On Sexual Energy, part 2

In the Third Mindfulness Training on True Love, the words sexual misconduct are used. When it comes to working with our sexual energy and/or considering alternate ways to date and be sexually active without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends, it’s important to unpack what sexual misconduct means. From my point of view, while the training warns against us engaging in sexual relations without being in a mutually committed and love-filled relationship, I think there are ways that it can be done – though I also think it’s far more likely that more harm than good will be done, as most people aren’t on the same page when they enter into a sexual relationship and much flies under the radar and goes unspoken.

 

On dictionary.com, misconduct is defined as: improper conduct; wrong behavior. Well that doesn’t help very much does it? As soon as I read that definition, I thought: Improper by whose standards? and Wrong by whose moral compass? These are very relative and subjective words. When I looked up the word improper, I scrolled down the page and found this sentence:

Improper has a wide range (of synonyms), being applied to whatever is not suitable or fitting, and often specifically to what does not conform to the standards of conventional morality.

So, let’s say we define misconduct as an act which does not conform to the standards of conventional morality. It’s a little more to go off of but I’m thinking this still doesn’t help us very much.

Perhaps it would behoove us to simply come up with our own individual working definition of what misconduct means instead. I think this could be a good place to start for those of us who are interested in delving into this subject more in our own daily lives, as mindfulness practitioners. I think the chances are good that we’ve all had experiences that have shown us what doesn’t work for us on our end. If we were to put some intentional time into coming up with a list of actions that we ourselves consider to be sexual misconduct, it might start angling us in the direction of thinking, speaking, and acting with more awareness and skillfulness, as we’ve moved a critical component of working with sexual energy from the subconscious to the conscious mind. Recognition is always the first – and in my opinion the most important – step in transformation.

As a married woman, I might define sexual misconduct as any act that I feel the need to either hide, keep secret, or lie about to my husband. If I were single, perhaps I would define sexual misconduct as any act motivated by desire-filled impulsivity or a heightened sense of grasping. And if I were someone who was both single and drank alcohol, I would further include that any sexual act fueled by alcohol constituted as sexual misconduct as well.

I see the wisdom of enfolding the energy of True Love into the realm of working with sexual energy. If we solely used the guidepost of True Love to dictate our usage of sexual energy and actions in regards to having sex, we would save ourselves and others from a lot of heartache and hardship. But in being acquainted with a lot of folks on the single-scene and seeing how difficult it is to find True Love, I do think it’s worth investigating other ways to work with this Mindfulness Training that might be more fitting to one’s current reality. I think it’s important that we not get stuck in extremes when it comes to anything.

If we’re single and having a hard time meeting someone we feel compatible with and we’re also experiencing the effects of our sex drives amping up – or we’re in a committed relationship and our partner’s sex drive is currently in low-gear and ours is on high, which is a thing that happens – how do we practice learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy, as the Third Mindfulness training says?

Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others.

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On Sexual Energy

True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

True Love is the third of the five mindfulness trainings as part of the Plum Village tradition led by our root teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been hearing – both directly and indirectly – from more and more sangha members, an increasing inquiry centered around how to date. And more appropriately: how to date well and skillfully, as a mindfulness practitioner.

When I first started hearing these ponderings from folks, I thought to myself: I have no freakin idea. And furthermore: I’m not sure I can ever offer anything on this particular topic, given that I’ve been married since I was 20-years-old. Isn’t is rather like the old adage to never get a haircut from a bald barber? Who wants dating advice from a seasoned married woman who’s dating history consists solely of being really poor at it from age 15-19?

But as is often the case for me, things have been percolating. I’m a s..l..o..w percolator. I often need time to digest and absorb things, in order to figure out how best to approach situations.

Oftentimes I’ll rotate a particular matter back and forth between the front burner and the back burner of my conscious thought process – and then at times I move the matter onto a whole other backup stove I have located in some other room, where it’s still simmering but more removed from my mental sight. Depending on the matter at hand, this might happen for weeks or months at a time before I feel as though I’ve landed on some insight or clarity into the subject.

Last week, on my way home from the market, some ideas starting taking shape as to what I might have to offer on the topic of dating. An insight arose: in between the lines of people wondering how to date well, is an underground inquiry about how to properly work with sexual energy. What people are really wondering about is how to engage in having sexual relations, especially outside of a long-term committed relationship and/or when true love is not part of the deal.

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On Global Warming

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I’m entering a topic where when I searched online for images to accompany a post pertaining to it, I was accosted with pictures of the earth engulfed in violent flames, sad looking arctic animals stranded on frozen chunks of ice bobbing in the sea, and giant smoke stacks belching out plumes of exhaust. But amid all of the alarming and heart-wrenching images, I found this one, shown above, which I greatly prefer. I also think this image has the capacity to possibly motivate and support people, rather than just scare the crap out of them, which is a bonus.

