Lately I have been thinking a lot about desire. I found this in a text about the Four Noble Truths posted at Zen Mirror:
However how does this desire vanish, and how might it be extinguished? Wherever in the world there are delightful and pleasurable things, there this desire can vanish, and there it may be extinguished. Whether in the past, present, or future, whoever perceives delightful and pleasurable things in the world as impermanent, miserable, and without substance, overcomes desire.
The paradox is that to live is to desire. I’m tired, I want sleep. I’m hungry, I want food. I’m lonely, I want a friend. I’m sick, I want to be well.
I have some understanding of impermanence. Often in the course of a normal day, as I catch myself living in the past or planning for the future, I call myself back to the present moment. I chide myself: Be here now. This is the only thing that is real — this moment, now.
I am practicing with being as I am in that moment and not desiring it to be more than it is. Not appreciating it because it will end, but merely being present for it, that experience, whether it is pleasurable or the opposite.
One object of this effort, for me, is a person, my friend. My friend is someone I love, very much. I wish I could spend more time with him, but both of us have busy schedules. In this relationship, I’m working on just being there when we do have a chance to be together. Along with this, I don’t want to wallow in the past, remembering how nice it was to be together yesterday or last week. That wallowing is a way of NOT being in the present moment, and it also generates desire — I wish I were still there, in the past. The same is true of looking forward to a future meeting: If I’m imagining that (desiring that), then I am not here, now.
Also, anything in the past or in the future is not real. It is a chimera, a shadow, an illusion, a dew drop. The past was real, at the time. Now it’s gone. And the future — the future is never real.
Desire has three effects related to time (the very essence of impermanence): Looking at the past, I desire to be there, or to change it, or to have it again. Looking at the future, I desire for it to come now (instead of what is now), to be a particular way, to hold or to bring forth certain things. And looking at the present, I desire to extend it or prolong it when it is pleasurable, or to speed it up or escape it when it is not.
(Related: Desire is one of the three poisons.)