The previous post addressed some options for responding to major events in the world. The same approaches can be used regardless of what’s bothering us. The Buddha said, “There is suffering” and posited that as the starting point for developing wisdom. A lot of misunderstanding has flowed from this statement. The first truth states “there is suffering”, not that there is ONLY suffering or that EVERYTHING is suffering, but just the obvious fact that in life, dukkha exists. It is right in front of us and yet our impulse is to deny it. So our duty with respect to the Buddha’s first truth is to acknowledge and understand it.
The first Noble Truth is all about accepting or welcoming unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha) rather than trying to resist it. You will notice then that its nature is to change and drop away. The way to liberate the mind from the subconscious fears and anxieties that we all have is simply by allowing them to be. Good psychotherapy is based on allowing things to become conscious. If life is just one long effort of denial and repression, it is misery, isn’t it?…No matter how frightened you are or how much you think you cannot stand it or cannot bear it, actually, you can. The voice that says, ‘Oh, I can’t do it! I just can’t take it!’ – don’t believe that. — from a talk by Ajahn Sumedho, “Beyond the Ego”
We can start to recognize what we don’t like in our lives less as things that shouldn’t be as they are and more as dukkha. We can take a half-step back from our involvement and see that dissatisfaction, aversion, and anger are labile emotional states. We can make these states grow by feeding them justifying words, or we can loosen our clinging to them by seeing them as not-mine, as states that visit everyone from time to time. We can make a home for these unhappy states of mind by clinging to them and identifying with them, or we can patiently wait and watch them until they finish and peter out.
Another approach is to have compassion for our own unhappy emotional states. Here is sadness or grief, frustration or anger, helplessness or unworthiness; we can turn our awareness onto these states and investigate them with kindness. We can often treat others’ unhappiness with compassion. Can we do the same for ourselves?