A number of years ago I went on a Buddhist meditation retreat for ten days of complete silence where the only thing I was to face throughout it were my own thoughts. For ten days, one is not allowed to write, read, connect to the outside, use any technology, see any news, or talk. It’s interesting to see what happens to the mind when it’s shut off from its normal operations and functioning for a long period of time. I’m not sure if most people realize how much of their lives is in a perpetual pattern of craving things and then trying to avoid them when they become a source of pain. It was something I learned on this retreat about my own life.
On the first full day of the retreat, I told myself that not having any of my creature comforts wasn’t so bad. A little bit of silence. A little bit of meditation. A little bit of food that I probably wouldn’t eat outside of the compound (it was a Vegan retreat). I can do this, I told myself. As I sat there and meditated. The seconds became minutes. The minutes became hours. And as the hours turned into a day, my brain began to squirm. By the end of second full day of silence it began to shout. And by the conclusion of the third complete day of silence, it was screaming at me.
WHERE IS MY TELEVISION?!
WHERE ARE MY SNACKS?!
WHERE ARE MY SWEETS?!
CAN’T YOU JUST TALK TO SOMEONE?!
I WONDER WHAT “SO n SO” IS DOING?!
THIS IS STUPID, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO LAST TILL THE END!
I MISS MY OWN BED.
WHY DID YOU GO ON THIS RETREAT IN THE FIRST PLACE?!
And so on…
I couldn’t seem to shut off my brain’s desire to do something that was anything but sit with my owns wandering thoughts and continue to meditate. And by the end of the fourth day, it was as if my brain gave up the fight and accepted that I was in for the long haul to complete the retreat. And that’s when it hit me about my life.
Life really is a big stream of craving things. Initially we find something that we love. Maybe it’s watching television. Maybe it’s eating chocolate. Maybe it’s buying a new car. Maybe it’s beginning a new relationship. Maybe it’s buying a new article of clothing. Or maybe it’s something else. But in any of those cases, there’s something every single human being finds that they love immensely. And that thing is something that is initially always enjoyable. Take chocolate for example. The first piece of chocolate is great and one receives a good feeling inside. Then a second piece and the enjoyment seems a little less. Then a third, and a fourth, and at some point, the stomach begins to hurt from eating too much of it. Now, it’s no longer feeling so good to be eating any chocolate so the human desire is then to avoid it. And as some point, when all that pain in the stomach is gone and some time has passed from the bad experience, the craving to eat it comes back again. This same principle applies to all the other things I listed. How about starting a new relationship? First it’s great. There’s lots of fun and newly interesting things to learn about the other person. Then there’s the intimacy if it’s a romantic relationship. And of course there is a lot of excitement each time the two get together because of the newness of it. At some point though, conflict arises, and the two don’t see eye to eye, arguing ensues, and they start to avoid each other. Usually after some amount of time passes, the two will forgive each other and then start desiring each other’s company again. How about the buying of anything such as a car or a new gadget. At first it’s great and exciting and it’s shown off to everyone. Each time it’s used brings about a good feeling. But at some point that car or gadget starts to break down and begins to have issues. It becomes a source of anger and frustration and then the person starts avoiding using it and looking to replace it. I could go on with any number of things that human beings crave.
On my silent retreat I learned that many of us are on a constant cycle of craving things over and over and over again and then at the same time, avoiding them when they no longer are providing the same satisfaction they once did when they begin to provide a source of pain or frustration.
By day five of my silent retreat, I saw all of this clearly happening everywhere in my life. I was able to see myself comparable to that of a dog. A dog sees a treat in front of them and begins to salivate. It eats one treat after another and another and then after having too many of them, is throwing up and not wanting to see any of them any time soon. Since then, I’ve used many meditation techniques to move out of this tedious cycle of living. I don’t find myself craving things as much anymore. I’m still wearing old clothes that have holes in them. I still am using a version of the Iphone from 3 years ago. I am driving a 6 year old car. I don’t actually eat milk or dark chocolate anymore to avoid the stimulant properties within it. And I am in a long term relationship that I am very happy in, even when there are things that arise that challenge my ego.
I don’t want to be in a constant circular motion in my life of craving something, then averting it, then craving it again, and then averting it once more. Having God at the center of my life and using meditation and prayer has helped me to look at my entire life in a much slower pace. When the mind is slowed down, that’s when it becomes the easiest to make changes to the human tendency of having a hurried lifestyle. And that’s when one can truly begin to step off the cravings and aversions cycle for good.
Peace, love, light, and joy
Andrew Arthur Dawson