I’ve purposefully avoided this topic, much like one would avoid the plague. Anything having to do with the word “activism” scares me. Right or wrong, and probably a bit of both, when I think of activism, centered around any topic, I immediately think of angry-ridden crowds, shouting and shaking their rock-fists in the air at some invisible collective entity that they’ve obsessively devoted their lives to hating passionately, and short-shortsightedly. This does not appeal to me in the slightest. Now, of course, there are those who would consider themselves an activist who are not filled with a boiling surge of rancor and enmity. I just happen to leave out this demographic of folks when conjuring up my idea of what an activist would look like. It’s similar to when I clean the house without wearing my glasses (I have very poor vision without them) – I do a half-ass job in addressing the art of cleanliness because I’m only taking the time to look at a fraction of the task at hand. In my defense, the house looks super clean after I’m finished, glasses-less of course.

When I think of the topic of global warming part of me shuts down. I start tuning out right away because I’m not interested in engaging in someone’s endless tirade about the accredited science, either for or against it, or how we should all be throwing ourselves in front of the freight trains hauling long trails of coal-filled containers through our mountain town of Missoula, Montana. And in all honesty, I’m not convinced there’s a whole lot that we can really do to stop the process of global warming. This is because that is, as a common Buddhist teaching puts it. Perhaps we’re simply not meant to continue on the way we’ve been and perhaps that means we can make a global shift in thinking and acting and perhaps it means the end of our particular way of life. Who knows?

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Daily Practice – Day 16

Flathead Lake picture taken today from the West Shore State Park

Flathead Lake picture taken today from the West Shore State Park

Day 16 – I did my sitting this morning before I took off up north to the Flathead Lake area with my friend and co-director of our upcoming local mindfulness retreat in early May.  This will be third retreat that I’ve co-directed with her.  Today we went to visit with the staff at the facility we’ll be using for our retreat.  It is a beautiful location, the Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, and sits right on the western shore of the Flathead Lake.  This will be our second spring using the facility.

Our collective Open Way Montana Sangha (of which we have four practicing groups, in the same Plum Village tradition with teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, in three towns in western Montana) puts together two annual retreats a year – one in the spring and one in the fall.  For one retreat a year we keep one consistent dharma teacher and for the other retreat we rotate through various dharma teachers.  (If ever you’re in the Montana area in the spring or fall and want to join us for a retreat check out http://www.openway.org for retreat info :)

Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp main hall (picture taken today)

Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp main hall (picture taken today)

Tonight was our regular practice night for our Be Here Now Sangha that meets at the Open Way Mindfulness Center in Missoula, Montana.  Our format includes sitting and walking meditation, a reading, sharing circle and then closes with a gratitude and healing circle.  Although tonight we had a little bit different of a format and instead of the walking and reading someone gave a talk on the Fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening (see below).  For the last 3 years now we’ve been having a mindfulness training talk series where once a month, from January through May, a different practitioner gives a short talk on one of the trainings (of which there are five) and about how they are working with it in their daily lives.  The talks are a nice opportunity to get more insight and understanding about different ways to work more deeply with the trainings as an ongoing practice.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

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Flathead Lake picture taken today from the West Shore State Park

Originally the Five Precepts (now called: Mindfulness Trainings) were very short, one line sentences that the buddha offered as his only official teaching that he offered to lay people (people that were not monks & nuns).  They were as follows (as taken from the literal translation from the Pali language):

1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.
2. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
3. I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.

The fourth mindfulness training, as included above, entitled: Loving Speech and Deep Listening is part of an expanded version of the original five trainings as offered by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Order of Interbeing.  As you can see, the fourth training, just like the others, has been brought into the 21st century and modernized to include more support and detail for those of us looking to lead a fuller, more mindful and deeper connected life.  The trainings represent a vision for a more engaged spirituality and ethical values.  They can help us wake up to ourselves, our surroundings, and to our relationship with the present moment.

I deeply appreciate working with these trainings and having them available as ongoing teachings.  They are not designed as have to’s or supposed to’s and I also appreciate that about them as well.  They are set up as a guiding light on the path of understanding and love.  In the west especially I think it’s easy to read the new expanded version and think, “I have to do these perfectly!” and then use them to beat ourselves up with.  So it is important to note that perfection is a dangerous illusion, a trap that we can get stuck in all too often.  If you use the trainings as a practice in your daily life please embrace them with openness, lightness, diligence, and ease.

Five Mindfulness Trainings

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From Thich Nhat Hanh and the Order of Interbeing:

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

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