The Buddha’s four truths, simply stated, are: dukkha, the origin of dukkha (clinging), the cessation of dukkha, and the path toward the cessation of dukkha (the eight-fold path). These are principles that we can organize our thinking and actions around. If we really come to understand dukkha in our experience, if we stop wishing that things would be different and nicer and accept conditions as they are, the rest of the path can flow quite freely. Accepting the truth of dukkha can unblock our view and energy.
When developing this skill, one tricky question is: how can we tell the difference between clinging and simply choosing? There are many things that we want and don’t want. How can we tease apart our selfish desires from our wise choices? If we want someone else to change, that’s clinging, and it’s unlikely to be rewarding. If we want to change ourselves, that desire may or may not qualify as clinging. It comes down to a question of intention and motivation. Do we want to change in ways that garner us more attention, maybe from someone whose attention we feel we lack? Do we want to appear younger, smarter, kinder than our actions reflect? What is moving us to do what we do?
At the most basic level, clinging has to do with me and mine – gratification, self-promotion, recognition, etc. There is a narrow, subjective point of view at work: I want that (or don’t want that) and I’m going to get it (or avoid/eliminate it).
There is another point of view we can start from, where we recognize and respect our interconnectedness with other beings. If we want to get healthier and more fit, is our desire driven by a beauty competition mind-set? Or do we want to care for ourselves and therefore be better able to care for others, to do what we do with more grace and energy?
Discovering our intentions and motivations seems inextricably connected with our actions. How we actually spend our time, and with whom, what we spend our money on, etc., will tell us what we need to know. Some people are naturally service-oriented; they’re good listeners, they are generous, they are always thinking of what others need or would like, they look for opportunities to nurture and support others. Some of us have to work harder to re-orient our view in this direction; we have to keep reminding ourselves of what’s important. Once we become sensitive to this question, though, we start to recognize the tight, limited feeling of clinging and the spacious, open-hearted feeling of choosing wisely.