July 14, 2007

Letters Home From Home Part II

The Buddha says that all life is suffering, and once we become aware of the different causes of our suffering, we are able to alleviate it. But what does it mean to suffer? How can I, a person who is living a fairly comfortable bourgeois lifestyle possibly have the gall to say I suffer? Compared to the people being killed daily in Iraq or Sudan or any other number of places where people’s daily life is a constant bout with suffering, my life is a paradise.

The Buddha goes on to say that we all suffer in our own way and that the degree of suffering is not what is important, but the easing of suffering, first in ourselves and then the world, is what matters. I was laying in bed last night, thinking about what I was going to write in this post, when I started to think that perhaps the word suffering is a bit too harsh to describe what it is I am trying to write about. When I say suffer, please do not think only about gut wrenching pain and anguish, but try and envision the daily frustration we all face as well. The little things in our lives that make us wonder why it is that our lives are not perfect are just as painful as the big events. Sitting too long at a traffic light, laying awake all night because it is too hot, or wondering how to deal with one of your favorite places with a new identity are all forms of suffering.

I want this post to be an examination of what is causing me these frustrations and how I can help ease them in my life. I hope that the lessons I have learned and am learning will be helpful to whoever is reading as well. The Buddha also says that the cause of almost all suffering is the ego. The idea that we are alone and separate from everything in the universe is a major source of pain for all human beings. Because of this sense of isolation we feel that the world is happening to us. We first look to ourselves as victims of a universe hell-bent on not going our way. We constantly want to control our surroundings, because our ego, after all, sees itself as the center of everything that happens. So when it is too hot, we feel frustration because we cannot control the weather.

I think it is important to be able to try and relinquish as much of the control or even the need to control our surroundings as much as possible. Being able to go with the flow, no matter what happens to us is the first step to easing our daily doses of suffering. Here are a few examples of things that have happened to me the first few days we were here in New York that caused me some irritation. I now see that it was simply my ego trying to control things I could not.

1. The weather. It always surprises me how much of our lives are affected by the weather. Here is a phenomenon that we have no control over, but we are always bitching about it. It is too hot, too cold, too rainy, too dry, on and on we whine. But really, I think it would behoove us all to simply try and find enjoyment in whatever weather we face. I just spent two weeks in Sweden where it was cold and rainy, I dreamed of the hot sunny New York sky, but as soon as I arrived, I was complaining that it was too hot. So rather than go out and enjoy my time in Sweden, I sat forlorn staring at the gray sky outside, and once in NYC, I was reluctant to venture outside for fear of being too hot. The last few times I have been outside however, I have made a conscience effort to simply be aware of the heat on my skin and meditate on the sun, or to enjoy the breezes as they move through the tress and give me comfort. I try and remember that I am not a separate ego being affected by the weather; I am part of the system that generates it. I too am made of water like the clouds that bring the rain. I too inflate and deflate with air like the wind. Sorry I got a bit too new agey again…moving on.
2. My second big cause of suffering was that I didn’t have my technological tools. I had no Internet connection, no phone, and I am still not able to edit my photos or make my movies. I know this sounds shallow and superficial, but these connections with technology, for better or for worse, have become a major part of my life. And I felt very lonely without them. After a few days, I have figured out a few places to connect to the Internet and do my work, but I am still frustrated because I cannot get on whenever I want from the comfort of my own home. This is a great lesson in being able to go with the flow. The fact that I have to go to a café to do my work on the internet (I don’t only mean blogging or checking email, I need to buy tickets, take care of some certification issues, as well as try to fix my drivers license) is annoying, but it is teaching me that I shouldn’t allow something so trivial cause me undue aggravation. That is the situation that I am in and I must learn to deal with it.
3. Lastly there is the issue I raised in my last post: The idea that New York is a different place for me now that I am not drinking anymore and have a daughter. I feel like I am still trying to push my square peg into the old circular hole, when I really should be looking for a new hole all together. I remember when my wife was pregnant, thinking that I was tired of always thinking only of myself all the time; I wanted to start living for someone else. While I understand that living for someone else is the, or at least should be, the very foundation of marriage, we all know that our egos are far too strong for that; we still cling to the ideas of ourselves as individuals even in holy matrimony. My wife’s motto is, “more of the we and less of the me,” but as any married person can tell you that is harder than it sounds. Before my daughter was born, I was very much looking forward to her birth, because who else would be easier to bestow my love and affection on that my own little girl. Since she has been born, every time I think of something that is about me, I try and put her first. Being in New York is a perfect example of this role reversal. The last few days, I have been focusing on all the things that I can no longer do because of her, when I should be thinking of all the things I can do because of her. Like simply walking to the corner store with her in my arms to get a muffin and laughing at all the sounds we could make, or watching her feed the sheep at the prospect park petting Zoo. I am starting to really understand that the ability to love a child is the perfect lesson in Buddhism. First we love our children, and then see where this love will take us.

I guess that is all for now. Kaia is taking a nap as I write this. The weather outside is spectacular. We are off into Manhattan today, and I will post this later tonight as she is sleeping. I will stop at the café in a few minutes to buy my tickets for Lollapalooza and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs show I will be going to later this month. Who would have thought going with the flow could be so easy?


  1. Thank you... I needed that. Especially the part about now dwelling on the things I cannot do now that I have children, and instead soaking in the things I CAN... These are things I know in my head, but I tend to push out of my mind a lot.


  2. Anonymous11:15 PM

    This has opened my eyes. I didn't realize that we all DO have certain kinds of suffering, yet we could so easily change that.

    Thanks. (:

    - Iris

  3. after reading this, i've decided your blog must be listed in my links! :)

  4. You're an amazing Dad. That's the first thing that strikes me when I've read your last two posts. You are training yourself to put her needs and wants and desires first. It's really cool to watch.

    I've always been really intruiged by Buddhism. The teachings of Buddha are fascinating.


  5. I know what you mean about the weather. I'd lived my whole life in Indonesia and now I've lived in Finland for 4 months and I've undergone weather changes. I've been trying to just enjoy everything and focus on the good things in life and counting my blessings whenever I feel the weather's affecting me. I've been trying to change my mindset about the weather. So far it's been going pretty well. Hopefully I can stay like this until winter, when it gets SOOOO dark here he he he...

  6. Melanie B1:13 AM

    This post and the previous one on Zen mindfulness reminded me of how I have been trying to approach life. I was read a quote from Jan Arden's book a couple of years ago in which, to paraphrase, she writes that many of us go through life waiting for someone to tap us on the shoulder and say, "you're happy now", instead of being happy in the moment, whatever that moment is. I think that doesn't mean being a pollyanna and denying one's feelings, but to appreciate what there is to be appreciated in whatever situation. I have had many moments over the past four years of feeling frustrated for not having what I would like, and so her words were a wake up call. And as you mention, being able to accept what cannot be controlled. For me that has meant finding the beautiful moments on an hour long commute - a flock of birds spiralling skyward, a brilliant pink-orange sunrise cresting a hill-; or witnessing the slow progress of spring - leaf buds encased in ice in March. Since taking up yoga in January, I have become better at focusing my mind during practice, at just breathing and being during shivasana, and that has brought peace, but has also opened up space to grieve the small losses in life - the unfulfilled hopes - the expecting, I guess from the Zen perspective, and to refocus on the great gifts in the small details of life - the minutae of routine as you mention in a later post. What guidance Buddha or Zen (or any other similar message)provides is not always easy to follow. But thanks for prompting me to reflect again on the worthy objective.