Wanting takes me away, keeps me away, bars the gates, shores up the walls of the cocoon that protects me from the crisp air of reality, dumbs me down, and dizzies and fogs me. Wanting—anything—wanting to be something or somebody; wanting to be loved or approved of; wanting to be somewhere or somewhen else; wanting more of anything—wealth, power, toys and tools, entertainment, pleasure, comfort, safety: all take me away.
Why am I saying this on a website and Facebook group about cannabis and spirituality? I practice frequently with cannabis—meditate, pray, jot down ideas, occasionally disappear into music. Cannabis, you probably know, amplifies, turns up the energy dial. I’m writing this essay— and using the first person narrative approach—because I’ve noticed the ‘pull’ of those wantings, those desires, and I’ve noticed them more sharply in the embrace of cannabis, and I think it’s safe to assume I can generalize the principles involved to my brothers and sister.
The Hole That Can’t be Filled
What it really boils down to is a constant feeling of lack, of something missing, of a hole that needs to be filled, though we often aren’t aware of that hole and instead become blindly engaged with the pull of the wanting. In my old Buddhist community we called it “going solid” on whatever emotional fixation took front and center in the mind. The brilliant Buddhist writer David R. Loy has put this understanding succinctly. Here are some of my favorite apropos quotes from him. “Samsara” is a Sanskrit word referring to the confused mind of ego.
“The difference between samsara and nirvana is that samsara is the world experienced as a sticky web of attachments that seem to offer something we lack.” 1.
“Happiness cannot be gained by satisfying desire, for our thirst means there is no end to it. Happiness can be achieved only by transforming desire.” 2.
“To be mindful and to meditate both involve no longer trying to satisfy one’s thirst. Instead, we slow down and become more aware of that thirst, without evasion and without judgment.” 3.
Desire: Neurotic or Enlightened or Both?
The concept and the experience of desire present an interesting conundrum for those on awakening paths. On one hand we have people who refuse themselves freedom and pleasure. Because our—usually well-hidden—inner Buddha always knows what we’re up to, such people are inevitably insecure about the game they’re playing. To avoid having to change and let go of the seemingly protective illusion, they often need to convince others that their logic is true, that their rules for living are the only reality. The more people they can get to agree with them, the more confident they are in their story. Some of those people have caused immense problems for others on this planet.
On the other hand, with no moralizing judgment implied, it’s like I said in the first paragraph. The real issue is how present we can be, how relaxed, how open-hearted—and in this context the granddaddy of them all—how at peace we can be. One of my favorite words these days is “stillness”. Stillness is what begins to unfold naturally when we can slow down the speed of mind, allow gaps in the thinking mind and let go into full presence in this very moment.
Notice, in this regard, that David Loy didn’t suggest we deny or attempt to quash desires. That tends to fuel a vicious circle and continue or even exacerbate the struggle. He suggested we need to transform them. The practice asks us to recognize the energy of desire in the moment and just relax, keep breathing. In the light of awareness we then may be able to stay present as the vaporous thought process of wanting dissipates.
Heightened Neurosis and Transmuting Energies
Sounds straightforward, right? But of course not so easily put into practice or we’d be overflowing with realized beings all around us. And as David Loy might say, we have to hang in with all the discomfort that may arise when we begin letting go of the avoidance strategies. It’s a path, a journey, an unfolding. Neither cannabis nor anything else can offer a lasting quick fix of instant enlightenment.
Here’s where cannabis comes in though. With the most skillful use, it can usher us further along the awakening path by intensifying and clarifying. Part of this intensification function affects our thoughts and desires. Because the stakes have been raised, because cannabis “puts a shine on things”, the ‘pulls’ out of the present can be intensified, the desires exaggerated and more difficult to let go of.
Some of the Vajrayana Buddhist practices I encountered are described as provoking “heightened neurosis”. This is also one of the core functions of bare-attention meditation. When you allow the turbulent waters to calm down, you can see what’s underneath. Habitual patterns come to the surface, the wanting pulls become clearer.
One might reasonably ask, “Why would I want to make things more difficult by intensifying the thirst for unsatisfiable desires?” The answer is that the increased energy that can heighten neurosis, can, again with skill and probably with experience, also be redirected toward releasing and opening. In Vajrayana Buddhism they call it transmuting energies.
So this is a core element of the awakening path altogether and of spiritual cannabis practice in particular. That’s why it’s a challenging path and probably not for everyone with aspirations to wake up from illusion. You have to observe and ride those sometimes rugged energies, those seductive draws, and as Rumi would say, keep coming back, again and again and again. That’s also why when used with skill and discipline, cannabis may be an important ally, perhaps especially right now when arguably the greatest need on planet Earth is for more people to get real, and connected to who we really are beyond all belief and concept.
Creation so enjoys itself that it’s no wonder at all that the universe is infinite, and there is nothing else to do anywhere ever but perpetuate the pleasures of eternity. – Tony Vigorito. 4.
Another reason desire is a tricky concept to understand is that there is such a thing as positive, even enlightened desire, perhaps better described as lust for life, or passion and enthusiasm for life. I’ll just repeat that the litmus test, only discernible by each of us in the moment and through our daily walk, is whether the energy and narrative component of any particular desire is arising from that hunger to fill the unfillable hole—thus creating blockages and blindspots and feeding counter-productive illusions about what benefits us and others—or whether it’s what could be called wisdom energy that connects us to our awakened hearts and our passion for life.
To close, I’ll quote the ever eloquent Rumi on this subject. “All disappointments spring from our hunting for satisfactions. if only you could stop, all imaginable joys would be rolled like pearls to your feet.”
1. David R. Loy, The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory. p. 25
2. Ibid. p. 28
3. Ibid. p. 35
4. Tony Vigorito, Nine Kinds of Naked, P. 70. (a delightful novel by the way, full of wisdom)