Jonathan Foust

February 19, 2009

Working with Desire

Filed under: Dharma, Meditation, Photography — jonathanfoust @ 7:52 am


Trying a little too hard?

Trying a little too hard?

Buddhist psychology speaks to cultivating healthy desires, minimizing unhealthy desires and ultimately going beyond desire.

Willpower determines how energy flows. Healthy desires lead to gratitude, joy, generosity, stewardship and service.  Unhealthy desires lead to greed, compulsion, self-centeredness and suffering.

I remember years ago on a retreat going through the food line and realizing that what I’d choose to eat would have three potential qualities.  Anything I ate would either give me energy, be neutral or drain my energy.  I’d either feel uplifted, the same or worse.

I started to slow down my food selection.  I’d look at the dish in front of me and ask my body if it was going to give me energy, be neutral or be a drain.  (I soon realized it wasn’t just what I chose, it was how much as well.)  That slowing down helped me quite a bit.  I learned more about the difference between satisfying my mind and listening to my body.  

The choices we face each day have the same possible outcomes, though the results may not be so immediate. 

One of the most striking things about the potency of Buddhist psychology is how much emphasis there is on cause and effect.  

We are invited to reflect on the consequences of any action.

If I restrain from a habit I know is not life-enhancing and pay attention, I notice some kind of compulsion or need arise.  When I pull myself away from getting lost in internet surfing, for example, I notice a restlessness … a desire for entertainment to satisfy a hungry, unsettled mind.

Stepping away from addiction reveals a ‘hungry ghost,’ some form of craving that gnaws from inside.

The Buddha put it this way: 

Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a polluted mind, suffering will follow you, as the wheels of the oxcart follow the footsteps of the ox. Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a pure mind, happiness will follow you, as a shadow clings to a form.

I heard Joseph Goldstein make a nice distinction about this quote.  When we act from unhealthy desire, just like the wheel of the oxcart, suffering will follow.  But there can be a little lag time.  When you speak or act from healthy desire, happiness follows like a shadow.  Less lag time.  The experience of  happiness is more immediate. ——–
Ultimately we can go beyond desire altogether.  When we release grasping and greed the opposite states can arise:  generosity and abundance.   When we desire nothing other than what we already have, the moment, in it’s fullness and emptiness, is complete.


  1. Good suggestion about slowing down, Jonathan. Joseph might also say that when desire makes itself known, an Dharma opportunity arises. Exploring the physical nature of the craving may also be helpful. The mere exploration of the craving can also take away its power. Where, in the body is it felt? As with the exploration of pain during meditation, does the craving have a size, texture, or color? Allowing ourselves to be absorbed by the craving, we might ask its origin.

    In Metta and in Peace

    Comment by John — February 19, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  2. Indeed. As they say in the shamanic traditions (and as I say ad nauseum), “When you can name a fear, you take it’s power away.” Immensely simply and powerful.

    Funny how the most simple things are generally the ones with the most impact.

    Comment by jonathanfoust — February 19, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  3. I happened upon your blog when researching possible retreats through IMCW. I am very interested in learning more about the concept of “hungry ghost-craving that gnaws from inside” and how fear plays a role. I am new to the concepts of meditation and buddhism…but that line struck a chord within me! Do you know of any resources for additional information? Would the Buddha and the Body daylong workshop be a place to start learning more, or is that more for advanced practitioners? Thank you for reading this.

    Comment by Mary — February 21, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

    • Craving is one of the five ‘hindrances,’ the mind conditions that make it impossible to be present. Reading more on the hindrances would be quite fruitful. A google search will reveal a lot of essays and talks on the subject. You can also check out and look for talks. I’ll have one posted soon on my site. I recommend “Mindfulness in Plain English” as a great guide if you’re wanting to get familiar with the basics. The Buddha and the Body workshop is very quite experiential. You may find it really helpful as we go directly into practice and explore how this stuff works on the inside!

      Comment by jonathanfoust — February 22, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: