5 min read

by Andrew Peterson, author of The Next Ten Minutes


Sounds fun, right? At first, at least. But things get complicated really fast. For the purposes of this exercise, try to separate lust from the concept of “sin.” And try not to limit it to sex either. Think of lust as simple, amorphous energy. It can be used for good or for evil. An orgy is an expression of lust, and so is a nuclear bomb. The Olympics are an expression of lust, and so is a cock fight. Lust is the raw, hungry desire that moves the world forward, even as it can threaten its very existence. Can you let yourself draw on its energy without tipping over into self-destruction?

What You’ll Need

  • An unfulfilled desire

How to Do It

1. Choose an object of desire. While lust is commonly equated with sex, don’t limit yourself to sexual fantasies.Consider the thousand-dollar dinner in New York’s fanciest restaurant, a sip from a ten-thousand-dollar bottle of wine, or a billion dollars in your bank account. Keep in mind that everyone is different in relationship to lust. For some, lust comes easily . . . even a little too easily. Others are limited in their capacity for lust because desire itself feels taboo. You’re probably somewhere in the middle. Remember that what you choose doesn’t have to look like the textbook definition of lust to anyone else. It just has to feel like lust to you.

2. Elaborate the fantasy. Make it specific and detailed. Include all the senses. And cast it as a narrative: Where did it start? Where is it going? Close your eyes and let yourself sink into the details.

3. Surrender to the fantasy. Why is it that very famous people so often get caught with their pants down (so to speak) in compromising situations? It’s partly about fame itself, of course, but I think it has even more to do with the nature of lust. It’s a powerful force, deeply programmed within us, that has the ability to override reason. But no matter how powerful the urge toward lust may feel, there is always a moment of choice in which a person decides to give himself or herself over to desire. Make that moment explicit, remembering that this is purely fantasy. Choose to surrender to your desire.

4. Resist resolution. The standard narrative of lust begins with a heightening of desire and concludes with the dissipation of that desire in a moment of orgasmic release. But in this fantasy, imagine that your lust is inexhaustible. No orgasm can quell your desire; no food can satiate your appetite. And that’s okay because this is a fantasy of deep abundance. As your lust increases, there is always more of what you desire before you.

5. Ride the energy. Gradually bring yourself back into the present moment, letting yourself feel the whirl of raw lusty energy still in your body. Just feel it for what it is—energy—and see if you can ride that energy as you move forward through the rest of your day, like a surfer on a powerful wave.

Controlled from Beyond

We sometimes experience lust as a force beyond our conscious control. And it’s always a little spooky to feel like we’re being controlled by forces beyond our awareness. No one was very happy, for instance, when Sigmund Freud first proposed the existence of the unconscious. While few people today would seriously argue against its existence, we’ve come to understand many other ways in which our behavior is influenced by forces beyond our conscious intention. For instance, Stanley Milgram’s classic experiments demonstrated that most of us can be manipulated into violating our own moral code when we believe that we are obliged to obey authority. In those experiments (done in the early sixties), Milgram gave his subjects the task of “teaching” another subject (actually a confederate of the researcher) a simple memory task. The teacher’s job was to administer a shock to the learner, who was hidden behind a wall, for each wrong answer given, with the shock gradually increasing in voltage for repeated mistakes. In fact, there was no shock—just the sound of a shock followed by recorded sounds of cries and then the screams of the learner. Though many teachers were uncomfortable doing so, in the end 65 percent of them gave their learner a 450-volt shock. The teachers weren’t bad people; they weren’t sociopaths. They were simply demonstrating an unfortunate human trait: under the right conditions, our behavior can be powerfully controlled by forces outside our conscious control.

Many of these sorts of unconscious influences can, with effort, be brought into our conscious awareness. But evolutionary psychologists are also arguing quite per - suasively that there is a set of powerful genetic forces operating within all of us beneath the level of conscious intention. According to this argument, all of our behavior is driven by the underlying reality that our genes are evolutionarily designed solely to reproduce themselves ruthlessly.

Where does lust fit in for you on this spectrum? Is it a force that you feel as a part of yourself ? Or is it hidden behind a veil? Or is it somewhere in between?

Variations: More Experiments with the Energy of Lust

Desire the undesirable. Turn this exercise on its head and see if you can detach the experience of desire from desirable objects themselves. Start by letting yourself feel the intense desire that you experienced in the original exercise. Then swap the object of your attention for something you find neutral, unpleasant, or even disgusting. Can you hold the feeling of desire even while you contemplate the image of something distasteful?

Remote control. Schizophrenics sometimes experience a frightening phenomenon known as “delusions of control,” in which they feel that their thoughts and actions are under the control of some external person, group, or force. The experience of lust can be sort of like that, seeming to take over the conscious mind from the outside. Let yourself imagine that this is actually true, that some outside force—aliens, the CIA, your Bible study group—is controlling your experience of desire. How does imagining that it is not under your own control change the experience of lust?

Try being a porn star. Just in your imagination. Porn stars have become symbols of pure lust, and for obvious reasons: there they are, having lots and lots of sex, with lots and lots of different people. But is this lust? Is the reputation deserved? It’s a matter of debate. Come to an informed decision on this question by allowing your - self to imaginatively explore what your life would be like as a porn actor. Make it as vivid as you can. Don’t just jump to the sex. Make sure to think about how you’d get hired, the mechanics of the set, hygiene, personal relationships, and collecting your paycheck.

Plan a bank robbery. Just as porn stars are symbols of sexual lust, bank robbers are symbols of lust for wealth. And just as being a porn actor doesn’t actually seem like the most effective way to satisfy sexual lust, bank robbery strikes me as one of the least sensible ways to act out an uncontrollable lust for money. Still, the fantasy makes sense—all that money is there in one place. Let yourself plan a bank robbery in as much detail as your noncriminal mind will allow. Does doing this increase the lust, or does it drain it all away?

Further Reading: Books on Evolutionary Psychology and Authoritarianism

Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, Doubleday, 2008.
David Buss, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind, Allyn & Bacon, 2007.
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, 2006.
Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, Harper & Row, 1974.  

An excerpt from The Next Ten Minutes: 51 Absurdly Simple Wyas to Seize the Moment by Andrew Peterson, published by Beyond Words/Atria Books.

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