Meditating on Desire

New York Spirit Magazine's Enlightened Sex in the City presents:

Meditating on Desire
by LiYana Silver

New York Sprit Magazine, August/September 2007

MeditOnDesire2"You do not have to be good.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."

~ Mary Oliver

It is noon and I’ve just eaten my last meal for the day.

I’ve been up since the first gong rang at 4:00am. Now, walking wordlessly on this well-worn path on the grassy grounds of the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne, Massachusetts, I’m staring down the 8 more hours of silent meditation yet to come, during most of which I will move neither hand nor foot nor eye, no matter how my body or mind protests. And this is only day 2 of 10.

I am in a 10-day silent meditation retreat, learning the practice of Dhamma, which is what the Buddha taught after becoming enlightened. You know how it goes: we find something good and we instantly crave for it; we find something bad and we instantly have aversion for it. At its heart, this meditation practice is about transcending this cycle of craving and aversion – and hence suffering. And so we sit, developing refined awareness of body sensations and developing equanimity of mind. We are observing ourselves as we are, not as we wish ourselves to be.

At one point on day 5, the teacher asks my group if we are able to experience equanimity. I have to be honest. “Look, teacher,” I tell her, “I don’t know what to tell you. My mind wanders. A lot. And I experience a lot of body pain, and it really hurts and I’d rather it ease up. I know that’s a judgment and a craving, but it’s the truth. Doesn’t feel so equanimous to me.” She gently sets me straight: The point is not to NOT have judgments or to NEVER have the mind wander. The point of equanimity is to, with all the patience and compassion of a wild-animal tamer, notice when the judgments arise, notice when the thoughts wander, and gently bring them back. Ah, this I can do, this I can cultivate. I am relieved to not have to be perfect, but simply to be unconditionally compassionate toward thoughts and sensations, regardless of where they wander or what storms I find myself in. And isn’t this one of the secrets to true enjoyment and satisfaction in life? To remain loving, compassionate and kind toward ones self and toward others, in the face of any storm?

I have a couple hours a day that aren’t dedicated to meditating, and my thoughts run clear and fluid. I think about a lot of things (including my business marketing plan and ice cream), but mostly about the nexus of spirituality and sexuality. Under the microscope of my research and experience, these two seemingly opposing paths actually run along the same groove, until one sticky rut: desire. How many times have we heard that the cessation of desire is the way to alleviate suffering and reach enlightenment?

A few days after returning home, I share my thoughts and questions with Nicole Daedone, founder of One Taste in San Francisco: are spiritual enlightenment and desire compatible? She responds that they can’t NOT exist in the same space. Since there is nothing to transcend and since, as the Vedic Tantrics (and others, of course), maintain, that we ARE the divine, that the divine is expressing itself through our lives, bodies, and thoughts, then there is nowhere the divine is not. Including in our step child of desire and sensuality.

Inspired by Nicole’s thoughts, I asked her more about her business. One Taste is a community-oriented learning center dedicated to living as a whole being, in the fire of the non-theoretical, experiential practices of sensuality, connection and intimacy. Although started in San Francisco, One Taste is up and running its second center here in New York City. Operating out of Center Point Studies in NoLiTa, they offer 7-8 events a week, organic meals, guest lecturers and workshops, as well as “In Groups” – experiential, informational evenings.

Nicole comes from a formidably deep and vast background in Semantics, Theosophy and Buddhism, and was certain her life’s work and expression would be through Buddhism and celibacy, when she was called into the world of sensuality. “Celibacy was wonderful and relaxing,” she tells me. “ It was great to travel without turn-on, without being constantly ignited and activated.” But at some point she realized she only knew who she was in a highly controlled environment, within the confines of her monastery mind. It was easy to be isolated and celibate, but she wanted to know who she was when she dove into a terrain that she was unfamiliar with and uncomfortable in. So she brought One Taste into being.

“If we weren’t so screwed up around sex, and if sensuality was woven into our culture and the earth body in a healthy way,” she tells me, “I wouldn’t be working with it. I am just interested in having it be balanced.” Sex and sensuality are not more important than our other aspects, it is just that they have become lurking demons, mal-formed parts of ourselves, dictating madly from the background.

