Craving and Aversion

Craving and aversion keep us bound in suffering. Craving is wanting, wanting something, or wanting more of something. Aversion is the wanting of something that is, to not be, or to go away. The Vipassana teachings state that craving and aversion is the root of all suffering. Think about it – when you are perfectly content (how often is one perfectly content?!) – one feels wonderful. When you are longing for something, you feel discomfort. When you are dreading something, whether it is going to work, or something that you even mildly dislike, you feel unhappy to some degree.

When we experience something that makes us feel good – a food, alcohol, maybe someone’s love and affection toward us, we feel nice. And then we want more of it. Here we start digging our self into a hole. We are unable to remain unattached and equanimous. We are hooked. Now we are no longer free. In the book, “The Raw Family”, the son states, “I used to eat raw to be healthy, now I eat raw to be free.” If we want to be free, we cannot be attached, or “hooked” on anything. Whatever we want, that satisfaction is fleeting. Everything is impermanent.

We can learn to say no when craving arises. We can learn to not cause our self suffering by clinging to and yearning for pleasant feelings. How to do this was demonstrated to me years ago when visiting our old neighborhood. My family and I had stopped to visit, and were served lunch at our friend’s house. For dessert, she served us a little bowl of fresh home grown strawberries, covered in thick, sweet cream right from their farm. It was intoxicatingly delicious! As I finished mine, all I could think was, “wow, I wish I could have another bowl of that!” My brother, sitting right beside me, pushed his bowl away from himself, and said, “mm, that was good.” And he was done. I was struck by how he had sort of cut off from the experience, he let it be over. No clinging, no longing, no wanting. I was like, “wow! How do you do that!” He had let go, he let it be over instead of wanting, wanting more of that feeling. Good for him!

Aversion is the opposite side of the same coin. Aversion is the not wanting to endure the unpleasant sensation that something causes. Very often we crave something to cover up, to mask and avoid the unpleasant sensations that reside in us. So craving and aversion go hand in hand binding us in suffering. The unpleasant feeling is caused by our reaction to the sensation brought up by the situation or event. It is a circle – unpleasant sensation, negative reaction, unpleasant sensation, negative reaction, unpleasant experience, un-pleasant life. We have the power to make this worse, or to make it easier on ourselves.

Think about how many times you have put off doing some task because you dreaded it, and when you finally did it, it wasn’t half as bad as the pain you gave yourself in all the avoiding. And it probably took less time to finish the task, than it did to put it off.

Years ago at a coaching clinic, we had the good fortune to hear Claudia Cojocar speak. She began riding during childhood, as a suggested therapy for polio. Through hard work and many years, she worked her way up to become a respected, successful hunter/jumper coach. She said people would ask her what was the secret to her success, to which she would reply, “cheerfully do what needs to be done.” What a great example of not falling into aversion! Just do it.

I recall this lesson again when reading, “A Wrinkle in Time”. When the three aliens arrive at Meg’s house, in the appearance of mature ladies, it is a rainy, blustery night. After their visit, as they prepare to leave, one of them puts on her rubber boot, and it is full of water, cold and wet. As this is an uncommon experience for her, she bursts out laughing, dumps the water out, and carries on. Our most common human tendency would be to react quite negatively to the cold sensation, fussing about getting our foot cold and wet. She, however, did not react. This example struck me, although at the time I had no understanding of aversion. So I began to practice this in situations that I ordinarily would have found disagreeable. Perhaps when there was a foot of snow, and I had to go out and do some chores in the deep snow, or when I was served food that I did not really like. Or had to do some task that I did not feel that I “should” have to do, and was “not my job”. I felt much happier. I wondered to myself, “is it really this easy?!”

With practice, yes it is. When the alarm goes off in the morning, don’t groan, don’t cause yourself more suffering, just start moving. Put your feet on the floor, get dressed, and go. When you feel yourself wanting something, (that you don’t need), try to tell it no. Tell it “no” because it is something that you crave. Even for a few minutes. And you will feel some power and freedom. You might actually even forget about it. Give yourself some healthy alternative activity or substance if your body or mind does need something constructive.

When you have some task to be done, just do it. (If you are in an unhealthy situation, definitely take steps to change that. Do not be a martyr unnecessarily. But do take the steps, and seek the resources necessary to create a healthy environment and life for yourself.)

When it is raining, just let it be raining, rain makes things grow, just enjoy it. When it is too hot, or too cold, allow it to be so. When an aggressive driver cuts you off, let it be. It has been said that when we argue with reality, we suffer. Things are the way they are, not the way they “should” be.

Allow things to be how they are, just be there. And see what happens. You might notice that you are actually enjoying yourself more than you think. It will open the door to presence, which is where happiness resides.