1. Truth: Pain is inevitable. There really is no way to be in this world, live this life without getting your ass kicked. Just showing up guarantees it. You can try what you might to numb yourself to the pain, but what you do to numb it only brings about more, which you then have to numb, which brings more, and so on and so on until you are dead. It won’t work.
Reality is brutal, and that’s the truth. You will get hurt, you will lose things, you will fail, bones will be broken, angry words will be said that you can’t take back, you will get sick and old, things won’t be fair, and a mess will be made. Your boss will be a jerk. You’ll get a dog, love it with your whole heart, and before you could ever be ready for it, before you’ve had enough time, he will die. Someone you love will get cancer, the treatments won’t work, and she will die too. In fact, everyone you ever love is going to die. The end.
2. Truth: Suffering is optional. So, yes, all these bad things are going to happen to you, but it is entirely up to you how to respond. Suffering is our habitual pattern, the way we’ve trained our mind to respond to pain. It’s the choice we make to wallow in our suffering, indulge our feelings of being a victim, cling to our tragedies and hurts, tell ourselves long and ongoing stories about how horrible everything is for us, obsess about all that is wrong in the world, catalog our complaints, feed our suffering as if it were a treasured pet.
It is absolutely appropriate to notice pain, to do what we can to address the situation (if anything), respond with wisdom and compassion, but then, if we don’t wish to suffer, it is necessary to let it go, not to reject it or push it way, but to open our heart and allow it to dissolve as it will naturally, to float away from us. Once this happens, we can shift our attention to something else, (suffering would require that we continue to dwell on it), we let go and move on. Depending on the pain, this process of noticing, letting go, and shifting attention will take on different forms, require different approaches, take varying lengths of time. Sometimes we can work through the whole process in minutes, other pain will require more, like water wearing away at a rock.
3. Truth: There are three root causes of suffering–ignorance, attachment, and aversion. In Buddhism, these are also referred to as the “three poisons.” Ignorance is actually the starting point for the other two, the center, the hub of all suffering. Ignorance is delusion, confusion, bewilderment, a basic misunderstanding of reality, a confused relationship with ourselves and our feelings and our thoughts and our bodies. Attachment is clinging, passion, greed, grasping for that which we think will please us or make us happy. It’s what George Carlin was referring to when he said, “Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.” And the third poison, aversion, is rejection, aggression, hatred, animosity, dread, dissatisfaction, wanting things to be other than they are.
One Wish: That we all would be free from suffering. You, me, all of us. It’s the wish at the heart center of every other wish I ever make.