One Taste is a clearinghouse for many things, including Urban Monk, a residential sensual immersion program, daily yoga classes, organic meals, massage, sensual coaching, internships and various lectures and workshops. But regardless of how One Taste is fleshed out, the study and practice of OM – Orgasmic Meditation – remains in its bones. In Nicole’s experience and research, orgasm and meditation are both awareness of the same energy, orgasm is just a more nuclear form; where the energy of meditation is at level 1, that of orgasm is more like a level 10. Nicole says, “The study of orgasm is very similar to meditation, but is a bit more wily. Meditation and orgasm are just two different ways that the ride moves. In following orgasm, you have to let go of all formulas and methods. Orgasm carries you where it will and spits you off your safe, nicely-lit path; it is about as out of control and involuntary as you can get.”

Nicole wanted to know who she was when she let the involuntary part rise up, who she was when she was put in places she didn’t want to be. She maintains that much of Buddhism offers a translation about cessation of desire to suit this culture’s innate fear of body and sex. Nicole decided to see what happened when she let her body and desire have free reign, and trusted that she was strong enough to self-correct. “Desire still ruled me until I went right into the face of it with studying sensuality and orgasm,” Nicole says. “Then I could move around desire by choice, rather than having it bully me. Now I can sit in the room with desire, but don’t have to have reaction.” Navigating the terrain of desire can be a rich path of surrender. Desire often demands an immediate reward, but it can also teach us, by following its lead into uncharted parts of ourselves, how to mature and how to appreciate what is, not only what we wish to be so.

Similar to the meditation practice I steeped in for 10 days, following sensuality is about observing who you are, not just who you think you are or want to be. It becomes about partying with resistance and studying each mutant strain of resistance like a gleeful scientist. It can be a relief to stop worrying about doing it right, or staying clean while doing it; and the getting dirty and making mistakes part becomes part of the fun of it. “Following sensuality is like moving from the suburbs of mind to the city of mind; there’s no insulation in that location, but if offers nourishment directly from life without anything between you and it. It is not because sex is “low” that it is misunderstood and shunned, but because it requires so much acumen to play with it; it is such a high-sensory field that most people look away rather than moving directly into it,” adds Nicole.

There’s part of me that has often longed for the simplicity of monastic life. I’ve certainly cured myself thoroughly of that desire by about day six. However, on day nine, we’re taught the final piece of the technique: Metta, loosely translated as loving kindness. All insanely difficult nine days were worth it to experience radiating this compassion to all beings – as well as to my own drunk monkey mind and unpredictable body. And long after the close of the 10th day, (as I enjoy my long-awaited scoop of ice cream), the loving kindness remains lodged surely in my heart and body.

Much of my work in relationship counseling is supporting people to step off their version of an oft-traveled route and to follow the soft animal of their body and heart to find their own way. There’s no formula for creating a satisfying relationship, no template for how to adore yourself, no rulebook for truly enjoying life. There is simply our own deeply personal, unique way, forged in the fire of making mistakes and in the crucible of our own unmistakable direct experience.

Desire doesn’t need to be transcended, but neither followed blindly without understanding or maturity. We are often so busy trying to fix the fact that desire exists, as though it indicates we are broken, rather than acknowledging it as just another field to play in. The goal is, then, not to transcend desire to ultimately arrive at a pure plane, but to become healthy and integrated with desire, sex and sensuality, so that they are no longer beasties under the bed. The goal is to arrive squarely in the middle of your life, as unruly, unpredictable and messy as it may be, and to love it and love you unconditionally.

Then the only questions that remain are do we have the courage to arrange for ourselves a lifetime of inquiry into each and every aspect of ourselves – into what we actually are, not what we wish to be? Can we shine an unconditionally loving light on our restricted places; can we take them out for a walk and let them blink in the light? And can we also trust them to lead us where they will, with the sweet reassuring knowledge that there is nowhere the divine couldn’t be?


LiYana Silver, CHC, RYT is a relationship counselor, teacher and contributing writer to New York Spirit. Visit her website at: For more information about One Taste:

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