Friday, December 17, 2010


What is it about suffering that makes us cringe, run, hide, fight, cry? The first rule of Buddhism is that life IS suffering.

It seems to me that there are different types and levels of suffering, two of which I want to address. The first is experiential suffering. The suffering that arises from an event, an accident, some external unknown that dramatically changes one life in a difficult way. A death of a friend, a hurting family member, one's own physical sickness, loss, betrayal, and disappointment.

I have spent much of my life trying to understand these events in a way that is "unattached." To look at them not in the moment but in the grander scheme of my life, my community, and my world. I thought that I could become like the saints and bodhisattvas, above this pain, that my mind could control my reaction to suffering.

I don't believe this so much any more. To suffer, to feel sadness, anger, disappointment, pain generally speaking, is human. It is us and to deny this is to deny the benefits of growth and struggle.

A second type of suffering does not come from a particular event but rather the revisiting of events or expectations about future events. It is a suffering that is not real in the present moment, a suffering that we re-live because we have not fully embraced or accepted it. Although it may sound harsh, I once heard a woman who was talking about her experience of being raped decades ago, be asked by another woman, "And how many times have you raped yourself since?" The truth was powerful and clear. We create our own suffering so much of the time.

Written more for me than for anyone else, I ask us to look at our daily thoughts, those that reach into the past or future and ask "Why?" Why am I bringing this up? How do these thoughts, fears, anxieties, regrets, old sins, and sadness serve me in this moment? My response when I am really clear is, "It doesn't."

Let us return to where we are, with whom we are, to what we are doing in the present and be. Yes, we will need time to sort through the roots of these thoughts and examine them, wrestle with them, and eventually make peace with them. But now, NOW, we should be present.