You’ve probably heard the first of the Buddhist four noble truths, ‘Life is suffering’. I first encountered Buddhism as child who was an avid bookworm. I felt an immediate sense of resonance with Truth as offered in the teachings of the Buddha, but this truth, life is suffering, has taken me a long time to really deeply understand. As a human we want to know: why? It begins in very early childhood, this urge for why.
When a parent or elder answers ‘because it is’ or ‘because it does’ we could screech with frustration, for as children we are so deep in the desire to know why and keep it as a possession that we don’t understand that it is the asking that is the point. At this stage of my life I find a deep beauty, irony and rest in ‘It is so’ ; a true ‘it is’ moment chimes for me like a struck bell.
The end of suffering is the end of the self, and so in this life there will be no end to the arising and falling away of suffering, for this life includes an idea of self. To know is to discriminate, and therefore oneness in this life as a self is sought to be understood through the portal of duality. The first Noble Truth, Life is Suffering, in Buddhism has its origins in the ancient Indian (Aryan and pre- Buddhist) writings on the dual pair Duhkha and Sukha. These terms describe the rhythm of the experience of unpleasant and pleasant. Both refer to the hole in which a cart axle is fitted, meaning your cart ride will be unpleasant or pleasant depending on the worth of your pair of axle and hole. Unpleasant as a term here includes the whole spectrum of ‘bad’, and ‘pleasant’ all those things we refer to as ‘good’.
I want to point to this understanding of suffering from a sense of helpfulness around not misunderstanding the point of building the good habit of meditation. Yes, meditation can be experienced as a kind of refuge from suffering, but it is not as a result of discriminating experience as good or bad, with good being the winner. Meditation is the space in which both unpleasant and pleasant is Experienced, therefore suffering and contentment are both portals to this space in which All abides, the great Context. The point of meditation is to become intimate with this space in which experience is experienced, or to See that we are intimate ‘As’ It. To have a self, to discriminate, without an understanding of Context is to be trapped in a mono focus on whatever is arising currently. After being alive for some time we notice the pattern that suffering arises, and that then after that things will be hunky dory for a time. We crave unpleasantness to end and pleasantness to reign supreme. Depending on our spectrum bias, when sad we think; ’I am a sad person’ when happy this then becomes our idea of our true nature. Interestingly the stories we tell are all this story, the story of lost and found. Lost is bad, found is good. The story ends in the bit where we are found and good has won, then the story begins again when we become lost and things are bad.
Meditation will pull out the camera into a broader focus. Suffering when it inevitably arises will be eventually understood without discrimination. Meditation is Kindness, it lets us in on the understanding ’It Is’. Suffering when given space is (eventually haha) received without judgement, and in this arises Love. While the personality is enthralled in the story, there’s the Page, giving context to the tale, the great nowhere that is understood to be Now Here. The All by its nature does not discriminate, it is not a dual self, it doesn’t hand out good girl stickers and smite us with bad girl lightning bolts, unpleasant and pleasant are not a reward and punishment system. Experience is simply What It Is.
The gift here is that suffering comes to be understood as a process. The darkness, the blindness, the confusion, the abandonment, the pain, the craving, the attachment, these are also IT, they are also Loved. Receiving suffering with Kindness restores our Wholeness. We are no longer required to be a full time success project. We are just here taking the dance.