an intense craving for another person on a silent mediation retreat
He holds the door for me. I notice his fingernails are nicely trimmed. Next time I’m in the dining hall I unconsciously seek him out and I like the color of his sweater. Later in the day we’re putting our shoes on next to each other in the coatroom and my mind is HOOKED. I bet he is my person. I know what will happen, we are going to fall in love and at the end of the retreat he’s going to profess his undying love and we’ll get married and we can tell everyone we met on retreat. My thoughts are relentless.
Fast forward to the end of retreat. I’ve managed to not obsess about him but he’s still on my radar. We’re packing up our rooms and he is being SO LOUD as he rolls his suitcase down the hall, and the bubble has burst, I am no longer interested.
I usually have at least one vipassana romance (VR) on retreat, and I’ve sat several retreats over the last 7 years, so I have had a lot of opportunity to observe this phenomenon. It’s taught me about how craving manifests in my day-to-day life, and questions to ask myself to address it before the craving takes over.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
(1) It’s Enticing
Crushes are fun! The mind can get quite involved because imagining a future with someone is almost always more pleasant than the reality of being in a relationship. When I have a surface interest in someone I don’t know that they are a loud chewer, or that we have opposite political views, or that they load the dishwasher differently than I do. I can imagine whatever I want! And when the mind is bored, like it often is on retreat, it’s a form of entertainment. So the moment I start getting lost in a crush (or any kind of craving) I can ask myself: Can I cultivate more interest in what is actually happening in this moment? When I look below the surface I am often able to find aspects of my experience I wasn’t even aware of.
(2) It’s Better Than the Alternative
Often my VRs develop when there is something hard or difficult in my experience and my mind is trying to help me feel better. It may be a direct correlation, like I’m feeling lonely so of course I’m looking at potential partners. But sometimes it’s less direct; my back hurts and the next thing I know I’m thinking about that hot guy I saw that time. When a crush arises I investigate to see what is underneath: What am I trying to get away from? When I stay with my present moment experience, even if it’s unpleasant, I am offering myself the level of care and attention that I was hoping to find externally. I can provide it to myself.
(3) It’s Always a Projection
So much of my idea of who the other person is is based on surface knowledge and past conditioning. This is so clear on retreat when I crush on someone and eventually realize I’m attracted to them because they remind me of someone in my past, or an actor I like or something. Even in the world, I meet someone and my reaction to them is colored by my past. Or I meet them in a certain setting, so I assume it means I know all sorts of stuff about them. And none, or very little of it, is ever true. So the question is: how much of this is about direct knowledge of THIS person, and how much of it is assumption? When I connect with them from a place of not-knowing, I am seeing them, and my reaction to them more clearly.
(4) It’s Not Real
I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to a VR after retreat and he is never what I imagined. The stories I have created in my mind are so fantasy based that no man can ever meet that ideal. What I can create in my head about a person or about anything I craving is NEVER going to be exactly like the reality of it. So in the world, if I have a crush, I ask myself: what do I really know about him? Is this craving based in reality or fantasy? When I dissolve a fantasy I actually then have the ability to cultivate true intimacy.
Whether the craving I have in the world is for a person, a thing, or an experience, I can use these questions I’ve learned from my vipassana romances to help me manage my craving. I’ll still keep wanting things, I’ll still have VRs, but my craving doesn’t have to take over my mind or my life.