those choices you can choose to be passive or assertive. Our choices are endless. The point is to be mindful of your choices and mindful of why you choose what you choose.
I desire to stay thin. I desire to understand why I want to stay thin and to work through and dismantle the reasons that are not so helpful or skillful. Difficult work, to be sure, but in the end, I’ll be free from that clinging and I can cross one more desire off my laundry list of unskillful desires.
So, my question to you is the same one Gil asked of his students: “What are the root desires that may be the cause and fuel for your sense desires?” Because darling, if you want to be closer to yourself, get closer to your desires.