In this section we invite you to share your story on a given topic. This issue features the Third Mindfulness Training (of the Five). For the Spring/Winter 2008 issue please send us your writings on the Fourth; keep it concrete and personal — under 500 words. Send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 15, 2007 (or so). The next topic, due February 15, 2008, will be the Fifth Mindfulness Training.
The Third Mindfulness Training
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. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. 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.
Seeds of Transformation
In this training, we are asked to take care of our sexual energy for the benefit of ourselves and others. We are asked to resist the river of consumption in our society that promotes the misuse of sexual energy and power through pornography, advertisements, and the media.
So many of us are living with the legacy of abuse — shame, self-hatred, isolation, and addictions — because in our family sexual energies were misused. When I look deeply, I can see that in Western society we are trained in our families and by society to connect with people by viewing ourselves and others as objects. We are groomed to attract and “possess” others by altering our bodies.
In my practice, with the support of my spiritual ancestors, Buddha and Jesus, the support of the Dharma and our Sangha, I have been slowly removing the layers of masks that I wore to protect myself from further victimization. I am learning to come home to my true nature on a daily basis. I am learning to understand and love myself. The practices of stopping, calming my body, and resting are helping me to heal chronic physical and emotional unease. Recently I had a spiritual experience of “telescoping” in to the baby Buddha residing in me as a child, and then as I telescoped back out, I was able to see the layers of conditioning that had contributed to who I am now. This experience helped me to know, on a cellular level, that my legacy is not my true nature.
In our society, we have very little training to prepare for long-term commitments — to know deeply that we are much more than our bodies. The Third Mindfulness Training contains the teaching on our interbeing nature — that my well-being assures your well-being. If I take the time to protect my sexual energies, and to understand and love myself, I will be more able to understand, protect, and love you. It asks us to be aware that loving partnerships need the support of the community, and that committed relationships are building blocks for healthy community. If I look deeply, I see that all relationships can water seeds of sexual energy— including relationships between friends, co-workers, and even between parents and children. For me, to support others in their relationships means that I try not to take sides and that I try to look and listen deeply when a friend is complaining about her partner, or a priest is accused of being a predator. I understand that when heat arises, my deep looking and listening can help a lot to cool the flames in myself and others, so that I may know more clearly what to do, and what not to do.
At one time, I used to feel shy to read this Training aloud, perhaps because of my background. Now, having practiced for several years with the Mindfulness Trainings, I can see how they are all interconnected, and how much each one contains the seeds of transformation, health, and freedom for ourselves and society. May we grow stronger in our practice of the Mindfulness Trainings so that we, and our communities, may experience these fruits.
True Heavenly Peace
Larchmont, New York, USA
Does It Make Me Happy?
Young people these days are saturated with sex. From perfume ads to TV shows, the idea of sex as happiness is always there. Going into university I believed that it was the most important thing in life and unconsciously I believed that it was happiness.
A member of the Toronto Sangha shared a story that he had heard in Plum Village that I found helped me a lot: There is a beautiful ripe apple. We all want it but can’t quite seem to find it. We have an idea of what it looks like so we draw a picture of it, cut it out, and eat it. It tastes very bad. It causes us to suffer, but we keep doing it. We draw it a bit differently each time, and each time it tastes just as bad as it did before. The apple is a symbol of the true happiness that can be experienced in the present moment.
Many males in my generation find it perfectly normal to view pornography. It is so easily accessible. I know many males who approach sex as a sport and spend so much of their energy thinking about it. They are not happy. Sex is my paper apple and pornography is a photocopy of that apple.
I remember being confused as to why Thay didn’t write a book about sex. I thought, “It’s so big and confusing. What is healthy? Is it good, is it bad? What should I do, what shouldn’t I do?” I wanted a big book that would give me all the answers, but all I could find was the Third Mindfulness Training and a section of the questions and answers in The Path of Emancipation. Then suddenly it hit me. I wanted Thay to write a big book about sex because I thought sex was the key to happiness, that we were all just doing it wrong and we needed someone to tell us how to do it correctly so that it would make us happy. Then I realized that Thay answered all of my questions in the Third Mindfulness Training.
At first I interpreted this training as saying, “Sex is bad! I am a terrible person if I enjoy it.” Then I began to realize that it simply says to be mindful of how you are spending your sexual energy and what your motivations are. I asked myself: “Do I think this is happiness?” “If I do, does it make me happy?” Eventually I discovered my answer was yes to the first and no to the second.
As I practice more and have more contact with the Third Mindfulness Training, my understanding becomes greater and I learn ways to channel my sexual energy into things that do make me happy. It doesn’t always work, and there are many times when I am still caught by the paper apple, but I always have to remind myself that that’s okay. The self-loathing and guilt I would feel when it didn’t work was not productive and only prevented me from practicing. I know that the more time I spend in the present moment, the easier it is for me to recognize what is real happiness and what is only an idea.
I now understand that sex can be enjoyable like eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich is enjoyable, but it is not the most important thing in life and it is not happiness.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada