A Lust for Life

Recently, I have been asked on several occasions to do a blog on lust. When I delve a bit further, it seems people have three ideas of what lust is. Firstly, lust is about wanting sex with another person, secondly, it is bad, and thirdly, it is the opposite of love. All these assumptions, I feel, are incorrect. So, let’s start by looking at these three points.

Lust is the strong, passionate desire for something, and not only sex, but also, food, drink, money, fame, power, knowledge and so on. It is a biological impulse without which you would not have been born in the first place. Our purpose in life is to survive, that is how our brains are wired. So, seeing lust as something bad is not helpful. I believe what is important is how you act upon your lust. You can act in an appropriate or inappropriate way – of course this is a judgement call, but if you are about to harm someone because of lust, that for me is inappropriate.

I believe lust is not the opposite to love, but how to tell them apart? I see lust as hasty and secretive whereas love is patient and restrained. Lust is all about taking and love is all about sharing.

Now, there is nothing wrong with sexual desire as such. The problems start when it turns from servant into master, and it starts to consume our every thought.

Lust is a natural emotion most people will eventually experience, however it’s important to be careful of how you act on it. If lust is not expressed healthily or respectfully, it could lead to abuse or other issues.

Remember, you can love your pets and that is love with no lust. You can see a beautiful person and want to have sex with them – that is lust, but no love. You can love your partner and want to have sex with him or her – that is love and lust together. So, we cannot say that lust is the opposite of love.

So, what to do if we are becoming overpowered by lust? Buddha stated this:

Just as rain comes through the roof of a badly thatched house. So, sensual desire invades an undeveloped mind

So, lust, says the Buddha, can be controlled or eliminated by attaining a higher level of consciousness. How do we achieve that? I would say one of the best ways is through meditation.

By trying to control your lust, you are putting it outside of yourself. You are seeing lust and yourself as two separate entities. That way of looking at things is going to sets up a duality. On one side is lust, which you are labelling in your mind as bad, and on the other side is you, which you want to think of as good. That dualistic way of thinking is going to lead to you getting attached to both these concepts, lust is bad, and you are good. However, if you choose to acknowledge and accept the sensations you are describing as lust, the duality will disappear.

Sit in meditation and focus on your breath until you are calm and relaxed. Then recall the last time you had lustful thoughts. Sit with those thoughts a moment without trying to judge or change them. Now, slowly scan down your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. When you feel sensations that you describe as lust, acknowledge and accept them. This can be challenging but is achievable with practice. Acknowledge the feeling by labelling it lust and accept that at the moment there is lust. Do not identify with the lust by saying, ‘I am feeling lust.’ This will make it difficult to let the feeling go. Just say to yourself, ‘At the moment there is lust.’ This will help you accept the feeling, without judging it or yourself. Once you have done this, watch what happens to the thought or feeling. They will slowly disappear and relinquish its power.

When you have finished, gently turn your focus back to your breath for a few minutes before you go back to your regular activities.

When you acknowledge and accept the aspect of yourself that you conceive of as lust, you will integrate you and the lust into one and dissolve the duality. You will start to see lust as a fruitless desire that only leads to mental and emotional suffering.

 Other things you can try are:

Being more mindful of your thoughts can help you stop getting carried away by sexual desires. The more we spend in the present moment, being aware of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the immediate environment, the more likely we are to catch our lustful thoughts. It is when our minds are being driven by the subconscious mind that we tend to miss lust arising within us. So, the more you are in your conscious mind, the more you are aware of what is happening, the easier it is to catch the thoughts as they arise. So, use mindfulness practices to keep bring yourself back to the here and now.

Avoiding temptations can help you manage your lustful desires. For instance, if you’re tempted to look at porn whenever you’re on your computer, you can download an app or browser extension to block the porn websites. If you’re struggling with sexual feelings for a particular person, limit how much time you spend with them, if possible.

If you understand your desires, it will make it easier to control them. Whenever you experience feelings of lust, reflect on the circumstances. Do you get more unwanted sexual thoughts when you’re stressed or bored? What about when you’re around certain people or in specific places, such as bars or nightclubs? Write down a list of things that seem to trigger those unwanted thoughts and feelings and think of some ideas of how to deal with those triggers. Set an intention to find new coping methods and form healthier habits.

Don’t try to push down unwanted thoughts and feelings because this doesn’t work. This can be really frustrating, but you’ll feel so much better if you acknowledge your thoughts instead of fighting them. Don’t try to ignore them or try to force them out of your mind, just notice them and let them sit there without judgment. Your mind will eventually wander to something else.

This doesn’t mean that your unwanted sexual thoughts and feelings will go away forever. Just practice being more accepting of the thoughts when they come. Remember, nobody can completely control their thoughts and feelings. Remind yourself that what’s going on in your brain and body isn’t your fault and doesn’t make you a bad person, even if it feels unhelpful and inappropriate. The important thing is how you act on those thoughts.

We have to realise that lust is a powerful force and there are repercussions to pushing it down or inhibiting yourself. Don’t use any method that involves self-criticism, self-judgment, self-harm, hatred and so on. This is only going to make the problem worse.

It’s completely normal to experience lust, or sexual desire. It is all part and parcel of being a human. However, if you just can’t shake those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, don’t worry, try the suggestions I have made here.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

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Four Immeasurables: Compassion – The Buddha Dharma Series

Compassion is the third of the four immeasurables and it is an understanding that the world is full of suffering, and a heartfelt wish that this suffering will come to an end or at least lessen—for ourselves and others.

