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Desire Creeps In

Ajahn Pasanno

It’s worthwhile to watch the habits of desire and craving which continue to creep into the

mind, and on a certain level, to see how insidious these habits are. Really pay attention to desire and notice it, because it is insidious.

This isn’t a commentary on one’s inability to deal with it or to understand and recognize it, but more of a call to attend and be willing to investigate how desire keeps creeping in. One can then be willing and patient enough to work with the different ways that desires does come up, and examine what it seeks and the objects that it seeks. Don’t assume that because one has made the resolution: “Oh, I really want to free myself from desire,” that desire will no longer manifest in various ways. Be very practical and attentive.

Desire is always seeking an object. It doesn’t take much to stimulate desire. Various studies have been done with food. In one study researchers put out a variety of candies for their subjects. And by having a variety of candies-say six different varieties laid out in different locations-people ate 69% more. This is because the candies were out and people could see them. Or, in a similar experiment, by providing more colors of M&M’s, there was about a 43% increase in the volume of M&M’s that people ate, just by making them more colorful.

That’s what the mind does; it goes to an object and gets interested. There was also a study involving different sizes of containers, a big container and a small container. The small container held more than people could eat, but the big container was really big. What researchers were offering in this experiment was stale popcorn! As long it was in a really big container, people would eat a third more of the stale popcorn than they would eat out of the small container, which itself was also quite big.

It’s the way the mind works and we can recognize that it’s not a personal thing. It’s just that desire seeks an object. Our job is to be attentive and reflective, investigating.

Another example of this can be seen by how packaging works. There’s a researcher who wrote a book on desire and advertising. He was in a supermarket line about to purchase a package: Ten packets of chewing gum for $2.00. A colleague was there with him and said to the man: “You just wrote a paper on this!”

People get sucked in to such things. They see a package that says ‘Ten for two dollars’ and they might think “the cost is only twenty cents apiece.” If they saw the gum in one packet, they wouldn’t buy a pack for a small amount, but they see a package that says ‘ten for $2.00’ and they say to themselves “Oh, wow, that’s great!” It’s just the packaging stimulating desire. This researcher studied this phenomenon and has written papers on it, but for him it was still attractive. Desire comes up.

So, we can learn to investigate and be willing to investigate. We can watch, pay attention and learn how desire keeps hopping around looking for an object, looking for something. Investigate this, but not in a harsh way. Take an attitude of curiosity about it, rather than feeling that one has to run around with a sledgehammer and annihilate desire. Pay attention and ask the question: “what is desire doing?” Then you can recognize how silly this process is. “How dumb can I get?” That’s how one actually steps back from it: by really seeing it clearly and not making a problem out of it.

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