Saturday, July 18, 2009

Land of 10,000 Lusts

The state of Minnesota has a variety of nicknames. One of them is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, which was given to the state by early European settlers who saw the state's many lakes, and felt the nickname would entice more European immigrants to move here back in the second half of the 19th century. It worked. The image of the state as a heavenly place filled with gigantic trees, wide open fields, and beautiful pools of water brought people in droves. Of course, they forgot to mention the brutally cold winters, mosquito-filled summers, and numerous conflicts going on with the native Dakota and Ojibwe peoples, just to name a few omissions. Like all great advertising, the image projected never fully reflected the reality present. And as a result, people lusting after the perfect place to live arrived in Minnesota by the wagon fulls, only to discover that Minnesota was like every other place: a mixed bag.

This seems to be the case for everything we lust after in life.

I was reflecting last night and this morning on how often in the past twenty four hours I have lusted after something or someone. Recently single, the level of lusting after women has definitely increased, even as I have placed more attention on that energy in my meditation practice. Last night, a friend and I lusted after a better nation, a more just and compassionate world, condemning everything under the sun being done currently in the global political and economic realms. While biking yesterday, I lusted after quieter roads and more patient drivers. the weather having been much cooler than normal, I have been lusting after warmth and the sun. Arriving in my garden yesterday afternoon to a load of weeds crowding out some of the vegetables, I lusted after a way to pluck the weeds without getting my new sandals dirty.

Another, more encompassing word for lust is craving. And as most any Buddhist knows, and probably plenty of non-Buddhists have learned as well, the origin of suffering is our cravings and deep attachments. This is pretty basic stuff, but really, it doesn't matter that it's basic. I, you, we get tripped up on this basic point over and over and over again.

Here is an image from the 7th Dalai Lama - Kelsang Gyatso -(1708-1757), translated by Glenn Mullin:

"Hundreds of stupid flies gather
On a piece of rotten meat,
Enjoying, they think, a delicious feast.
This image fits with the song
Of the myriads of foolish living beings
Who seek happiness in superficial pleasures;
In countless ways they try,
Yet I have never seen them satisfied."

Notice that the Dalai Lama uses the word "image," suggesting just as I did above about the Land of 10,000 Lakes that what we see and think doesn't match up with what actually is. And isn't it interesting, too, that the Dalai Lama uses an image to warn us about the lies of images and perceptions. This counter-image, flies on rotting meat, is a means of breaking through our love of the surface. Another way to put it for us modern Westerners is that this counter-image is the hammer on the shiny new car hood, calling for an end to the drooling over it. The hood is already dented, so why long for the body that remains perfect, brand new?

This is the territory I'm living in right now, as waves of disastisfaction run through my life. Not all the time, but more so than I have experienced in awhile. Why is it that I long for the body that remains perfect, brand new? It's very interesting, this place. And I'm not talking just about wanting shiny, new stuff - in fact, that particular problem isn't one that I have very often. But I am in the habit, among other things, of wanting things to come and go fairly easily, wanting clear and definitive answers, wanting to be rewarded for "my good behavior and deeds." These, too, are "perfect, brand new" bodies - in this case, stories - that fail to crack the surface. And even as much of my life goes well, is supported in so many ways by so many people and the world as well, I cling to these rotten pieces of meat, longing for more than I already have.

I'm starting to concluding that much of the talk in our heads is simply chucks of advertising that tries to sell us on something, be it a new toy, gimmicky idea, story about ourselves or the world, or the cute woman smiling across the room at you. Never mind that the toy will break soon, or that the woman across the room has nothing in common with you - you gotta have it, have her, have, have, have.

But what is it that we ever really "have" anyway?

Even our cravings aren't really "ours." They come together through complex interactions that include each of us, but are not limited to me, myself, and I. This awareness, that everything is akin to sand sliding through our fingers, is the very thing I'm trying to remember in the middle of all the lusting and craving.

What is it that you really want when you crave for this and that? Instead of offering some pat answer, I'll just offer the question for you all, and for myself.

May you wake to the advertising of you mind, and let it pass without getting hooked.


Anonymous said...

May you awake to the advertising of your mind...

This is an interesting idea. Why does our mind create these ads? What is their purpose?


Nathan said...

Good question. I have some ideas, but really, I don't know why.

Algernon said...

Commercials in our head -- very apt. By necessity, commercials remind us of our craving and identify us with it, so as to point us toward their products. This is something I struggled with when I was in the marketplace as an actor: benefitting personally from an industry that exploits craving.

Somehow we think we know ourselves by the things we crave. Very strange.

Jennifer Campaniolo said...

I live by the advertising in my mind for sure. It's hard to escape it. Watching less TV helps. But I still want things. I know they will only make me happy temporarily, but still I want.

Good insights.