Whatever feeling is felt (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral), do not indulge in craving for the pleasant, or in aversion for the unpleasant; and do not be bored by the neutral. This is the basic instruction that emerges from most of the discourses.
Craving is experiencing what is present as lacking in some respects and wanting that lack to be filled. Aversion is experiencing what is present as something that shouldn’t be there and then try to reject it or flee from it.
Non-craving is then understanding anything that is present as complete, perfect, lacking nothing, inducing contentment. Non-aversion is understanding anything that is present as being fully entitled to stay, to remain, to manifest itself. Non-craving is an understanding of satisfaction and peace, non-aversion is an understanding of friendliness and opening, listening, care.
Why do we chose to react with craving instead of non-craving, or with aversion instead of non-aversion?
Any experience (including feelings) is uncertain, in the sense that having arisen it will have to cease. We cannot avoid separation from what we like and hence we cannot avoid the pain of separation. We also cannot prevent circumstances to turn out to be against what we wish for, and hence we cannot avoid the pain of being yoked to what we dislike. Uncertainty entails exposure to suffering, and craving or aversion are just ways of trying to deal with this suffering by denying it, and by trying to control it. But this won’t work, because what is uncertain cannot be really controlled. Craving and aversion are inefficient ways of relating to the uncertainty of experience. They can (and hopefully should) be abandoned.
What happens when we start acting based on non-craving and non-aversion?
Whatever is experienced remains uncertain. We’re still exposed to separation from what we like and being yoked to what we dislike. But without aversion, the pain of separation is no longer seen as an enemy to fight but can be understood as an essential component of the nature of things, which is to be fragile, vulnerable, doomed to fade and cease. Without craving, any situation can be met without the scorn of wanting something else, something more, something different. We can realise that the less we focus on what is lacking in the current experience, the more we can be naturally content with what is present.
How do you move from acting mostly on the basis of craving and aversion towards acting based on their opposites?
First, gain a temporary safe space of well-being and ease, in which aversion is absent and there is nothing to crave for (i.e., develop some form of composure, and this does not have to yield a pick-experience to work).
Then, reflect on the conditional nature of this situation: since it has arisen, it will cease. Cessation means impossibility of taking what is experienced as one’s own, impossibility of controlling it. On its bright side, cessation reveals a fundamental form of freedom that lies at the heart of everything, which makes its manifestation precarious, miraculous, a gift, and yet fragile; it demands to handle it with care and gentleness.
When this realisation becomes clear, there remains no one who needs to worry about anything anywhere. There is just contentment, freedom, and friendly warmth, spreading everywhere. Nothing is lacking, nothing needs to change, and yet everything is so fully present, alive, connected.
This process is different from (and does not entail) a full disengagement from the world, an absolute retreat in some otherworldly abode, above or beyond here. The ideal of full disengagement from the world is aimed at reaching complete self-sufficiency, becoming like a self-standing substance.
But everything in reality is constitutively relational. The ideal of self-sufficiency is based on bad faith, and avoidance of our nature of being relational creatures. It’s based on fear for that nature, aversion for its uncertainty, and craving for an imagined opposite condition of independence. This ideal is thus based on ignorance and cannot lead to actual freedom. Nobody can be free alone, “I” cannot be free, we can only be free together.