Weekly Practice (Clinging & Craving)

| February 29, 2012 | 3 Comments

Over the past few weeks, we focused on exploring how the feeling of me, mine, and I arise from the five aggregates: body, feeling tone, perceptions, fabrications, and consciousness.  Each of these arise as a part of the human condition. In fact, they’ve been necessary to our evolution as a species. Without a feeling of I, you might not bother to feed yourself.

The problems of the aggregates comes from not recognizing them as the processes that go into the making of a perception of self, not recognizing that these are impermanent, and the focus for this week, how we cling to them and crave for more.

Craving comes up in our society frequently in terms of drug or alcohol addiction, but Buddha saw craving as a much deeper problem. In fact, he saw craving as the base for all suffering. Clinging and attachment are what we do once we get something we crave. We hold on, or try to, and its in that clinging that we create so much problem for ourselves. Craving and attachment can be open and obvious as we see in drug and food addiction, but it’s more often subtle, such as the craving of expectation and the clinging to results, the clinging to the sense of self and what we think we are. Attachment to ideas and perceptions about ourselves leads to disappointment, conflict with others, and internal agitation.

We are all addicts, experiencing craving and clinging that leads to suffering, discontent, disappointment, sadness, depression, confusion, angst, and on and on. But as you discover the many ways you crave, see where you cling, and you understand the processes at work, little by little wisdom sets it. Your grip can loosen until eventually you let go of what you had craved and clung to.  Understanding the impermanence of everything is also key in letting go. This is waking up.

What Buddha Said

(Upakkilesa Sumyutta: Defilements)

At Savatthi. “Monks, any desire-passion with regard to form is a defilement of the mind. Any desire-passion with regard to feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness is a defilement of the mind. When, with regard to these five bases, the defilements of awareness are abandoned, then the mind is inclined to renunciation. The mind fostered by renunciation feels malleable for the direct knowing of those qualities worth realizing.”

(SN 27.8: Tanha Sutta — Craving)

At Savatthi. “Monks, any desire-passion with regard to craving for forms is a defilement of the mind. Any desire-passion with regard to craving for sounds… craving for aromas… craving for flavors… craving for tactile sensations… craving for ideas is a defilement of the mind. When, with regard to these six bases, the defilements of awareness are abandoned, then the mind is inclined to renunciation. The mind fostered by renunciation feels malleable for the direct knowing of those qualities worth realizing.”

(SN 27.10: Khandha Sutta — Aggregates)

You’ll notice above the words desire-passion are also mentioned. Desire and craving can be thought of synonymously, as can passion and attachment, or clinging. Be mindful if you just had an internal tension in response to that.

Question What the Buddha Said and What We’ve Been Taught

We often hear that it’s good to be passionate about your work, your family, etc. We hear that we need desire. Is this true? Let’s question both what Buddha said and what we’ve been taught over the years.  Can we have desire or be passionate about something without clinging and attachment that leads to suffering? Can we enjoy life experiences with open hands, without yearning for more enjoyment, and without clinging to the current happy moment? Can understanding the causes of craving end the suffering caused by it? Investigate!

Meditations

Set aside time for meditation every day, either sitting or moving, or both. Make sure you’re in a comfortable, safe place, with the likeliness of interruption minimal. You can deviate from the instructions below, but do try them out. You don’t need memorize everything below. Read through the sutta snippets above and the directions below daily before each session.

Sitting meditation:

  •  Set aside time each day for up to an hour. Any amount of time will be of benefit.
  • Once settled into a comfortable position, bring your awareness to the top of your head and bring it slowly down to your neck, shoulders, arms, torso, hips, legs, and feet. Note any sensations, lack of sensations, etc. Take your time doing this.
  • After your initial body scan, bring your awareness to your breath. Follow the breath in and out. Is the breath even or inconsistent? Are you breathing one, long permanent breath, or a series of breaths? What is the feeling at the end of the breath? What is the feeling of the beginning of the next breath? Is breathing an ongoing, ever-changing process? Does the depth and feel of the breath change? Explore the breath in this way, in and out, in and out . . .
  • Inevitably, at some point, body sensations, thoughts, emotions, outside sounds are bound to interrupt your exploration of the breath. Note what arose in your experience. Is there a desire to stay with the thought, emotion, idea, etc.? Note when desires arise, whether they are mental or from physical desires.
  • In the last five minutes or so, bring your awareness to the top of your head again, repeat the same slow body scan you did before. Has anything changed? Are there new body sensations that have arisen? Do you lack feeling in areas that you previously felt? Did any body parts fall asleep? Is anything tingling?
  • Before you rise, recall what you explored, reflect about the interruptions you had from focusing on the breath.  How often did thoughts of self arise? Did desire arise, the urge to do something in particular? Is concentration on the breath as the mind settles, or was this a session of a busy mind? Do you notice a desire for meditation to be a certain way? Do you have expectations about mediation?
  • Repeat this mediation every day

