Our dukkha (stress or suffering) comes from three major sources. (1) We want something we don’t have, or want some form of satisfaction that is not forthcoming; (2) We don’t want something that we do have, e.g., an illness, a problematic relationship at work or at home, a chronic irritation caused by ordinary life; and (3) We don’t know what’s going on – we’re confused or grossly misunderstand our situation.
For most of us, one of these three themes dominates, although we all experience all three in some degree. It can be helpful in sorting out what we want to work on, how we want to start reducing our everyday stress, if we know what our basic position is. For some people it’s obvious whether they spend more time wanting or avoiding or in a fog of indecision; for others, it’s not clear.
Which one dominates is not as important as recognizing all three as they act in our lives. These are the unwholesome roots in each of us, and they express themselves in the form of defilements, or more politely, imperfections. The defilements are our own compulsions that create the sense of things not being right.
How can we see these defilements more clearly? It’s a tricky business and we are adept at fooling ourselves. I’ll share one example that has power for me. Years ago, I was walking along a sidewalk and a group of young women approached from the other direction. There were three or four of them and they spread out across the width of the path. Their manner made it clear that they were not going to make way for me, and I got upset. I even asked them, “What did you want me to do?” and one of the young women replied, “You just stand still and we’ll go around you.” This was one personal example of many situations in which people don’t make way for others.
Only recently was I able to see that it is my own idea that people should make space for each other, that people should consider the needs and feelings of others when they act, that was creating my problem. The fact is: people are sometimes considerate and sometimes not. That’s just how we humans are.
I have to work to remember this truth if I feel myself getting irritated when I witness an inconsiderate act. I’ve made progress and in many situations I can just back away from a potential conflict, or at least limit my reaction to a thought.
There is no end to this problem, but the solution is in our own hearts, it is in remembering that things are just like this. This is the normal dukkha of being human.