Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Live in peace with dukkha

Because they can thrive in drought or moist, poor or rich soil and are equally at home in shade or full sun, Bergenia might be the perfect symbol for living in peace with dukkha.


If you hang around a meditation group or attend a meditation retreat you will hear about dukkha. Dukkha is a term that comes from the Buddha, has no direct translation in English and was the first of his Noble Truths. Many think dukkha means suffering; life brings suffering. This culture has produced bumper stickers that use slightly different words with the same connotation, "life's a bitch and then you die," "shit happens." Dukkha doesn't actually mean suffering. What it means is that because all things are constantly changing and therefore impermanent we live with discontent; unhappy because life regularly fails to meet our expectations. In other words, dukkha is our reluctance to go with the natural flow. Peter Russell describes dukkha as our resistance to experiencing the moment, wishing things were different, hanging on to notions of the way things should be. There are two things we need to learn about dukkha.

First is to deal with inevitable dukkha. Life itself is impermanent. All of our relationships will end either in break-up or death. There are accidents, disease and tough times. Our best life can be lived if we figure out who we want to be and what we want to do with the precious time and manage ourselves everyday to do and be it. Our days will be best if we learn to take good care of ourselves. Our best strategy is to view every day as a blessing, every meal as a feast. Not out of fear, but out of gratitude. Cliche, right?

Next, we need to stop creating dukkha in our lives. Creating dukkha comes from our unhealthy need to control things in order to avoid unpleasant feelings. We try to control outside of us those feelings we can't control inside us. We try to control things because of what we think will happen if we don't. We try to control because we are afraid. We try to control because we know we are right. We cling to outcomes we think are best, as if we know what is best (even deciding outcomes for others as if other's lives are best controlled by us). I propose it's the dukkha we create ourselves that is the most devastating. Devastating when we jump from person to person, situation to situation creating dukkha that stresses us out. Sad because it's avoidable, with a little awareness and a lot of practice.

If I'm not very focused on taking care of myself, I can create a perfect dukkha storm using my relationship with my daughters. I adore these young women so much that am capable of worrying about their welfare, safety, choices and decisions; I have been known to spend some of my sleeping time wallowing in my own personal dukkha suffering about what they are doing and with whom. When I gather myself I realize the insanity of it all and the error of my ways. What makes me think my dukkha is going to influence or change anything? What gives me the right to live my life and try to live theirs too?

I watch others create dukkha when an email they receive insinuates their shortcomings and spurs a counter-missile. I see others suffering when their children don't call as often as they would like, or take their freely given advice. I coach people who create dukkha when they assume others are responsible for their behavior, or are blind to what they own in the situation. I hear from those who are tempted to go with the crowd rather than follow their own heart. I listen to people who are tangled in the conflict between others. If we stop creating dukkha in our lives and imposing it on the lives of others it would leave much more time for learning our own lessons, most of which are delivered by the dukkha we feel; captured well by Charlotte Joko Beck in Everyday Zen: Love and Work.

Life always gives us
exactly the teacher we need
at every moment.
This includes every mosquito,
every misfortune,
every red light,
every traffic jam,
every obnoxious supervisor (or employee),
every illness, every loss,
every moment of joy or depression,
every addiction,
every piece of garbage,
every breath.
Every moment is the guru.

Welcome the lessons. Celebrate the learning. Live in peace with dukkha.

1 comment:

Will Curley said...

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver



One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.