I’m feeling sad and a little angry this morning, confused. One friend’s sweet dog was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that can be very painful, so young that I still think of him as a puppy. Another person I adore had surgery yesterday because her cancer is back. Someone else I love and who deserves to be happy, to stay happy, is getting a divorce. Another friend had a garage sale to try and make some money for next month’s rent. Someone else I can’t imagine losing is drinking herself to death. And I don’t even want to talk about all the stuff in the news right now. The thing we all want is to be happy, comfortable, at peace, safe, and yet it seems so hard to get there, to stay there.
Buddhism would say that’s the root of our suffering: the longing to not suffer, the desire to escape it. It’s a real Catch 22 — we long to not suffer, but the circumstances of living are such that suffering is our fundamental experience, so in the end it’s the wanting to not feel pain that causes it, keeps us caught in the cycle of suffering. In an email yesterday, Susan Piver shared a quote from Chögyam Trungpa’s book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior that makes the whole thing a little less confusing, more workable.
Discovering real goodness comes from appreciating very simple experiences. We are not talking about how good it feels to make a million dollars or finally graduate from college or buy a new house, but we are speaking here of the basic goodness of being alive — which does not depend on our accomplishments or fulfilling our desires. We experience glimpses of goodness all the time, but we often fail to acknowledge them. When we see a bright color, we are witnessing our own inherent goodness. When we hear a beautiful sound, we are hearing our own basic goodness. When we step out of the shower, we feel fresh and clean, and when we walk out of a stuffy room, we appreciate the sudden whiff of fresh air. These events take a fraction of a second, but they are real experiences of goodness.
If we are willing to take an unbiased look, we will find that, in spite of all our problems and confusion, all our emotional and psychological ups and downs, there is something basically good about our existence as human beings. We have moments of basic non-aggression and freshness…it is worthwhile to take advantage of these moments…we have an actual connection to reality that can wake us up and make us feel basically, fundamentally good.
This is in no way suggesting that we simply “stay positive.” Rather it’s suggesting that in our confusion, we don’t allow our suffering to make us blind to what is good, that we notice and pay attention to everything — the yellow of the leaves, a sip of clean water, even the feeling of sadness that arises when something difficult happens to someone we love because we love them and we long for them to be happy and safe. As always, this makes me return to the one thing that makes the most sense to me: life is tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal — keep your heart open.