Theory and practice

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?


About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Dukkha, General, Mindfulness. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Theory and practice

  1. bendgold says:

    Thanks, Lynn, for your helpful insights. I used to attend your dharma talks regularly in Takoma Park, MD, before you moved to Australia and I headed to Oregon. I’m glad to be receiving your blog entries now to benefit from your practical wisdom.

    You once made a comment and an accompanying action in reference to handling dukkha that I clearly remember. “Just drop it”, you said, while at the same time letting go of your keys from several inches above the wood floor. The keys resounded on the surface and I still think of that clatter when I get stuck in an unwholesome repetitive thought pattern. I try to drop it like those keys.

    I look forward to your future postings. Take care and let me know if your travel plans ever bring you to the beautiful, if sometimes rainy, Pacific Northwest of the U.S.

    Charles Goldsmith

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Lynn, such a wonderful reminder that we don’t know what other people think, even when we’re sure that we do. The reality is, we don’t . So often we base our communication with people as though we do, and then we’re surprised and baffled by their response!! Even more arrogantly we can be guilty of thinking that OUR thinking is the ‘sane’, ‘normal’, ‘right’ and ‘smart’ way to think, till hopefully we wake up and realise there’s plenty of room for all kind of thinkers, So often we judge others simply because we think we know what they’re thinking, Not humanly possible, and can be a great cause of distress and misunderstanding. ‘OUR’ thinking is the most private and precious human element we possess, so it’s in our interest to make it as pleasant and least troublesome as we can, after all, there is no escaping it!

  3. Boy did I need that. At work ( of course ) I am not getting the $ that I want and that was promised me. I was angry at the system, my bosses and the lies I have to deal with. I have a big presentation tomorrow and I took the day off the ” work on my presentation ” I am working on my mind and getting rid of negative thoughts. I read your blog today and it was just what I needed to hear. I have been reminded about the pitfalls of Noble Truth # 2 and why I suffer. My thoughts are much calmer now and after a good walk, some meditation,and a AA meeting i think all will be OK
    Thank You.

  4. victoriaphibes says:

    Thank you for this…I wish I had learned such wisdom while trying to make someone else a close friend who really didn’t want it…

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