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?