Notes on a Buddhist path

Tempest in my teapot

January 15, 2013 By | 14 Comments

“If they substituted the word ‘Lust’ for ‘Love’ in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth.” ~ Sylvia Plath

I spent a lot of time alone over the holidays and it was delicious. I’ve embraced my affiliation to the tribe of introverts (see my recent article at and indentured myself to the joyful pursuits of solitude. Writing, meditation, reading and long quiet walks along the ocean. It’s the stuff of singular joy.

A few days ago another revelatory possibility found its way into my consciousness. At dinner with some friends we got to talking about sex, and I found myself listening with an odd sense of detachment. It was as if I was watching them playing in the warm waters of an ocean of desire, the waves of their passions swirling and building into a veritable tsunami of lust, while I saw myself in a small boat a short distance away, floating on the placid waters of a new sensation. For the first time that I can remember I was delighted not to be in the churning throes of carnal desire. I felt quite content resting in my wee boat, free of the craving for sex and all that comes with it.

I’ve pondered the idea of never having sex again, yet back then the concept was more of an awareness of my fleeting life and the impermanence of all things. That earlier realization came with a bit of surprise and sadness that all I’ve taken for granted in my life has an expiration date, be it this breath or visions of a future lover. The other night it was as if the tempest in the teapot of my body had quelled and in the place of my libido was a calm stillness.  I didn’t feel the parade had passed me by or that I had given up on experiencing the touch of another body next to mine. Instead it was as if a yoke of longing had fallen away and I was free at last from the conscription of sexual tanha, the Pali word for “thirst” or, more specifically, “cravings.”

In Buddhism there are three types of tanha: craving to become or to unite (bhavatanha), craving not to become or to dissociate (vibhavatanha), and sense craving (kamatanha). Kamatanha (the same kama as in the Kama Sutra) is not only about sensual pleasures of the body, but of cravings for wealth and power, attachments to ideas, ideals, beliefs and opinions. Ajahn Succito , the abbott of Cittaviveka Monastery in England, describes tanha as:

“… not a chosen kind of desire, it’s a reflex. It’s the desire to pull something in and feed on it, the desire that’s never satisfied because it just shifts from one sense base to another, from one emotional need to the next, from one sense of achievement to another goal. It’s the desire that comes from a black hole of need, however small and manageable that need is. “

The little black hole of need is the seed of dukkha, or dissatisfaction in life. And it is a reflex; something so hardwired into us that there is no space between our cravings for the next thing and the next thing. Obviously none of us would be here if it weren’t for good old sex, but it is lust, the nearly inseparable companion to sex, where our cravings for satisfaction, pleasure, and fulfillment become dukkha and make a foothold in our lives. It is the illusion that a moment of ecstasy will last, will somehow make our world right when in fact it is but another crumb we gather up, trying with every ounce of passion to end our thirst for more. It’s a hollow emptiness always rumbling inside of our bellies, wondering how long any of it will last when in fact it is already done, just as each moment finishes its existence in the rising of its creation. The emptiness truly worth seeking is that of letting go of longing, of hope, of lust and all the filigree threads of craving that weave themselves into our bodies, our thoughts and our consciousness.

Over the past few days I’ve found this freedom from longing to be a refined and caring companion. Perhaps this is what celibacy looks like, or maybe tomorrow someone will turn a corner on the street where I’m walking and our eyes will meet for an eternal minute and the winds of lust will stir again, tempting me with yet another storm of desire. We’ll see. For now I’m content floating on the still waters of a solitary sea, watching sandcastles of cravings dissolve in the waves of my heart.

People Who Live

by Erica Jong

People who live by the sea
understand eternity.
They copy the curves of the waves,
their hearts beat with the tides,
& the saltiness of their blood
corresponds with the sea.

They know that the house of flesh
is only a sandcastle
built on the shore,
that skin breaks
under the waves
like sand under the soles
of the first walker on the beach
when the tide recedes.

Each of us walks there once,
watching the bubbles
rise up through the sand
like ascending souls,
tracing the line of the foam,
drawing our index fingers
along the horizon
pointing home.

“People Who Live” by Erica Jong, from Becoming Light. © Harper Perennial, 1981.

Quote by Sylvia Plath, from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.  © Anchor, 2000.

Quote by Ajahn Succito (2010) via Wikipedia

 Image credit: Tempest in a Teapot by Karen Spratt


  1. Kim Roberts says

    Love this post. I’ve been going through the same thing–downsizing of those urges– recently, and though sometimes I wonder if I should feel sad about it, I don’t. I realized just yesterday how much energy I’ve wasted in my life chasing after that perfect orgasm. That’s the thought that makes me a bit sad. Though I don’t regret anything, I wonder where I’d be now if I had listened to my wisdom instead of my libido.

    • Thank you so much, Kim. Yes, yes, “chasing after that perfect orgasm”, that perfect anything is where we get caught up in the suffering. I understand that sadness, yet it’s gratifying to know someone else is downsizing their cravings too. It was a bit scary posting about this subject so reading your comment first thing this morning was a welcome greeting to my day.

      With metta to you, my wise friend.

  2. Dearest One,

    With this post, you once again courageously wade into the waters of your journey with honesty and eloquence. I thank you for that.


  3. Ahhh so unfettered you feel here, love it. I keep checking in if i am in denial, i also feel free in a wholly new way. May the strings of attachment fall gently away. Thank you for holding space for these helpful musings!

  4. Once again Tess, you have had the courage to shine a light on the elephant in the room. You are amazing.

    That very first time in meditation when the mind lets go of craving, and you are just sitting there in total contentment — the utter astonishment that needing nothing is the most WONDERFUL feeling you have ever had in your life — is an incredible experience.

    Unfortunately, the body/mind starts sensing impending unemployment, and in a panic leans over and grabs the steering wheel once again, sending us careening into the on-coming traffic of desire.

    Your little boat sounds so much more peaceful.

    • What a great description of that first glint of nibbana. Yes, the fear of that looming runaway bus of the world pulls us back so stealthly.

      Thanks, as always, for your kind words of encouragement. My little boat is just the right size. And no steering wheel.

  5. Ah yes, the libido, the lust monster, the shallow desire that is only ever fleeting. I think it’s a lovely evolution to come to this place in life where you don’t chase after low-hanging fruit (yes, you can smile at that one:)) but rather stay still in our own selves not longing for that which is only temporary and often an illusion. Thanks Tess for sharing.

    • Yes, that pesky low hanging fruit (big smile). Thanks for your great description of the lust monster, and your kind words, my friend.


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