Moving Meditation

  • Moving meditation can be done through walking, yoga, tai chi, or simply moving your body in a designated, safe area.
  • Bring your awareness to the top of your head and bring it slowly down to your neck, shoulders, arms, torso, hips, legs, and feet. Notice any sensations, lack of sensations, etc. Take your time doing this.
  • Begin your movements in your preferred form. Pay attention to how each  muscle feels as you move. Notice your breath, in and out. Keep your movements small and deliberate, your attention on your body, as you move your arms or legs. Notice how muscles contract and release. Is there tension in your body anywhere? Can you relax the muscles you are not using?
  • Continue using your body and movements as your point of concentration.
  • Notice how desire or intention arise as you change body movements. Notice if the desire to be better, more flexible, more balanced arises.
  • If thoughts arise, not whether the thought is a desire, expectation, or need.
  • Just take note of any mental activity that breaks your concentration, then let them go and return to your movement meditation.

Bringing Meditation into Daily Living

Often in sitting or moving meditation, especially after weeks, months, or years of practice the mind settles and concentration on the breath increases. Little by little, mindfulness arises in daily living as we go about our activities. Life becomes a vibrant place of exploration, while meditation becomes a place of quiet and focused attention. Because of that, as we look more deeply under the hood of life, it gets easier to see our processes at work while going through our day than it sometimes does during meditation.

Hopefully if you’ve been following along each week, you are experiencing more mindfulness throughout your day and not just on the cushion, chair, or in movement meditation. Consciously make  a point several times during the day to stop and  notice what is arising internally in your experience, feelings of I, what types of thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing, etc.

Now let’s examine under the thoughts, feelings, and emotions and see if there is craving or clinging driving our experiences.

When you experience an event that causes happiness to arise, examine more closely. Is there clinging to the feeling? Is there expectation for the feeling to last? When you eat a food you really enjoy, stop between bites and notice if there is expectation, a desire for more? Is the desire for more, for any type of thing you desire, ever completely satisfied? Look closely and see where else craving, desire, and clinging arise? Can you be with the feeling of craving without giving in? What happens when you resist? What happens when you try to satisfy a craving? Don’t judge yourself. Just observe.

If you experience something unpleasant, how does the feeling of me arise? Do you feel protective of that feeling? What happens if you try to let go of it? If you have physical pain, does the feeling of aversion, of wanting to make it go away, arise? How does this encourage a sense of self? Examine any expectations about the situation? What happens if you accept physical pain? Is aversion, the pushing away a kind of clinging? Can you see the more you resist the more you actually cling to the situation?

Can you see the ways that craving, clinging, expectation, and desire may create suffering, dissatisfaction, frustration, or anxiety? Instead of resisting any unpleasantness that you discover around clinging, can you sit with it, try to hold it in your mind? What happens to anything you try to hold in your mind with full attention?

Ask these questions s as you explore your daily life. If someone makes you angry, examine how the emotion feels in the body, notice what happens in the mind, see if there is any craving, desire, or expectation about yourself and the other person. Instead of reacting, be mindful to what you are experiencing. See how much you can let go. Do the same for any experience that causes happiness to arise. Is there clinging or desire beneath it? Can you let go of the desire for me, be ok with happiness being fleeing? Can you enjoy without clutching it tightly?

Please share your experiences and insights here as you go through the week investigating the sticky ground of craving, clinging, and desire.

 

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Category: Weekly Practice

Dana Nourie

About the Author ()

Dana is Technical Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. She learned Buddhism through a DVD course on Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, followed by a two-year course in person. She then studied Theravada Buddhism through the Insight Meditation South Bay with teacher Shaila Catherine. She has been a practitioner now for over a decade. Dana has been working in the internet industry since 1992, has held the positions of web developer, technical writer, and online community manager. She is a geek girl with a passion for science and computing.

Comments (3)

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  1. Candol says:

    HI dana, i do like reading through these meditations. I”ve just read through two. I haven’t done either yet. I not doing mediation at the moment. I’ve lost the momentum and can’t summon the motivation do sit still and do this. However, i’ve read meditations along these lines before. I would find them easier to do if they were were say on a you tube or podcast because i can’t remember all the thigns i am supposed to be thinking or looking at. Too much mental effort is required and I don’t feel like it. I need a more fine training such as i had at the goenka retreat. Which is not to say i would like you to stop doing this at all.

