To be spiritual do you somehow need to abstain from having desires?
Is that what the Buddha meant with the teaching that desire is the cause of all suffering?
Not exactly. It is our attachment to the desire that causes us to suffer.
So what does that mean in real life? We have all kinds of desires and honoring them is a way of that we can be spiritually and emotionally honest– which is always a good place to start.
We are always wanting something: a tasty meal, a parking space, a chance to express our creativity, some good loving, local produce we can access easily and afford, a clean home, enough money to travel (or simply pay the bills), a happy life.
Our desire is part of what makes us human.
And not only are they not bad, desires are road signs to the soul. When we honor our deepest nudges they can lead us home.
But where most of us get tripped up is trying to control (or be attached to) to a certain idea for how we are going to get these desires met. Or we worry that desires are selfish.
Yet your desires often connect you to a place from which you can meaningfully serve.
A case study: I love leading heart-centered and creative community ceremonies. When I left my gig as pastor of an emerging church I wasn’t really sure how I would be able to honor that desire. Then people started asking me to do weddings. Not stuffy weddings– the invitations have come from lovely and creative people who want interactive ceremonies– like Elaine and Robby who had friends write quotes on river rocks and create a heart around them and their children. This is where they stood for their vows– and afterwards they collected the stones to display all through their home in clear vases as a reminder of the support of family and friends. Beautiful!
So I’m not sure exactly how it works… but I see evidence from my own life that desires held lightly are often gifted back to me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.
But how to tune into your deeper desires?
Here are a few key ingredients for incorporating desire into your spiritual toolbox:
1) Integrate desire into your daily/weekly meditation practice
You can do this anywhere and anytime. If you have a regular sitting meditation try it at the beginning of your session. And if a daily silent meditation is a laughable idea right now… just make space for this in the car, while taking a bath or walking to get the mail.
Take a few breaths and bring your attention to your heart center. Ask yourself , “what do I really want? What is my heart’s desire?” Don’t force an answer. Don’t try to answer at all. Instead, simply wait a few moments and listen. Be authentic. Stay receptive. The desires will arise in their own time now that you have opened the questions within yourself.
I learned this lesson from my midwife shortly after our first child was born. She said in our culture we are so focused on self-sufficiency that we miss out of the pleasure of giving and receiving. Yet babies bring out the best in friends and family and inspire a generosity and desire to serve. So she encouraged Richie and me to step over and through that raw vulnerability we felt in the wake of Coleman’s birth and to actually let people spoil us. In fact, she said, you do the people in your life a service when you let them love on you. good advice.
So make sure you are open to receiving your desires– which are often fulfilled in unexpected ways through life-giving relationships.
3) Remember that living into desires is an organic rather than linear process
Desire fulfillment unfolds moment by moment in real time. So the next time you feel that tickle of intuition to lean into a new relationship, or to say no to an opportunity that makes total sense in your head but not your heart, or to push publish on your first blog post even though you feel nervous—honor the nudge.
Spiritual nudges are how we are lead mysteriously into alignment– into a space where we find that the life we desire and the life we are actually living are one. And while life is always unfolding and desires shifting and inviting us into new areas of growth– this space of alignment is a wonderful place to stand.
It is where peace of mind and deep joy most easily find us and fill us.
What desires are bubbling up for you this summer?
I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
PS. Are you getting strong clues from your body or spirit that things are out of whack but not sure where to get started? Do you feel like you need support mapping and living into your desires? (and getting that pesky inner critic out of the way)? Please reach out to learn more about my coaching services or set up a complementary conversation. xo
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Have you ever met someone (either in person or on web) and had a jealousy attack? Maybe you felt yourself hyperventilating a little bit, kind of leaning forward on your toes, both drawn to this person and annoyed that they seem to have something figured out which you, well, don’t? Or at least not yet?
So here is my take on that. First off—let’s make a little space for our humanity. I am all for trying to be a good person but in the realm of spiritual development/personal growth we can run into some pitfalls trying to be perfect. Truthfully the journey is much more about unlearning and releasing what we “know” than it is about setting up enlightenment as a goal to achieve.
Secondly in trying to deny that sensation (turn it off/push the spiritual bypass button to pretend we are somehow more evolved) we actually might miss out on a soul lesson knocking on our door. I think envy/jealousy can be an invitation to notice a deep desire which we are not yet owning or living into fully. Current case study out of my own life—author envy. This week I’m enjoying listening to powerful interviews from the daily love extravaganza and when these spiritual guides, teachers and writers mention their new and upcoming books I get it—a pang in the heart.
Now when I feel that envy pang I can go a couple of directions. One is to flip on critical mind. Critical mind notices things about their teachings I’m not sure I agree with 100%. Or inquires into their training or credentials. While I’m grateful for this part of my brain and it can be really fun to sink my teeth into a good heady argument — in this moment it is not helpful. Critical mind is actually my ego kicking in gear and defending my sense of self worth which ironically makes me feel worse not better.
How do I know that it is the ego? Well, that voice is just trying a little too hard. I love listening to, attending trainings with, and reading heart-opening teachers — like a fabulous training I just went to in Austin on somatic awareness and the enneagram. (A couple of favorite authors if you need a juicy summer read: sarah sentilles, sharon salzberg and Sarah McLean — author of the Soul-Centered meditation guide we are using this summer. But I digress…)
And one thing that is true in every context with a high quality spiritual teacher: When they say something true, it is not so much that they are “teaching me” a lesson as giving me a framework for recognizing a truth I already carry within.
So rather than critical mind, what is Option Number 2 when you feel the envy pang?
Cultivate Sympathetic Joy or mudita
Mudita is a word in Buddhist and yoga philosophy which can be translated as “sympathetic joy.” It is a rare and beautiful quality in our world. The opposite of the much more common “schadenfreude” or delight in another’s misfortune.
Celebrating another’s success dial’s down the ego’s voice and sends up a beautiful reminder that there is an endless supply of happiness in the world and it is available to us too.
How to Cultivate Sympathetic Joy?
First off—if you feel an envy pang upon learning about another’s happiness or success… take note of the pang. Make room for it and get curious about it. Is there something you want to do, have or be that you are not acknowledging to yourself? You don’t have to know how to fix it to honor it –often soul prompts aren’t things we can really see our way into yet. As you make space for the envy pang, notice how this reaction feels in your body. You might even locate a specific area where you hold this constriction—maybe in the throat, heart, or gut. Sometimes this simple noticing is enough to shift it and create space for compassion– including compassion for yourself.
So for me with the book ache—I nod to it. I try to take that moment to recommit to my practice to blog regularly, and check in with myself for how I am making space for my desire to write—like scheduling my first writers retreat with a friend in January!
Making space for the envy pang helps me notice that it is actually not in any way directed at other people but really a clue held in my body and consciousness for me! As I allow this emotion to ride through my body it often resolves itself and leaves space within which organically fills with gratitude for the very author I was critical about only moments before.
This, unlike critical mind, feels good — like a grace-filled package delivered to my heart’s door. Mudita.
I wasn’t quite sure what image to pair with this post but the blooming nest my four year old recently crafted seemed somehow to correspond. When I make space for the envy to run its course something more beautiful– an awareness of gratitude, our connection and capacities to inspire each other, can bloom in its place.
Please don’t take my word for it… try it when jealousy next strikes and let me know how it goes!
In addition to the Mudita meditation which you can practice at any time– what else is on the Menu for Week 5 of the Summer of Meditation Challenge:
A mantra meditation: For this practice the sounds of the inhale and exhale are linguistically represented as the words: ham (prounounded like “hum”) and sah. Say “ham” as you inhale and “sah” as you exhale.
Because I am a big nerd I had to research what these words mean in Sanskrit and discovered that Hamsa means “white swan” and Ham means “I Am That I Am’. Poetic.
This mantra predates Hinduism and Buddhism and some people believe that Buddha used this mantra for his own realization. “Yah” and “Weh” from the Judeo-Christian tradition would be another nice mantra option and historically has served much the same purpose… a way of naming and living into the breath.
The meaning of the words is not really the focus so much as their power to quiet the mind and drop us into the silence which undergirds our thinking. Say them silently to yourself while meditating. It is almost like you are listening to them rather than saying them yourself– and this process can disrupt and quiet the inner monologue.
AM Self-Inquiry: Who am I? 3 Minutes. Sitting Meditation 12 Minutes
PM Walking with Awareness: 5 Minutes. Mantra Meditation: 10 Minutes
The Who am I? practice is also an interesting one. Just ask yourself this simple question for a few minutes at the beginning of the session. Don’t generate or force an answer…just listen. An answer may bubble up for you later in the meditation or at another moment in the day.
So I am curious… have you had any envy attacks lately?
I’d love to hear about them and how you responded in the comments section below.