Some people are so wrapped up in their own world of suffering that they forget to have compassion for other people’s suffering. It can seem at times that we live in a selfish world in which people close their eyes and ears to the constant stream of tears. Some people are even able to watch the news or read the newspaper in a dispassionate way. Of course, we all have our own problems to deal with, but simply focusing on our own troubles is not a kind or helpful way of thinking. This is not the type of world we should wish to live in or leave for our children. If we do not have compassion for others, why should they have compassion for us?

Through focusing on compassion, the fact that everyone is suffering remains vivid in our minds. Sometimes we may feel that we are not suffering, even though on some level we are. This should not stop us from having compassion for those who are suffering. Compassion should be ever present—not just for family and friends, but for everyone, even people who are acting in an unhelpful way. Once we start to discriminate who should have our compassion and who doesn’t deserve it, true compassion is lost. Everyone is suffering, so everyone deserves it. Keep in mind that compassion is for the person and not their behaviour. If we think like this, we will be able to cultivate compassion for all human beings.

I believe it is beneficial to see compassion as a verb; something we have to put into practice. Having said that, we do have to be intelligent with our compassion. It is of no benefit to give money to drunken homeless people. They are just going to spend it on more drink, compounding their problems. It is far better to give them food, or to give your money to a homeless shelter that helps these people.

Compassion isn’t just about giving; it’s about giving sensibly, and that could include money, clothing, food, your time and so on. In a nutshell, compassion is the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something to alleviate it.

The best way to ensure that compassion arises in you is to do a meditation such as this one:

Fostering a Compassionate Mind

Sit comfortably on the floor or on an unarmed chair with your back straight but not too rigid. Gently close your eyes and do the follow breathing exercise.
I want you to breathe in deeply, hold and then breathe all the air out.
Let’s begin:

Breathe in… hold…breathe out…
Breathe in… hold…breathe out…
Breathe in… hold…breathe out…

Now breath normally. Making sure your breath is slow and natural.
This exercise brings you comfortably into the present moment, the here and now…. rest there while I briefly explain about compassion.

Compassion is the wish that others do not suffer, as well as having the aspiration to help end the suffering of others. Compassion is a mind free from hatred and discrimination. Cultivating compassion is a wonderful source of peace and harmony in your mind.

Keep yourself in your relaxed state and start to picture someone who is close to you, someone you care about and are very fond of. Notice how this fondness feels in your heart… (Pauses between each question) Notice the sensations around your heart… Perhaps you feel a sensation of warmth, openness, or tenderness…

Focus on these feelings as you visualize the person you care about standing in front of you. As you breathe out, imagine that you are sending light rays out from your heart and these light rays hold your warm feelings of compassion. Imagine the light reaches out to the person you care about, bringing happiness and relief from suffering. At the same time, silently recite these phrases three times. “May you have happiness. May you be free from suffering.”

Now sit for a moment with these feelings of compassion in your heart.

Now visualise someone you neither like nor dislike, but someone you may see in your everyday life, such as someone from work you are not familiar with, a shopkeeper or a stranger you pass on the street. Although you are not familiar with this person, think of how this person may suffer in his or her own life. This person also may have conflicts with loved ones or struggled with an addiction or may have suffered an illness. Imagine a situation in which this person may have suffered.

Visualise this person standing in front of you and imagine that you are extending the light rays from your heart to them, and that the light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to them while exhaling, with the strong heartfelt wish that they be free from suffering and they experience happiness.

Silently recite three times to him or her: “May you be free from this suffering… May you have joy and happiness”

Now rest a moment with the warmth of compassion in your heart

Now visualize someone you have difficulty with or dislike. This may be a parent, ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, a roommate, or a co-worker.

Although you may have negative feelings towards this person, think of how this person has suffered in his or her own life. This person has also had conflicts with loved ones or has dealt with failures or may have suffered illness. Think of a situation in which this person may have suffered.

Visualise this person and imagine that you are extending the light rays from your heart to him or her, and that the light is easing his or her suffering and bringing them happiness. Extend this light out to them while exhaling, with the strong heartfelt wish that they be free from suffering and they have happiness in their lives.

Silently recite this three times to him or her: “May you be free from this suffering… May you have joy and happiness”

If you have difficulty in wishing for this person’s suffering to be relieved, you may think of a positive interaction you have had with this person in the past that can help you in wishing them joy and happiness. Perhaps there were times when you got along, laughed together. It is important to remember that they are just the same as you – they want happiness and do not want to suffer.

So, silently recite this phrase three more times to this person, “May you be free from this suffering… May you have joy and happiness”

Now rest a moment with the warmth of compassion in your heart.

Now, when you are ready, start to slowly open your eyes and gently introduce yourself back into the world.

Off the meditation cushion, you can have a set phrase ready to mentally recite once you feel you are not caring for another person’s suffering, something like, ‘May they be released from their suffering, may all beings be released from suffering and may compassion arise in my heart’. But, as before, it is important that you decide on your own wording, so it resonates with you. This is only a suggestion.

Sometimes when we are being harassed by a homeless person, annoyance arises in us instead of compassion. Next time that happens, mentally recite your set phrase. It doesn’t mean you are going to give that person all your money out of compassion, but it does mean you will feel compassion towards them. You should recite your phrase every time you feel that you are not being compassionate. What these phrases do is connect us to others. We appreciate that they are suffering just like us, and once we have this connection, it is easier to radiate compassion towards other beings.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Separating love from attachment

Gautama Buddha stated attachment to loved ones are causing us to suffer. When some people hear this they say things like, ‘so I can’t love my family, friends or children?’ They this because they are getting attachment and love confused. They really are not the same thing. (more…)

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