    Also is his approach to meditation a zen approach/technique? If not where does this method come from original, i mean which tradition? Can this be called vipassana?

    I would like to be able to do this in meditation but its the sort of thing i can do better sitting in front of the computer screen and opening and shutting my eyes from time to time to read and then observe and think.

    I would say this is an advanced style of meditation. Very good and i wish i could do it. My own zen teacher does it this way but i haven’t been able to pick it up.

    Can you perhaps consider doing a simple version as a meditation. Just one thing to watch at a time. I mean one thing per day and gradually we would learn them all and internalise the technique more easily? Ok, i know the smart ones can do this straight off the bat but that’s not me.

    Also I have trouble sometimes with the terminology. Why don’t you say something like mindfulness of sensations, emotions, (thoughts if they are included), perceptions and consciousness. Wouldn’t it be better to use words that people are familiar with and understand better than concepts that are as old as the buddha and require changing the way we categorise the world to something which is less modern. I’d say the word fabrications is not clear, nor is formations or feeling tone. What is feeling tone? My guesses are that fabrications are thoughts and formations are what i know as mental states in my buddhist studies but i would call them emotions while feeling tone – i’ve got no idea what that is.

    I know – all these demands are very tiresome. Just please address what you can.

    Also at

  2. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Hi Candol,

    Thank you for your comments. I’d recommend going back to the first meditation on impermanence, and just focusing on that one meditation for a week, or a month, or however long you need. I suggest in all of these to reread the meditation before each session. The reason is not to memorize the meditation, but because you’ll pick up some new tidbit each time.

    In the meditations themselves, you are only doing two things: focusing on the breath, and noticing whatever arises, and letting it go, and returning to the breath.

    In the Daily Practice section, I pose questions for you to ponder, to explore in your experience. You don’t need to ask all the questions each day. Just pick one or two, explore them in your own experience. The next day choose another.

    Over time you’ll notice in meditation that your concentration on the breath will increase, and mindfulness will increase. Sometimes there will be more concentration, and on other days more mindfulness. The idea is to take the mindfulness into everyday life experience, so you are mindful of whatever arises.

    I recommend you go back to the first Weekly Practice. If you don’t have time for sitting or moving meditation, explore the questions in the Daily Practice section. While standing in line, or waiting for appointments remind yourself to be mindful. If you are sitting doing nothing, focus on the breath. You can meditate in short stints when you can.

    Read this introduction to the Weekly Practice, then go to the first at the end of the article: http://secularbudd.wpengine.com/2012/01/24/be-a-buddha-not-a-buddhist-introduction-to-weekly-practice/

    Take your time, meditate when you can, and explore the questions. I think reading several of these at one time would be overwhelming and seem complicated. But if you start at the beginning, take your time, and just do the parts you are comfortable with, you’ll eventually be able to work your way though. There is no rule that says you have only a week for each one. Take the time you need before moving onto the next week.

    Oh you asked from what tradition this is from. It isn’t, though, it is what could be considered insight meditation. Developing mindfulness from focusing on the body and breath comes from early suttas of the Pali Canon. I learned meditation through the Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, and Theravada traditions.

    Feeling tone is your reaction to a feeling, feeling it as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Fabrications are perceptions the mind makes up. But I recommend you go back to the beginning as it all will make more sense, one practice at a time.

    If watching one thing at a time is helpful to you, by all means, pick one thing from the practice. Read the first practice each day and it won’t seem overwhelming, keeping in mind in meditation your focus is the breath, and you simply notice what arises to interrupt that. In daily practice, just pick a question or two to ponder throughout the day.

    Keep us posted! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Candol says:

    What i’ve noticed about letting go of grasping or craving since i first understood the teaching and began thinking about my experience in terms of it, is that the most of our cravings are quite easy to let go once we are aware of this mechanism and understand the benefits. The ones that are the hardest to let go are the things that we normally call addictions – to cigarettes, food, drugs, acohol, gambling. Even when we know it would be beneficial to be free of these cravings, its still very difficult to let go and then it requires multiple experiences of will and fortitude. My addictions are currently food and internet to a lesser extent but in the past it was cigarettes. Even they were easier to quit than food because you can’t actually quit food altogether. Giving up an opinion, an argument, a person, and so on is quite easy so long as you understand and accept that the goal of letting go is a valid one in order to avoid dukkha. However, these other cravings have deeper connections – sometimes there are hormones in play, sometimes there are other physiological factors and very deep psychological processes are going on.

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