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How to Tame the Wanting Mind

You’re hungry, but what are you really hungry for?

SASHA LORING on opening your heart, offering your attachments, and being mindful of when you're satisfied.

You are not sure how you got here, standing in the dark kitchen, your puzzled face illuminated by the light coming out of the open refrigerator. All you know is that you want something, and there is hope you will find it in the leftover chocolate cake sitting on the shelf. This haunted search is familiar to most of us because we live impelled by desire. We hunger, we experience a fundamental and pervasive dissatisfaction with what is, and expend enormous amounts of time and energy in striving to attain a better external circumstance and a more satisfying state of mind. As you have probably recognized, reducing this craving is not easy. Much of our mental energy is focused on getting what we want. Fortunately the path of mindfulness is built around recognizing, loosening, and eventually liberating ourselves from this constant craving and grasping.

There are three components to overcoming the craving that leads to excessive consumption. The first is examining the “wanting mind,” the second is becoming more savvy about how your attention gets fixated on what you want, and the third is learning how to transform this fixation into an offering.

Examining the Wanting Mind

“Wanting” is a universal phenomenon, and our mental list of what we want is seemingly endless. We wake up in the morning and ask, “What do I want today? What do I want to eat, what do I want to buy, how much do I want?” Wanting, when it goes beyond our basic, ordinary needs, is an expression of a longing for something either more than or different from what we already have. There is a sense of being fundamentally unfulfilled. It is well worth looking more deeply into the nature of wanting, recognizing how you know wanting is there, and naming it. When you become familiar with recognizing and naming wanting, then it will become easier to notice when you are captured, and therefore you will more likely be able to free yourself. You can also get more specific about the elements of wanting or craving by naming what sense is activated and what it is seeking. For example, craving is arising through seeing—seeing a form I want. Or craving is arising through tasting—wanting pleasure from tongue contact. You may even notice a craving for ideas, for mental stimulation.

The practice of meditation is a fundamental way of becoming more familiar with your mind, and getting used to observing how states of mind arise, are noted, and then dissolve. With practice you can become better at noticing the “I want” state of mind, letting it arise, looking at it, and letting it go. By observing desire itself and by letting it go again and again, you can bring a more settled and satisfying sense of equanimity into your life instead of being constantly subject to a never-ending series of desires.

Loosening Fixation

The second component in diminishing craving is to notice when your attention has become fixated. A fixation is a narrowing of attention onto one thing that we are strongly attracted to or repelled by. If it is attraction, a very compelling momentum is created to get the object of fixation, including having thoughts about the object as well as feeling a physical sensation, something like a hole that needs to be filled.

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