Monday, January 9, 2012

Five Ways With Suffering

Nobody likes suffering, and yet life is suffering. Knowing how one is with it is of the utmost importance. Ayya Khema - in Being Nobody, Going Nowhere - tells us there are five ways to be with what pains us. And only one makes sense.

Here are the five ways that we react to suffering:
The first and common way is to blame someone else. That's the easy way. Everybody plays that game and it's childish.
Yes, I do. And the dangerous thing is how convincing the mind can be at tricking one in thinking how right one is in that game. To guard myself, I have learned to wait a while before taking action based on any such type of thought.
The second way of reacting to pain and dissatisfaction is to become depressed and get bogged down by it, indulging in unhappiness.
Oh! the power of a dark mood . . . I go there quite often also, although less so than I used to. To get out of it, I know of no better remedy than to remind myself that something is amiss in the mind. 'Another self-created mind state to be dealt with, right there'. Feeling the sensations in each foot, each hand. Or resting the awareness in each breath. Or practicing loving kindness. Purifying the mind.  
The third reaction is being sorry for oneself, having the idea that one has all the suffering in the world. Nobody else has anything comparable, which is obviously untrue. When one is feeling sorry for oneself, one also expects others to commiserate. It doesn't work. Nothing is learned. Nothing is gained. On the contrary, one becomes a burden to others. 
Another miserable and familiar place. Comparing mind looks around and pretty soon, I find myself wishing I had a different life altogether. A different family. A different house. A different body. More of this, less of that . . . Anything but this moment, this place. Sure recipe for unhappiness. From there to whining, of course, only a short step that I have often quickly made. Many afternoon coffees, I have spent whining to my girlfriends, and listening to their complaints. Chatter, chatter . . . 
Another way of reacting to suffering is to grit one's teeth, suppress emotions, and pretend it hasn't happened. That too doesn't work, because pretending never works. 
So subtle, so devious, that one. And imbued with self-loaded pride. 'I have made peace', I tell myself. Sure, I miss her, but there is nothing I can do. She's got to do what she has to do. It would be wrong for me to cling. Of course, I have closed the door a bit too fast on bruised heart filled with grief. Layers need to be peeled, one by one.  
There is a fifth method, and that is looking suffering squarely in the face and saying, "Aha. My old friend's here again. What am I supposed to learn this time?" That is right view. Then we have really understood why the human realm is the best realm for enlightenment. Suffering is our best teacher because it hangs on to us and keeps us in its grip until we have learned that particular lesson. Only then does suffering let go. If we haven't learned our lesson, we can be quite sure that the same lesson is going to come again, because life is nothing but an adult education class. If we don't pass the subjects, we just have to sit the examination again. Whatever lesson we have missed, we'll get it again. That's why we find ourselves reacting to similar situations in similar ways many times. However, a time does come when we notice this, and the right view arises, "I've got to do something about myself. I'm having the same problem over and over again."
Every moment, a teaching moment. Looked at from that perspective, life becomes less scary, and a lot more interesting. I just went through a long cycle of such 'going around again' and came really close to making another blunder. Only the awareness of the negative karmic results from my prior actions during the first time around, kept me safe. That's one more lesson learned. 

Which are your ways with suffering? 


  1. brilliant post!! just what I needed to read this morning as I nurse a tooth that I think might be an abcess. I know how I react to these things, darkness, some blame, yes. And I also know somewhere in my heart the 5th way but I have been wrestling here, falling back on habitual tendencies. You have offered the launch pad into that 5th way. Thank-you, Marguerite! with a bow.

  2. I wish you well, Carole!
    Toothaches are no fun, and can drive one nuts . . . until one realizes that that too can be the object of meditation. Not easy, but worth trying :)

  3. It's taken me a long time to learn to look inside instead of outside with suffering. But now it's like working out whenever suffering arises. In the past I might have fallen into the habitual cynicism/sarcasm trap and began spewing blame on the outside world.

    Now, I can pretty well remain nonjudgmental about it. See it and not get wrapped around the axle about it.

    Centering on my breathing gets it done. Sometimes though it's very difficult and I want to...arrrgh! break something :)

  4. Yes, Matt, and with that another degree of freedom. For I/we have at least a bit of control over our mind, and none over others' minds and actions . . .

  5. i feel preety much the same way, the same pain. And before reading this post, something happens to me and i remind myself that the situatuion, the craziness is my best teacher.
    thanks a lot.

  6. Thank you, for sharing. Yes, everything is matter for more awareness practice. Nothing wasted!