Monday, May 25, 2009

Don't Roll Around in the Shit

Most of us believe that we are just not meant to experience pain. We’re genetically wired to resist it at any cost--which is perfectly understandable. If we didn't have a natural aversion to pain, we'd be ridiculously reckless most of the time because they're wouldn't be any incentive not to be. The problem is not that pain is a basic fact of life, but the way in which we handle this.

The Buddha taught that shit happens, but we don't have to roll around in it.

The first noble truth is that life is suffering. Suffering here can describe anything ranging from our relatively minor discomfort with the weather ( i.e. I love when it's warm out but I hate the humidity!) to the utter disgust and hatred some of us feel towards ourselves (i.e. I’m so fucking fat…I’m such a loser…why can’t I meet the right guy/girl? father was so mean to me and that’s why I’m so screwed up….)

We suffer when we combine our inborn aversion to pain with our misguided belief that the current state of affairs should be other than what they are.

Pain happens, and it's mandatory. None of us can live a pain-free life. Suffering is optional since it's merely something we create in response to that pain. We suffer when we try to push pain away. We do this in all kinds of ways, most commonly by creating a story in our heads around a painful experience. Then to top it off, we believe our thoughts as if they're real and then make decisions and engage in behaviors based on our deluded thinking.

Ain't that swell?

I'm slowly beginning to realize that I suffer when I refuse to simply experience unpleasant physical sensations and thoughts directly and instead choose to build a psychodrama around them. When I connect to the pain by feeling it's unique qualities, I allow myself some breathing room and the degree of my suffering decreases.

Sounds simple I know, but it isn't always easy.

One of our techniques for dealing with pain is to muster up some anger and blame someone else for it. A while back I tried this with a good friend of mine who was going through a rough break up. I encouraged her to "get angry" because I found her suffering too threatening somehow, too hard to witness. I didn't realize this at the time however and honestly thought I was doing her a favor by encouraging her to feel anger instead of the underlying pain she needed to experience.

We often look at pain as an obstacle to our spiritual life and forget that it is the one of the best vehicles to help us reach some level of balance in our lives. Practicing with pain and discomfort is one of the most useful things we can do. One of the points of meditation is to train us to sit with anything that comes up without running away from it. Sometimes it can be an itch on the nose that we really, really want to scratch, or a foot that falls asleep and freaks us out so much that we think we’ll never regain feeling in it again, or a dull pain in our knees that begs us to give it a break for a few seconds.

Whatever it is that comes up when we sit comes up in a much larger way in the rest of our lives. So when we say we're practicing by meditating, we really are practicing for our entire lives.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spring Showers

On Friday evening I went to a party in Brooklyn. It was warm and drizzling when I left Manhattan on the F train but when I arrived in Park Slope it began pouring just as I was climbing up the subway stairs. It was cool enough to warrant a light jacket but wearing one caused me to perspire, just a little bit. Even though I had one of those small, cheap $5 umbrellas that magically appear on every city street corner and store front the second it begins to rain, I decided to wait out the onslaught of precipitation by hanging out under the canopy on the side of a corner restaurant. It was just about 7 pm and the sunlight was diffused softly through the bright clouds, and the trees lining the street were vibrantly green. The scent of newly growing foliage permeated the air and I could see a young woman looking up at the sky from her small table. It's really spring now.