In Part I of this blog, I talked about how I was forced to make friends with the cold as I was stranded up at 11,000 feet with a broken leg, after a skiing accident, waiting for my partner to come back with help.
This was such an amazing gift in working with aversion ~ learning to actually appreciate and make a place in my life for something that I had previously feared and avoided.
The most amazing thing about this situation, to me, is that the lesson has stayed. It wasn’t a fleeting moment of transformation. I still, many months later, appreciate and enjoy the cold in a way I never have before. I still make a place for the cold in my life. In fact, I go to my local health club and take cold plunges to get my cold fix!
And I somehow know that this will last. I feel it in my bones. It’s a relationship that has been created, and I will nurture that relationship, because, like Wim Hof, I see the cold as a teacher, largely because it is so unpleasant, initially.
The Connection Between Unclear Boundaries, Desire, and Addiction
There’s another part to the equation of working with desire and aversion ~ and that is, of course, working with desire.
Let me tell you a little anecdote, a little background about myself. Growing up, I wasn’t given many boundaries by my parents. I only realized this as an adult. It wasn’t that they were clueless when it came to parenting ~ they had their own vision and they wanted their children to make choices based on experience. At least, I think this is what was going on.
A result of this was that I tested out a lot of things, in order to find out where my personal boundaries were. This entailed a lot of suffering in the moment, as I experimented with food, drugs, different kinds of friends, relationships, sex. These were things I desired, and I simply didn’t have the boundaries around them that would have been required for me to enjoy them sustainably, without the self-destructive aspect.
Unclear boundaries can often look like “addiction,” simply because that self-discipline that is required to uphold boundaries in not developed yet. So I suffered through overindulgence in all these areas, and got to learn the hard way what the real price for overindulgence can be.
And because I suffered a lot ~ traveling out to the very edges and beyond what felt safe, in order to create an internal set of values that were mine alone ~ there were parts along the way where I demonized the objects of my desire.
I swung to the opposite extreme. I demonized food, sex, plants that can be used as drugs when used for escape, but also as medicines if they are approached with honor. But the result was, I was still caught in a battle with my own desire, my relationships with these things had not been neutralized.
Stamping out desire, though I feel it was a necessary step along the path, was not the ending place. It was not a sustainable way to live my life, and it wasn’t the final lesson.
The way life is designed, eventually I had to eat, to figure out a sustainable relationship with sexuality, and with the “worldly” side of life.
I wasn’t about to go live in a cave at the top of a mountain, and so I had to navigate these things.
Is Desire the Problem?
Ironically, what I had tried to do with my objects of desire was the same thing I had tried to do with my objects of aversion ~ I tried to avoid them!
That’s because, like I said in the first part of this blog, it’s the wanting itself that hurts. It’s the wanting we want to get away from.
It seems only natural to me that once we realize that desire is a root cause of our suffering that we try to avoid those things that stimulate desire in us. But I believe now that it is the lack of appropriate boundaries and ways of working with desire that are the issue, and not the desire itself.
Desire can be very adaptive. It urges us to find a mate. To feed ourselves. To survive and ensure the survival of the species. We just need more educated tools to work with it than the impulse-driven mind alone.
My Arc of Working with Desire
I first had to feel that wanting and learn to be with it. I still sometimes find myself having to sit quietly through a desire that I want to race into at full speed. A bowl of dessert earlier this afternoon comes to mind.
For a while, I experimented with what it would be like to live without my objects of desire. Sugar. Orgasms.
And then, the next level that life presented me with ~ once I had learned that I could live without these objects, and with a lot of peace ~ was to learn how to live with them and still maintain inner peace.
And that is where I am at now.
Boundaries, which have finally started to fall into place, help a whole lot. They provide a container of safety around the fulfillment of my desires – so I know that while I will allow myself to enjoy the worldly aspect of life ~ including food ~ to a certain extent ~ I will not do so to a point that becomes destructive to any other part of my life.
This feels like a currently relevant (to me) version of the Taoist and Buddhist principles of the Middle Way.
And that peace that I feel in my heart when I am not taking anything to an extreme, feels sustainable. It feels like a way I can live for a while.