Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.
It’s one of my favorite concepts…and for the past two days, my life has forced me to be constantly mumbling this mantra under my breath like a crazy person.
Things were going along just swimmingly. I was doing some work I enjoy, I just got some new plants for my garden and I’ve been reading a great book. Then, out of nowhere, in the span of about 2 hours;
- I ate some popcorn. Cracked my filling in half. Ouch.
- I was playing with my Dog-shaped Child. I discovered a pretty big lump on her stomach. Called the vet immediately.
- Looked outside my window to see a jackhammer eating up the road in front of my house. With loud and horrible acoustic accompaniments.
Now, I’m sure that all of these things will be fine. The construction will be done eventually, the lump is likely nothing and my tooth just needs an impromptu visit to the dentist (of whom I have a significant and disappointingly stereotypical fear).
But the exquisite smack of the trifecta has got me a little rattled. It’s got me playing that internal tape that begins with a big sigh and ends with, “Okay, what’s the next horrible/annoying/disastrous thing that shall befall me?” And that doesn’t do anyone any good.
So, I try to go back to Buddha and his Four Noble Truths:
- Life means suffering
- The origin of suffering is attachment
- Cessation of suffering is possible
- The path to the cessation of suffering is the Eightfold Path
I know some people have a hard time with the idea of detachment and launch into some serious Buddha Bashing about how he’s a heartless, deadbeat dad who sits on a lotus flower being all cold and passionless and pessimistic.
But I believe it’s a problem with translation.
Of course I’m attached to my dog and (quite literally, even) to my tooth. Of course I’d prefer to not have a jackhammer outside my window. I believe what Buddha meant was that suffering could be alleviated by letting go of attachment the desired outcome. I’m going to have unexpected dental and vet bills, it doesn’t matter if I stress about how much they are, that won’t change the amount. I could imagine every possible disease my dog could have, that won’t change the diagnosis. The construction will stop when it stops, regardless of how often I curse the equipment.
The truth (Buddhist love the brutal truth) is that these challenges are the reality of this moment. I need to deal with what is, and not spend my energy pouting because I’d really rather not have a giant needle jammed into my gums. That particular suffering is inevitable, so I don’t need to bother piling on the emotional pain, too. I need to look clearly at what is and deal with it as it comes.
None of these challenges I’m talking about are life shattering, it’s run-of-the mill, pain-in-the-ass stuff. Which is exactly the point. This is life. Life is suffering. How to we choose to deal with it – that’s where I truly believe we can find the peace.
But I’m still never eating popcorn again.
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