Buddhism has a lot to say about suffering. That’s sort of the whole enchilada. First Noble Truth: All things which live, suffer. It’s an inescapable and recognizable truth, but I’ve always felt it was just a little too dramatic for me. It sounds like someone writhing in unbearable mental or physical torment. I don’t suffer, do I? Sure I get sad sometimes and angry sometimes and frustrated confusion is my perpetual state of existence, but do I suffer?
I am a middle class, young, free, white woman in America. Me, suffer? I don’t think so. That’s starving children in Africa. They suffer. That sounds like someone who puts far to much importance on their emotional state. That sounds like ego. That sounds like attachment. I don’t get that worked up about things. I don’t invest that much energy in my own emotions.
I do invest in delusion though. Isn’t taking pride in my own equanimity a manifestation of ego? And ego causes suffering? So in the long run, when my valued equanimity breaks down, I suffer from the suffering and I suffer from the loss of my equanimity. Not to say that I suffer more than a starving child in Africa, but I am deluding myself to think I am untouchable by suffering.
Interestingly, when you look up the verb ‘suffer’ in the thesaurus, pain is not mentioned. (Though it is for the noun ‘suffering.’) Instead you find the words experience, bear, endure, undergo, allow, and grieve. I find ‘allow’ the most fascinating. The Buddhist idea is that all suffering is at its root unnecessary. The Third Noble Truth: All suffering can cease.
All of this is a fine intellectual understanding, but what help is it when you’re actually suffering? I’m certainly not undergoing any several physical or emotional anguish. I’m just bummed out by the fact that my long distance boyfriend can’t come see me this weekend. So what does a Buddhist do about being bummed? Probably the same thing most everyone else does: sigh forlornly, wish the whole world would change just for me, and go on with the work day.
An author named Elizabeth Haydon has written a fantasy series called The Symphony of Ages. One of her races, the Lirin, have a saying: “Ryle Hira.” Life Is. I like that. What we think of it as “life is what it is.”
I find the lessons I fall back on are those from meditation. Although, I don’t often make it to the cushion, I find myself using what I’ve learned there in everyday moments. In meditation we watch the breath, but also the mind, allowing thoughts and emotions to rise and fall away, becoming aware of the nature of our mind. When I’m bummed, I sit (in my desk chair rather than a cushion), I breath in and out, and I watch the emotion. I let it be. I don’t push it away, telling myself to get over it or ignoring it. I don’t cherish it, wallowing in pity or letting it turn into anger. I just let it be. I’m bummed. That’s okay. Breath in. Breath out. I’m still bummed, but that’s okay, too. Breath a little more. Keep on working at whatever task is at hand, whether I’m at work or school or home. Let it be.