Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's Your Story?

This is part 2 of 3 posts summarizing key points from Andrea Fella and Gil Fronsdal's Dharma talks during the course of our retreat, on Four Noble Truths. Today's post deals with the First Noble Truth, as seen by Gil:

The First Noble Truth, of truth of suffering, deals with dukha, a word that encapsulates stress, discomfort, and conflict with self, others, our emotions, our experiences. It is important to study our relationship to it. Some unwise, common strategies: 1) denial, avoidance, distraction anger, blame; 2) 
looking for someone, something to take the responsibility

The 5 hindrances of sensual desires, ill will and anger, sloth and torpor, anxiety and restlessness, and doubt, are also ways that react to challenges as in, escape, blame, resistance, restlessness, and doubt, the most powerful of all. 

It is important to really understand the internal causes and conditions of our suffering. The way to freedom lies in understanding our contribution to suffering. How is our heart closed? What are we resisting? What are we holding on to? A clever way to deal with suffering is not head on, but around the edges: what is my relationship to suffering?

Some unwise ways that we deal with suffering: 1) we place it in a story, eg, if I am uncomfortable it means something is wrong, or I am a failure; 2) we are a character in a story, eg, story of the victim, or the crusader for justice. Hence the importance of figuring out the story we have about ourselves in relationship to suffering.

3 valuable reasons to turn to (not away from) suffering:
1) it is true - without the extra added stories, we can have a simple relationship to suffering
2) there is inner wisdom there - when we are present to our suffering, the heart knows what to do - mindfulness is about not interfering by overindulging or turning away from suffering
3) we can learn from that suffering, since it can act as a mirror from which we can understand ourselves better.

Most suffering arises out of being in a relationship. The problem is the unhealthy ways, as in compulsivity and driven-ness, that we bring to our relationships.

Need to trust the inner unfolding of suffering, even if it takes a long time. 

I find this approach to the First Noble Truth very empowering. We have a part in our suffering, and it is up to us to remove it, using the means of wisdom, mindfulness, and concentration.

Now, what is your story about suffering? What do you bring into the smelly pot?


  1. A WHOLE lot.....suffering was my main motivation into examining stress, mindfulness, meditation...and Buddhism. A basic feeling of emptiness and not knowing. Most of this is surrounded by my current career. I don't enjoy what I do, I've tried doing other things (i.e. moved to new companies, etc), but haven't seen any improvement. Because of that I began to delve deeper. Why am I feeling this way? Where is it coming from? This is something I still struggle with on a daily basis. As you state above, a lot of it relates to stories I create as well as fear and anxiety. Example.."I don't enjoy at all what I do now, but I don't know what I would do if I wasn't doing what I'm doing."

    Mindfulness and meditation have brought a well needed sense of structure in my life and way of examining and being with my thoughts, however, suffering still runs deep. Daily I question and wonder "What is it I'm here to do?"

  2. Helpful. Remarkably concise and clear writing. Thanks!

  3. Nate, have you considered doing a long retreat? Something profound happens when the mind gets a chance to settle over longer periods of time. Personal stories become easier to decipher.

  4. Hi Marguerite -

    Yes, I have definitely considered it and it is something I'd very much like to do. I do have to say that it sounds, at its face, overwhelming. It was interesting reading what you went through. When I think about 9-10 days, going from 5am-10pm with straight sitting and walking meditation (and some talks), I have to say that my initial reaction is fear. Can I do that? What I be bored? Would I go 'crazy'?

  5. The only way to know, is to sign up :)

    No one has died yet from going on retreat, that I know of . . . The worst that can happen, is that you quit.