Why is MY life so hard?
Our life is marked by pain and suffering all the way through
but we keep thinking that we could live pain-free ... if we had the right formula.
What would make it all better?
Perhaps ... if you won the lottery, had a partner or a better partner, better health, were more attractive, had a less embarrassing family or a nicer home, you wouldn't suffer. And, if you didn't have to please others or be around people you didn't like and were able to just be yourself you would definitely be happy. And...wouldn't it be wonderful if science came up with the answers to ridding the world of all the diseases, kept everyone young and beautiful and made it possible to live forever? And surely, if there were justice and peace throughout the world and no-one was poor, starving, ignorant or oppressed just maybe then.
But regardless of the fact that everyone wants to be happy and free from suffering, and regardless of all our efforts, suffering doesn't seem to go away,does it?
The 4 Basic Forms of Suffering
We can get stuck in the mindset that we are suffering because there is something wrong with us; eg I am suffering because "I being punished by God", or "I am a bad person" or "I have bad karma", but SUFFERING IS NOT A PERSONALITY FLAW. Even the person you think has it all together at some point faces impermanence and loss just as we do. Suffering isn't exclusive to you, it is simply the way it is.
Buddhist wisdom distinguishes between the pain that is simply part of life from the suffering that is self-created by our response to that. If we understand the distinction we can learn to accept the pain of life rather than struggling with it. Every one of us go through these the 4 basic forms of suffering: Birth, Old Age, Sickness and Death. They are not specific to any one person. Depending on how we relate to them they can either be a source of endless resentment or the terrain in which we live.
"It wasn't meant to be this way"
Further to the basic suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death, we also suffer because there is a disparity between how we would like things to be and how they actually are. Because we have such definite views on how things are supposed to be, when our experience does not meet our expectation we suffer from disappointment and resentment.
We basically suffer when
we dont get what we want
we try and hold on to what we have
we don't want what we've got
"Just as I've sorted one thing out something else happens"
And then there is a deeper form of suffering caused by dissatisfaction - when nothing goes right, everything is unreliable and imperfect. eg you are relaxing, resting and gazing out of the window, and you notice that it's a beautiful day. The sun is shining on your face and the birds are singing but then you notice a smear on the window. You think to yourself, "Hmm, I should've washed the window, this would have been the perfect moment if only the window was clean." Our minds are constantly going after the imperfection, frustration and unreliability of things. You get one thing sorted then the next thing goes wrong.
How do we deal with our pain?
The analogy of the 'The Sky and the Clouds'
Instead of running away from our experience of pain we could examine it more closely.
We can use an analogy of the sky and clouds as an effective way to help us understand the nature of suffering.
When we are suffering, we see this big black cloud and it's consumes us, it is all we can see. We put a frame around the cloud, and it becomes "my cloud and my pain". With meditation however we open up to another possibility. If we expand the frame we see that the cloud has an edge and beyond it is a vast sky. The cloud is simply a part of that sky. It doesn’t mean we ignore or reject the cloud - we don’t mediatate so that the cloud goes away - that doesn’t work. We acknowledge the cloud, we can say how we feel, "I feel lonely/angry/frustrated..." We can give it space... and recognise it is one part of our experience and is not the whole of who we are. It does not define us.
Through meditation: gently and step-by-step, we could begin to explore this forbidden territory. So instead of keeping our mind off it or distracting ourselves we could begin to unpick the process of feeding the pain with our fear. Meditation is the most practical and effective, and simple and direct way of working with our life; it is a way of dealing with our pain and how we can settle into the midst of change.
Based on Chapter 6 'Making Friends with Death' by Judith Lief and a Spiritual Care Programme talk with Christine Longaker