Dealing with Dukkha
This post came in response to a question from one of my other posts, ‘Why Does Meditation Make Me Angry’– which, without fail, is, along with another similar post, ‘Why Does Meditation Make me Cry’ are the most read posts, of the 150 posts currently on my blog. Each day these posts sit at the top of the daily read statistics – which says a lot about how people are responding to meditation, and what meditation is revealing to them about their inner environment.
So with those posts in mind, this post relates to the following question:
“This is just what I needed. Thank you. I try to make meditation into a daily practice but sometimes I find it really difficult because when you experience a certain level of calmness the first few times you tend to have your expectations up that it will continue to get better and better in a smooth line but that is not the case. Do you think I should just push through even though it makes me feel worse sometimes?”
And my reply?
Absolutely you should push through. Never stop.
One of the Buddha’s core teachings was, to put it simply, ‘life is dukkha’ (dukkha loosely meaning ‘imperfect and constantly changing thereby causing suffering).
Most people find this a bit depressing – to be told that life is suffering. But the Buddha was telling us something very important. And that is, the more you ACCEPT the friction of life, and all the change and suffering it causes, the less stressful it becomes.
That is, with acceptance, suffering loses its sting.
It seems strange doesn’t it? And hard to accept. But if you look into suffering or all kinds, whether it’s physical pain or depression or anxiety, most of the suffering component comes from our futile attempts to deny it’s happening, and resist it. Or, in your case, avoid it by only meditating when you feel calm. This avoidance of the suffering of life – of our habit of flinching around pain, or denying we’re depressed – only makes suffering worse when it comes.
One of the core lessons of meditation is to create the ability to do the opposite of what we usually do in the face of suffering. Meditation practice encourages us to accept suffering, or ‘dukkha’, rather than run from it, or flinch or fear it, as we’re conditioned to do. Just as periods of calm and happiness are normal in a life, we learn that so too is the suffering that arises from being alive in an imperfect world. It’s just the way of things.
And if we can relax INTO what annoys us, or pains us – then, as I said, suffering loses its sting.
So the first step is to let go of words like ‘worse’ or ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ – these value judgments quantify our resistance to what are, after all, simply different textures of life.
And these textures of living are always changing. Pleasure turns to pain, pain turns to pleasure. Happiness turns to misery, and misery turns back into happiness. Happiness, pain, pleasure, misery – even these words inflame us. Far better to accept that the comforts and discomforts we experience each day are simply the waves of a life in different colors and textures – which change constantly. And you are like a surfer, riding those waves.
Thank you for your question.
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Acceptance of all kinds of emotions as what they are and not what we are, is the hardest thing to me. But the good news is that it can be learned. I have been learning it, and while the progress is incremental, there is progress. I have you to thank for it.
Yes, it’s an unpopular idea, the acceptance of suffering, and it runs counter to the main driving force behind most humans – everybody wants to be happy. And it seems obvious to most, that to be happy one must seek it constantly and cling to it when it is here, and avoid everything that is not happiness. Whole empires are built on that fallacious need. But the irony is, the constant seeking of, and cling to happiness is the surest path to unhappiness, because it runs counter to the larger process of life itself – and the inevitable truth of constant change.
All the best to you,