When it's not so easy to say no

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

In a world where desires appear to exist only to be indulged, sometimes it's hard to figure out why to hold back. Yesterday's Monitor article "Thou shalt not tempt thy neighbor" reports on the proliferation of temptations in today's society and what some organizations are trying to do about it. So many people seem to think, When something looks fun, sounds harmless, feels exciting, why not go ahead and do it?

I've had some experience with this outlook. Growing up in the free-love 1970s gave me the impression that to deny sexual impulses was unhealthy and repressive. Anything was OK as long as you could rationalize that you weren't hurting anyone.

Take fantasizing, for example. I found that pretty much every health class, every college discussion, every article on being single regarded the human body as an organism that had needs, and fantasizing for the purpose of self-gratification was a natural way to release the pressure. So I didn't see anything wrong with it.

But as I matured and longed for genuine love, I found that the fantasizing became less and less satisfying. And it was playing weird tricks with my real-life relationships. One time, a friend of mine at work laughingly told me she'd had a dream that I was married to one of our co-workers (who was married to someone else). Startled, I realized I had been thinking about him the day before and including him in my fantasy.

This led me to a deep exploration of the mental nature of lust. No longer convinced that my body generated its own urges that I couldn't resist, I began to see that what my body wanted was actually a function of what I was thinking. My thought controlled my body, not the other way around.

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered the spiritual teaching I study, Christian Science, clarified this for me in her book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." She wrote, "A mortal man possesses this body, and he makes it harmonious or discordant according to the images of thought impressed upon it. You embrace your body in your thought, and you should delineate upon it thoughts of health, not of sickness" (page 208).

I applied this to my situation by realizing I should work harder to delineate upon my body thoughts of satisfaction rather than accepting the notion of unfulfilled needs.

Another passage revealed an entirely new basis for satisfaction: finding it in God, Soul. "Soul has infinite resources with which to bless mankind, and happiness would be more readily attained and would be more secure in our keeping, if sought in Soul. Higher enjoyments alone can satisfy the cravings of immortal man. We cannot circumscribe happiness within the limits of personal sense. The senses confer no real enjoyment" (page 60).

I learned that leaning on physical sensation for happiness would always lead to disappointment, since such sensation, no matter how pleasant, eventually ends. The "higher enjoyments" associated with a deeper relationship with Soul, however, never end.

These ideas helped in freeing me from the habit of fantasizing I had fallen into. And, it was the Golden Rule that finally got me all the way there.

One beautiful spring day, as I sat at the beach, I was approached by a man who complimented me on my peaceful appearance and seemed to want to get to know me. We started an acquaintance, although I never felt comfortable enough to agree to being alone with him. At one point, on the phone, he let me know that he'd been fantasizing about me. This made me very uneasy, so I asked him not to do that anymore. He retorted, "You can't tell me what to think. I can think about you if I want."

At that point it was logical to break off the acquaintance, which I did, but I was also left with feeling, wow, I sure didn't like it when I found out that someone was thinking that way about me, and I felt that I didn't have the right to think that way about others. It was a classic, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" moment.

I began to see that replacing real relationships with fantasies and real life experiences with dream narratives wasn't helping me achieve what I wanted - genuine, long-lasting love. In the years since then, I've refrained from imagining people doing things they haven't agreed to, and I've learned so much about the everlasting love that flows to us all from God, Soul. And that's better than I ever dreamed.

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