PS Are you frustrated because you have been wanting to meditate but haven’t yet started? Don’t worry the train has not left the station. Simply commit to a certain amount of time, like 5-15 minutes, and experiment with it today. I’d love to hear what happens…
Expectations can drain the pleasure out of any day. Holidays are especially good at stimulating our Know-it-All Mind, as in “I know how this [neighborhood picnic, family BBQ etc] is going to turn out…” Even if the expectations are good, like we are really looking forward to an event, they can backfire — creating an internally photoshopped standard of pleasure to which the real experience, always a combination of good and not so good elements, can rarely live up.
I remember getting a taste of the trouble with expectations when I was twelve or thirteen. It was the fourth of the July and I spent the afternoon working up a deluxe pair of jean cutoffs with custom patriotic patches. I donned them to walk with my parents down the street to watch fireworks with some neighbors gathered at the top of a hill overlooking downtown. Like many 13 year-olds, I was underwhelmed by my parents’ idea of a good time. It in no way lined up with the images of social gatherings which adorned the teen magazine which had inspired my sewing project. Plus it was so dark, no one even noticed my outfit!
In hindsight the night strikes me as a sweet one. My older sisters were likely out doing something cooler so it was just us three. And I now recognize that we actually had a great view of fireworks over this nature preserve. But I missed all that in the moment because the evening didn’t line up with my hopes. Plus the view was just at the end of my street so I already “knew” what it was going to be like and didn’t really appreciate it as anything special. Sound familiar?
Expectations rob us of our lives.
They keep us attuned to an inner script rather than to the felt sense of the moment.
Yet this direct experience of reality does slip in from time to time. I remember Richie taking me for an outing to an urban pond in Boston on the eve of Coleman’s birth. In this altered state of consciousness my attention was so drawn inward that it felt natural to let go of inconsequentials. With the chatter in my mind quieted and my senses quickened it seemed like the people walking around the pond were moving in slow motion. The sunlight reflecting on water, the wind in the trees, fingers touching— there was such life pouring out of it all on a frequency I could register. (Which was not an experience I felt attuned to normally as a busy grad student.)
These natural moments of beginner’s mind are gifted us all in tender connections of the heart: crying with a friend, making love, or alone in nature.
What if we rather than waiting to be surprised by these fresh moments we could actually populate our lives with them?
This is our work in Week 3 of the Summer Meditation Challenge.
Sarah McLean in her book, Soul-Centered, and our guide for the summer of meditation explains that beginner’s mind is similar to present-moment awareness but with an important distinction: “with present-moment awareness, you address the mind’s wanderings into the past and future, bringing the focus back to the present moment. With beginner’s mind, you address your mind’s tendency to label and already know every experience, bringing your focus back to what you’re actually experiencing instead of your idea of it.”
Sounds beautiful. How to actually do it? Step one—empty your cup.
Let go of being an expert and walk through the world with fresh eyes. Risk being innocent. Empty your mind of all that you think you know (and label and judge) and instead experience things as if for the first time. I find this concept especially helpful in terms of how we relate to emotions.
For we not only label people, places and things we also label our inner experiences!
Often this habit developed in childhood as we figured out which emotions pleased those around us (usually not sadness, fear or anger.) Consequently our reference point shifts and we lose relationship with our integrity — the true expression of our inner experience — and instead shift to an idea of how we “should” feel.
It can be a very freeing practice to note and allow what is actually happening inside us. To do this simply bring awareness to the embodied expressions of your feelings: noticing perhaps a tightness ours he throat, a sense of constriction in your heart, a clenched gut or jaw. Simply noticing them and continuing to breathe is often enough to track a shift in the sensation.
Step 2: Practice the Direct Experience Network
Our brain uses two distinct and opposite pathways to interact with the world: the default network (which corresponds to your enneagram number‘s habitual pattern or filter) and the direct experience network. The default network directs your attention to a mental narrative about what’s going on.
Beginners mind occurs when we activate the brain’s other pathway, the direct experience network. Riding these neural pathways bumps ideas and labels into the background and shifts senses to the forefront of your awareness.
How to make the shift?
Here are a few ideas McLean recommends:
Go out to dinner at your favorite restaurant and ask for the chef to make you whatever they want. When the food comes, savor it fully, enjoying the surprise which comes with opening your expectations. Not easy to get out? Ask a friend or partner to do the same thing and offer to swap the favor.
Choose a day (or even an hour of a day) in which you accept whatever anyone offers to you. Say yes when you might ordinarily say no out of habit. If someone invites you somewhere– go. Whatever food is offered you, accept it gratefully. This directive reminds me so much of my time in the Peace Corps. It is true that living this way filled regular days with meaningful and touching human encounters. No need to travel abroad to experience this adventure! I have found that even a few minutes of saying yes with my children is really satisfying. They are constantly inviting me to participate in their world. I am now trying to practice yes at least for a few minutes a day.. instead of what I normally say, which is “no… Mommy needs to finish the dishes.”
Lastly, view a nonviolent movie you know nothing about. As you watch notice how your narrative mind wants to judge it or categorize it as good or bad. When you notice these labels bring your attention back to the movie as it unfolds. Simple experience it and yourself as you watch. This whole idea of “experiencing myself” as I watch TV or a movie was novel. I usually totally forget myself when watching TV, that’s the point right? But I have started to play around with keeping an awareness of my own breath and my response to what is happening on the screen rather than turning off and letting it all wash over me. Try it!
So lets review. This week’s recommended schedule of practices:
Morning: Long, slow deep breathing for 3 minutes followed by sitting meditation for 12 minutes.
Evening: Walk without labels for 3 minutes. For this simple practice walk slowly (outside if you can) and connect with the essence of whatever you encounter: listen, look, touch, and smell as if you were experiencing it for the first time.
After walking practice 12 minutes of sitting meditation.
Sprinkled throughout the week try any of the beginner’s mind practices described above (ordering a surprise meal, saying yes, watching a new movie).
I am curious, even if you haven’t been doing all the steps exactly, has anything shifted?
Maybe you have found yourself more attuned to birds in the morning, or the taste of food at lunch time or a sense of gratitude at day’s end? I loved Tiffany’s comment last week about feeling more grounded and crying less easily. Especially for heart types, learning to meditate keeps us rooted and able to ride the currents of our emotions more buoyantly.
What are you seeing unfold in your life related to your meditation practice?
Today the iPhone rang during my morning breath meditation. I keep it nearby to track time and I opened my eyes and saw the name of a friend I wanted to connect with before she leaves on vacation tomorrow. What to do? I said hello. Not only did I take the call I ended up pausing my session to take the dog for a walk around the block while we chatted and start another photo uploading to my blog. (I did go back then and finish my remaining 9 minutes).
I don’t think this choice was optimal, but it was human. I could have simply waited and called her back after I was done. But she has a 3 year old and well, connections don’t always happen between our busy households when we like them to.
But the experience underscored the most profound lessons generated by this new daily meditation practice: it reminds me that I have a choice. In each moment I have the power to answer a call or not answer it, to push myself to do the dishes when I’m over tired or to just let them hang out in the sink until morning, to get up early to write or to sleep in and trust I’ll have enough time.
Meditation is not about what happens during the half-hour daily session.
It’s value reveals itself in the rest of your life.
For me, meditation diminishes a sense of life as a grind or forced march and instead helps me experience it as juicy and fresh– delightful even. And the best part is that this shift in perspective itself feels easy, like a gift. Rather than feeling like I should be grateful I actually feel grateful in my heart. And I know its real because this feeling comes unbidden in moments when I’m totally not expecting it or trying to engineer a meaningful experience.
Like this morning when I’m not even awake yet and I catch a glimpse of Rosetta through our kitchen window running across the lawn with our doggie Francis and get a clear hit of how very fabulous it is that it is summer and our youngest is growing up out of the chunky toddler phase and into her next incarnation. I breathe it in.
Or a couple of nights ago it was a full moon and I was carrying a box to our storage shed at dusk and was arrested by the moon’s heavy, hazy beauty. I was filled with a deep body memory of summers as a little girl when the world felt more magical than I give it credit for being now.
And on the less warm and fuzzy front, one of the most unexpected benefits of meditation came for me while deleting spam posts from my blog. I have heard the Internet described as an extension of our collective mind– much more a vehicle for trading thoughts and information than a space for really generating any new ideas. If this is true then my spam comments read as a litany of our collective suffering: generic hydrocodone 7.5 325 – hydrocodone generic for vicodin adderall online for sale – buy adderall medication prozac pills description – prozac side effects jaw pain tramadol yellow – buy tramadol 50 mg, Viagra, acai berry diet pills by natrol – acai berry benefits women.
