When we are feeling bad, what do we do? Whether the cause is physical or mental, we either turn towards or (more likely) turn away from the cause of our distress. There are many ways in which we can push away or ignore feelings that we don’t like. We can engage in our favourite distracting activity – watch television, surf the web, eat too much, go to sleep, indulge in intoxicants, etc. We can get very active – clean the house, exercise, etc. But if whatever is bothering us is serious, it won’t disappear, it will just come back when we run out of distraction-energy.
Another important way that we avoid looking at our clinging/dukkha is by blaming someone else: “She shouldn’t do/say that!”, “I won’t be treated that way.”, or “He’s just a jerk.”
It may feel radical to turn towards our suffering, to say to ourselves, “What am I avoiding? What is it that I’m not-liking right now?” But this would be the most skillful way to proceed.
What do we find when we look into unhappiness? We find that we are getting something we don’t want, like a cold or a visit from a difficult person; or that we aren’t getting something we do want, e.g., recognition, another person’s regard or time, or a reward we were counting on. It takes ruthless honesty to admit to ourselves that we feel entitled to something that isn’t forthcoming. We may have to revise a deep and long-held assumption about how things stand in our world. How hard is it to allow the thought that one’s offspring don’t respect and admire us? Or that our manner is taken by some as offensive? Or that we have been behaving in ways that allow others to take advantage of us?
We all have patterns of dukkha; ways in which we meet the world that grind our gears. These are the very points at which the possibility of greater freedom opens up. If we trust in the law of karma, that actions bring results, wholesome or unwholesome, then that trust may help us to face what we are reluctant to acknowledge.
At some level we don’t want to believe that we are polluted by greed, hatred and delusion – but we are. It may be subtle or gross, but until we are fully awakened, those unwholesome roots will continue to tangle us up. We can cruise along for long periods without any dramatic dissatisfaction, but eventually we run up against something we don’t want, or want but can’t have, and we get stuck. It’s these stuck points that grind our gears; but they also direct our attention to the specific clinging we need to dismantle to become (more) free.
What is your dukkha pattern?