Everywhere you look today, voices shout at us that we need MORE. More money, more leisure time, more stuff, more respect, more power. Just more. Perhaps you have felt the pressure that comes along with those voices. There was once a familiar saying: “Keeping up with the Jones'” . What no one tells you, however, is how exhausting doing that actually is.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints, I believe that all Truth is of God, and that we should look for it wherever we may. In the past several years, I have been struck by the profound and beautiful truths to be found in the Buddhist faith. One of these can be expressed in what they term the First Noble Truth: Suffering exists. According to the Buddhist tradition suffering, or in the Pali tongue, dukkha, is the reason that Gautama Buddha began his journey toward Enlightenment. And the attainment of such is the elimination of dukkha. He is quoted as saying, “I teach only suffering and the elimination of suffering.” So what do the Buddhists have to say about suffering and it’s causes?
One of the primary causes of suffering is clinging. Now, much of the time, there is a great misunderstanding in the West regarding this teaching. We say, well, what about love? Isn’t that a form of clinging? Are we not to love? Absolutely not. The teaching of suffering and clinging is inseparably tied to the teaching of impermanence or annica. Impermanence is that things come and things go. As the Wachowski brothers said in the Matrix films, “everything that has a beginning, has an end.” Happiness, misery, pain, pleasure, joy, despair, anger, love. All of these feelings come and go with varying lengths. And it is not just feelings that are impermanent, but physical things, and thoughts as well. The Buddhist way of thinking is that if things are going to be impermanent anyway, why try to cling to them as they leave? You can’t stop it, and more importantly, as you try, you create suffering for yourself because you will fail. The question then arises, should one just become cold and detached? Again, the answer is no. Buddhism does not teach detachment, simply non-clinging. When happiness comes, experience it. But do not tie your identity to it, nor chase it when it leaves. The same with pain, and everything else that arises in your life.
So what is to be done? One way to minimize the suffering caused by impermanence is by practicing gratitude. When we look at all things in our life, both those we would traditionally consider “good” and those we would consider “bad”, as gifts, our ability to realize that we do not have to frantically chase things anymore increases. The emotional stress that comes from “needing” and “clinging” melts away and we are free to experience whatever comes with equanimity. Our agency also increases as we take more control and responsibility for those things which arise that we choose to participate in and those we allow to simply pass away.
Imagine for a minute, if you will, that in the past, you are of the personality type that relentlessly purchases the newest model iPhone as soon as it comes out. As you adopt this philosophy, however, you realize that there is no need to deny yourself sleep the night before the release of the newest model to camp out in front of the store. Nor is there need to parade your new purchase so that others can see how technologically savvy you are (and consequently, feel inadequate themselves). Nor is there need to devote your attention to keeping your new purchase in pristine condition to “protect your investment”. How much stress and worry and energy have you already saved by realizing that you can allow the impulse to purchase that newest model immediately to simply pass away? Now imagine a situation in your life that is truly important. Perhaps a friend is inconsiderate to you. What kind of benefits do you think you would see from simply allowing your anger to “pass away”, deciding that you didn’t need to participate in that feeling? What about the time your children are clamoring for your attention when there’s work to be done? Can you see the benefit in noticing the opportunity and choosing to participate? The choice is different, but ultimately, it is yours. And both choices are a gift. An opportunity for you to develop agency and use it to your benefit and that of others around you.
May I commend you to gratitude and a broadened perspective about choice and agency? May each of us realize that we have it in us to choose to participate or not in all things, and that ability that God gives us is something to truly be grateful for, because it allows us to find true joy in this life.
– Josh Walles
The Mindful Life Coach