Ads for viagra, narcotic pain killers, diet pills for women– this static fills my moderator’s panel every day. I used to feel super annoyed by it (OK I still do) but this week I was surprised to notice compassion bubble up alongside the annoyance. I felt like for a moment I was gifted a glimpse through a wider lens and saw the whole industry of illegal or alegal drug sales and all its internet chatter as evidence of people hurting and looking for relief. While I moved through the comments and hit the spam button for each I found myself hoping I could absorb a little extra of that pain from the world. This approach drained the tedious quality of the moment and gave it some meaning I really couldn’t have cooked up on my own. I credit meditation for helping me connect to Big Mind Consciousness, if just for a moment…
So What is on the Menu for Week Two of the Close the Gap Meditation Series?
Sitting Meditation.With an appetizer of long, slow deep breathing.
This is a meditation classic. Sitting 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. It doesn’t have to be on a cushion or even on the floor if that’s uncomfortable. I’ve taken to meditating on a lawn chair on the porch of our tree house. The goal is to sit with your spine upright but not rigid. Yes you can scratch an itch, but don’t distract yourself searching for the “perfect” position.
McLean in her book Soul-Centered Meditation (our guide for this summer) describes the morning session by the “RPM” acronym, as in “Rise, Pee, Meditate.” Doing it first thing before the day unfolds does have real benefits. I was able to do it once this week and came back in the house with way more energy than I normally have for the “get ready and drive to preschool” routine. The other days I have done it when I got home after dropping them off. And I feel really grateful for the quiet.
The second session McLean calls the “happy-hour” meditation. For me it is more the “cartoon-hour” meditation. At about 4PM I let the kids watch a show together while I meditate and then clean up around the house. It helps me get over the late afternoon slump.
And that energy boost is the biggest difference for me of this sitting meditation than the breath/body awareness ones prescribed for last week — which I did mostly lying on my bed. Both weeks I noticed the meditation decrease the number of negative thoughts in my head. But this week I really like how energized I feel — like a bell recently rung with clean vibrations to carry me through the day.
In addition to the daily half-hour, consider incorporating some “Peace-Finder” Activities when you feel trapped in a situation and are under stress. No one even has to know!
Close your eyes. In many contexts you can do this without being noticed. Even just a half-minute helps the outer world recede and allows you to go within and regain a sense of balance and equilibrium.
Count your breaths. I find this particularly helpful when my mind is racing and I’m angry or anxious. I also like to do it when I walk the dog. I just count up to ten and then start over. If you lose your place following a thought just gently bring your awareness back to the breath and start counting again.
Do one thing at a time. Go ahead and keep working, doing what you need to do. Just do an activity a little slower than usual. I tried it out putting the blocks away. My whole house was kind of a wreck after the weekend; but I found it satisfying to slowly place the blocks in a pattern in the box. When the job was done, it was clearly done. And I found joy in one small thing put away in a sea of chaos.
And lastly, feel your breath. I like to take mini-breaks from the computer and head outside to our porch. I’ll close my eyes for a minute and breath consciously with a very slow exhale, like I’m breathing out through a straw. (Observe what feels good for you– but most folks can slow down to a rate of 3 or 4 exhales in a minute.) Things look different when I open my eyes. For example the squash growing out of my garden box (in the photo at the top of this post) struck me with its aliveness! It was there when I sat down in my rocking chair, but I didn’t notice it. Things can look fresher after a minute of slow breathing–though I know they are not what has changed. How does it work? Even one minute of slow breathing stimulates the production of GABA hormones, an important neurotransmitter found in the central nervous system which inhibit the production of stress-producing hormones. I like to think of little GABAS literally dripping down and coating my trigger-happy stress brain. Woohoo!
Mindfulness practices can seem sort of boring. Breathing, sitting, blah, blah. I can relate to wanting something, well, sexier to help me enhance my quality of life. But what I am finding is that there is a world of difference between being aware of these practices cognitively and giving myself a chance to experience them and just see how they play out.
That’s what is interesting.
Want to experiment with mediation practices? Its not too late! Check out last week’s post, meditation 8 week challenge if you’d like more details or just get started with this week’s activities. There is really no wrong way to go about it.
And let me know what you are observing and experiencing in your own life! Social accountability is one of the most powerful tools we have to promote our growth. So find a friend who wants to meditate with you, tell your partner about it, and/or share your experiences with fellow Bird in Hand readers in the comments section.
What has surprised you about meditating?
Have you noticed any shifts in the rest of your life?
I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
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