In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. — attributed to Yogi Berra
We’ve been considering the Buddha’s first truth, that there is dukkha. A conceptual understanding of this truth is a good start, but it’s only an idea until we put it into practice. The difference between believing that something is correct and trying it out for ourselves is the difference between reading about how to ride a bicycle and actually getting onto one. The process involves trying something new, losing balance, starting over, perhaps having a crash or two, but persisting until one day, it seems we’ve known how to ride forever. Similarly, once we start recognizing dukkha in our lives, the mechanics of how suffering is generated reveal themselves and this understanding becomes an essential tool for living well.
An example: For many years I wanted my mother to be a “best friend” to me. I wanted to be able to share my fears and hopes and to talk of deep spiritual matters with her. Despite many attempts, my efforts were met with resistance. My desire for a particular result blinded me to the fact that my idea of friendship did not match with hers. Eventually, I saw that my quest was hopeless and I learned to accept and appreciate my mother just as she is. She has many strengths and virtues that I admire. She is reliable, competent, practical, fair-minded and generally contented. She also doesn’t have what I would call very close relationships with anyone; she keeps people at a (small but clear) distance and has some subjects that she avoids. At the same time, she is kind, trustworthy, and is good company. Once all this came into focus, the dissatisfaction that had surrounded our relationship fell away. I was no longer pushing her and both of us could relax. We started to laugh together more often.
Frequently we create suffering around minor aggravations like accidentally breaking a dish, having difficulty of finding a parking space, or encountering an unanticipated obstacle to our plans. It may be easier to start with these “ground-level” irritations. We can feel impatience rising up, see it, and investigate it on the spot. What expectation of ours is being frustrated? Whether that expectation is reasonable or not is irrelevant. Most of our dukkha comes from thinking events and people should be other than how they are, but we rarely question those thoughts. It takes a form of reflective inquiry; we have to step back from being the person in charge and make our focus panoramic, taking in the lay of the land. Many unexpected things are happening all the time. Can we adjust? Can we be with what is without constantly aggravating ourselves?