Maple Forest Monastery Family Retreat, 2005
By Charles Batchelder
For some of us, the Third Mindfulness Training is difficult to practice. In fact, when I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings five years ago, it was the one Mindfulness Training I considered not receiving. I think it is easy to accumulate the habit energy for sexual misconduct. Sexual energy itself may or may not be neutral, I am not sure. But certainly only a slight shift is required to align it with millennia of craving for becoming and existence. And in our culture we seem to have any number of false perceptions about sexuality. There is the false perception that sex is an entitlement that can be exercised simply because there is freedom to do so. There is a false perception that sex is primarily entertainment and recreation. There is a false perception that it is a casual and relatively harmless activity. And there is a false perception that sex is just a way to party and is insignificant.
Also, for many, sexual encounters are easier to arrange and less intimidating than friendships, especially for people who have a low sense of self-worth and are fearful of rejection. Sexual one-night stands are in many ways ideal relationships in today’s disposable world of “use it once and throw it away.” And of course in the world of computer technology, something approaching real sex at its most disposable is only a mouse click and a webcam away. Add to this that there is a huge amount of media watering the seeds of sexual misconduct, from innuendo and reference in prime-time TV programs to a huge industry of Internet porn that is, once again, only a mouse click away. This is an industry, by the way, that is becoming more and more legitimate in the business world. Finally, for some of us sex was forced on us at way too early an age, which makes it very difficult to even begin to untangle the scrambled thinking and confused understanding around our sexuality.
However, as practitioners, we are so fortunate to have the wisdom and protection of the Third Mindfulness Training when it comes to sexual matters. We are told by the Training that there is real suffering caused by sexual misconduct, to ourselves and to others. To many, probably most of us, this is not news. But we need to make an effort to always be mindful of this. How easy it is to forget under certain circumstances! Next, we are advised to replace the old peg of our sexual misconduct with a new peg of learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of ourselves and others. For me, this means learning the arts of friendship, creative self-expression, and community involvement. And, as we enter a relationship, we are advised that the cart must go behind the horse; it is unskillful to start a relationship with sex.
A relationship starts with friendship, love, and a deep, mutual concern for each other’s well-being. Once the relationship matures into a long-term commitment, then intimacy is appropriate. An intimate relationship is way more than a casual friendship with privileges. And we absolutely must realize that not everyone is available for sexual involvement with us. People in committed relationships are off limits. Children are way, way, way off limits. Children should not be given dynamite to play with, should not jump out of airplanes, and they should not have sex, period. And, in my opinion, teenagers are still pretty much children. Many of us, sadly, know first-hand that the consequences of children having sex at any age can be catastrophic.
Finally, I would like to say a bit about what we might do if there is no partner in our life or if our partner is in some way unavailable. Celibacy is a choice: even an easy choice, even a preference for some, and a challenging, but positive choice for others. We have a wonderful model of celibacy here in our monastic community. For a layperson celibacy does not have to be a permanent choice. It can be practiced just for the moment, however long the moment might last. One can take on celibacy as a respite from the hard work of maintaining a sexually responsible relationship, even within the context of an ongoing partnership. Practicing celibacy for a time can re-assign a significant source of energy for spiritual practice, friendships, family, creative selfexpression, and professional work. It can also create a beautiful clearing in your life to begin anew with an ongoing relationship, to establish a new relationship should one manifest, or for a different kind of life to simply show up.
On a personal note, I am somewhat of an expert on sexual confusion and misguided relationships. I am so grateful to have this Mindfulness Training from the Buddha to bring clarity and light to this difficult part of my practice. How glad I am that I chose to receive it five years ago!
Charles Batchelder, Courageous Presence of the Heart, practices with the Woodbury Sangha in Woodbury, Connecticut. He is a music teacher at Washington Primary School and an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing.