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
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!
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.
- 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 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.