The Way It Is (written 2002)
At first it seemed to me that it was simplistic to think that much of human suffering is self-inflicted, being the result of what Buddhist teaching calls desire and aversion. But it takes only a little while of practiced mindfulness to see the truth in this. Perhaps it is the word suffering that obscures that truth at first. For suffering seems such a large thing. We suffer when we are severely injured, critically ill, lose a loved one. This is easily acknowledged. But the word seems too great for the smaller woes that make up our lives. The stubbed toe, the lack of communication with a teenaged child, sleeping in on a morning when we have an important appointment, being over-charged for a necessary service. These are merely irritations, aren’t they? How can we label the emotions they provoke as suffering? But we can. They are. We suffer in these cases, whether the triggers be significant or trivial because we wish, we desire, for things to be different. We want the doctor to take back the terrifying diagnosis. We want our child to tell us what is wrong. We don’t want to face the explanations at the meeting we’ll be late for. We don’t want to pay the outrageous fees. What we want or desire, what we push away or feel aversion for, these are the causes of our suffering.
Mindfulness, at least for me in these early days on this life path, does not erase suffering from my life. But it does put me in a placid place, a place of stillness and ease from which I have some choice. When my young child, in a fit of helpless anger at having his own desires thwarted, tells me he hates me, the pang in my breast is softened. I do not feel an immediate surge of indignant anger at this injustice. Instead, I see clearly this moment. His desire for the way he wanted things to be. His suffering. And his unskillful response. I see too that his acts do not make his suffering less. When I choose to accept this moment, and not to spend it wishing for him to be reasonable, pushing away the unpleasant nature of this encounter, it passes and we move on.
I do not live in a TV scripted family of the 50’s where everything runs smoothly, in a too-perfect world. None of us do. But the key is not to desire this, not to wish for it. And when the trials come, as they must, do not push them away and wish it to be different. And so, I am learning to let each moment be, and let each moment go. I cannot make my child’s anger disappear by wishing it so; I cannot make his warm bedtime hugs last forever either. The baby smell of his skin is already only memory and so too will each moment be…whether pleasant or unpleasant. But I am more alive when I am here for the living of each one.