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.
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